A number of pieces caught my attention in April, clustered around localisation and the value of politically-informed, locally-led, adaptive responses (PILLAR, as Abt Associates put it) to complex development challenges. At Global Integrity, our strategy has since 2015 acknowledged the interconnectedness of these issues. We provide support that enables frontline actors to operate in learning-centered and adaptive ways, because we believe that by operating in these ways local actors – who are best-placed to understand and shift the power dynamics and patterns of incentives that hold governance challenges in place – can be more effective.
There are important global drivers of governance and corruption. External support for local actors can be very valuable. And cross-context learning and synthesis of evidence about the effectiveness of different approaches to address complex governance-related challenges is much-needed. But in our view the focus should be on supporting local actors as they lead the way on addressing challenges that they prioritize in ways that they feel are a good fit for the contexts and systems that they are part of. We, based in Brighton or Washington DC, do not have the answers. So, we are excited to see how the current wave of support for localisation plays out, and keen to see it contribute to actually shifting power to those actors who can use it most effectively.
Alan’s Top Reads
- First on our list is a great series of pieces by Arbie Baguios, the founder of Aid Re-imagined, about “Localisation Re-imagined”. In the final piece of five, Arbie differentiates three types of localisation in terms of the extent to which they shift the power to local actors, as regards resources, agency and ways of being. By outlining a spectrum of localisation, and raising challenging questions for global players, Arbie’s work aims to ensure that the current rhetoric around localisation actually ends up with shifting the power to local actors, rather than providing a different framing for business-as-usual, controlled by global players. With USAID seriously stepping up its localisation agenda – see this very helpful update from Don Steinberg, expert advisor to Samantha Power – and encouraging other global players to do the same with a planned convening in August, it will be important to ensure that these sorts of questions, and perspectives, strongly inform the conversation.
- Second, and in a similar vein, I appreciated the piece by Graham Teskey and Priya Chattier at Abt Associates on “Localisation: What could it mean for contractors” and the associated piece on “Grappling with localisation”. Graham, Priya and colleagues develop a diagnostic that can be used to assess – project by project, and program by program – where things are on a localisation spectrum that runs from “pure localisation” to “stasis” in which donors retain control. As the authors note, there are many things that stand in the way of pure localisation, but by systematically reviewing projects using their diagnostic tool it might be possible to identify openings – as regards systems, strategy, spending and staffing – where effective and meaningful localisation, involving the transfer of power and authority, can be pursued.
- Third, I was pleased to see the explicit connection made between localisation and thinking and working politically in a piece by Lisa Denney at La Trobe University in Australia. In this piece, Lisa explores whether the localisation agenda might provide an opportunity for thinking and working politically – which, for me, needs to be central to adaptive approaches to address governance-related challenges and their political economy dynamics – to demonstrate the difference that it can make. As Lisa puts it, “locally-led development and thinking and working politically should be comfortable bedfellows”, with the bedfellowing requiring reflection and action at systemic, organizational and individual levels.
- Fourth, I was excited to see the Center for Public Impact’s insights from the field about storytelling for systems change, exploring how stories can be used to evaluate, understand and celebrate community-led systems change work. Complementing important moves to reconsider what “rigor” means when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to support change in systems where causality is complex and contextual (see Redefining Rigor, by Hallie Preskill and Jewlya Lynn), and an emphasis on ensuring that monitoring, evaluation and learning is driven by the questions one is seeking to address (see Tom Aston and Megan Colnar’s recent piece on method evangelists and zealots), stories and storytelling seem like a promising, engaging and creative approach to supporting, understanding and assessing the effectiveness of systems change efforts.
- Fifth, I was interested to see the Hewlett Foundation’s new strategy on “Inclusive Governance”. There’s a lot to like: the fact that the new strategy was informed by a systematic evaluation of the program that preceded it; the rebalancing of investment in favor of actors in developing countries; the inclusion of an explicit theory of change; the continued emphasis on monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning, to support effective implementation; the commitment to cross-country learning and sharing of evidence and insights; and the clear focus on overcoming the elite capture of public resources [aka corruption, in one of its forms]. I also appreciate the reframing to emphasize goals and values (inclusive governance), rather than tactics (transparency, participation and accountability). I have questions about the approach that the Foundation plans to take to address corruption and its political economy dynamics, and about the focus on a handful of countries (see our September 2021 feedback on “Beyond transparency, participation and accountability”), but am reassured that the continued focus on learning, and adaptation – and the centering of organizations in developing countries – provides a strong foundation for an interesting and fruitful journey in the years ahead.
If you have any feedback on my missives, and how I might make them more useful and interesting, just drop me a line. My other monthly missives can be found here. If you’d like access to my full Evernote Notebook, drop me a line! I’ve grouped all articles within broader themes and categories such as:
- Open Data
- Fiscal Governance