www.globalintegrity.org https://www.globalintegrity.org Data, Learning & Action for Open Governance Thu, 18 Jan 2018 20:27:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://www.globalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cropped-GI_icon_color-1-32x32.jpg www.globalintegrity.org https://www.globalintegrity.org 32 32 Supporting local learning and adaptation – Unpacking the effectiveness of adaptive processes https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/supporting-local-learning-and-adaptation/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/supporting-local-learning-and-adaptation/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 15:00:46 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19689 December 13, 2017

Michael Moses, Director of Programs and Learning – Global Integrity and Sue Soal, independent consultant

When it comes to improving the effectiveness of governance reform efforts, there is an emerging consensus on the importance of local ownership, as well as growing interest in the potential and applicability of adaptive programming.

Despite this, many donors and multilaterals that seek to support governance reform continue to employ linear, compliance-driven project and program management frameworks. As a result, implementers and local partners are often limited in the extent to which they can reflect, learn, and adapt as they navigate the complex political contexts in which they work.

This disconnect between what is known, and what persists in practice, is driven by several lingering questions: Are adaptive approaches effective? What do they look like, in practice? And how might external actors support their application?

In Learning to Make All Voices Count (L-MAVC), Global Integrity explored these questions, working with six grantees in five countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa), to apply a learning-centered, adaptive project management methodology to their work to open governance in their contexts.

Grantees rigorously documented every step of their adaptive learning journeys, and at the conclusion of the program, distilled short case stories capturing the key features of their L-MAVC experience. L-MAVC therefore offers six evidence-based examples of adaptive learning in practice. Taken together, these projects, and the program as a whole, are a small laboratory, a collection of experiments that explore how to work adaptively in pursuit of governance reform, and whether doing so supports the achievement of results.

The evidence from L-MAVC suggests that adaptive ways of working can in fact strengthen the impact and effectiveness of efforts to open governance. This is especially so when three conditions are met:

  • Implementers proactively interrogate their assumptions, and engage with local stakeholders, and the contexts in which they are working;
  • adaptive ways of working are integrated into existing systems and procedures in implementing organizations; and
  • implementing organizations are able to maintain staff continuity.

For more on these conditions, and whether and how external actors – donors, INGOs, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, among others – can encourage their emergence, see our new policy brief, now available here.

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Learning how to go local: Lessons from six learning journeys, for the Open Government Partnership https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/learning-how-to-go-local/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/learning-how-to-go-local/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:00:14 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19684 December 11, 2017

Michael Moses, Director of Programs and Learning – Global Integrity and Sue Soal, independent consultant

What does it mean, in practice, for reformers working in provinces, municipalities, and states to take a politically engaged, learning centered, adaptive approach to supporting governance reform in their contexts, including through the Open Government Partnership (OGP)? How might OGP and its partners support more effective governance at subnational levels? And can adaptive ways of working fit into and complement existing OGP processes?

Learning to Make All Voices Count (L-MAVC) – a program funded by Making All Voices Count and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity – explored these questions, and supported six MAVC grantees working in five countries in co-creating and applying a participatory, learning-centered, adaptive approach to strengthening subnational citizen engagement with OGP.  

The evidence from the program suggests that supporting citizen engagement with, and use of, OGP is not straightforward.

Rather than sticking with a static plan (no blueprints here!), grantees working on L-MAVC iteratively adjusted, tailored, and re-tailored their localization strategies to fit the complex, dynamic, and political contexts in which they were working. These variations in contextual conditions mean that no single grantee strategy can or should be replicated as an ideal model. However, there are several lessons from grantee experiences, consideration of which may help local actors and multistakeholder institutions working in their own contexts  use OGP to address local problems.

In particular, efforts to broaden and deepen citizen engagement with OGP (nationally and subnationally) may be more effective when combined with support that helps local OGP champions iteratively learn, adapt, and discover localization models that best fit their context.

For more, check out our new policy brief, “Learning how to go local”, available for the first time here.

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L-MAVC Policy Brief – Lessons for OGP, donors, and practitioners https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/l-mavc-policy-brief-lessons-for-ogp-donors-and-practitioners/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/l-mavc-policy-brief-lessons-for-ogp-donors-and-practitioners/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 15:00:58 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19671 December 6, 2017

Michael Moses, Director of Programs and Learning – Global Integrity and Sue Soal, independent consultant

An increasingly compelling body of evidence suggests that governance reform efforts are most likely to be successful when:

  • Local stakeholders are at the forefront of defining governance challenges, developing and implementing solutions, and pursuing sustainable change; and
  • Those stakeholders have the flexibility to learn and adapt as they go, especially when working in complex political contexts.

However, mainstream governance reform practice tends not to work in this way – often because external actors, including donors, INGOs, and multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Open Government Partnership (OGP), are unclear on whether locally-owned, adaptive approaches are effective, and lack guidance on how they might apply such approaches in practice.

The evidence from Learning to Make All Voices Count (L-MAVC), a program funded by Making All Voices Count, and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity – distilled into a series of interconnected lessons and implications for practice in our new policy brief – provides some suggestions on how these challenges might be overcome. Indeed, when applied in the long term, the lessons from L-MAVC could help strengthen the impact and effectiveness of both local reformers and the external actors – such as the OGP, donors, multilaterals, and others – that aim to support them.

For more, see the full brief, now available here.  

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Learning and Power: Or, whose learning and adaptation counts? https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/learning-and-power-or-whose-learning-and-adaptation-counts/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/12/learning-and-power-or-whose-learning-and-adaptation-counts/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 16:00:09 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19658

Alan Hudson, Executive Director

December 5, 2017

Learning and adaptation are high on the governance and development agenda (see for instance the World Bank’s World Development Reports for 2017 and this video for the 2018 Report). Our strategy at Global Integrity is based around the hypothesis that learning-centered and adaptive approaches can play an important role in addressing governance-related challenges that are complex, political and context-dependent. So we very much welcome the attention that is currently being given to learning and adaptation.

However – despite careful consideration of the value of collaborating, learning and adapting, and welcome attention to issues around “the locus of learning” from USAID – we are concerned about a lack of clarity in many discussions about learning, and find ourselves always wanting to ask:

  • Whose learning are we talking about?; and, most importantly,
  • How are the processes and products of learning expected to have an impact on the incentives and power dynamics that are at the heart of governance-related challenges?

A recent event on “supporting politically smart and adaptive USAID programs” (agenda here) gave me an opportunity to address – or at least to air – some of these concerns. The event, organized by Palladium and DAI, aimed to explore the challenges and opportunities in designing and implementing more adaptive and politically smart programs. It was a great event, with the overview provided by Sarah Swift of USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, and the rich country experience provided by Adiya Ode, Austin Ndiokewelu (both working with the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) Nigeria), and Julie Lostumbo (Local Enterprise Value chain Enhancement (LEVE) program, Haiti), about the facilitative and politically smart approaches taken in those programs particular highlights.

My contribution was on a panel on monitoring, evaluation and learning for politically-smart and adaptive programming, alongside Monalisa Salib (USAID LEARN), Imara Crooms (IRI) and Drew Koleros (Palladium). I kicked off by explaining that while Global Integrity is not an implementer of big governance and democracy programs, we are in the business of supporting the locally-led innovation, learning and adaptation that we think is key to address complex political and context-dependent challenges.

We do that through combining two strands of work. First, our country-level work with local partners, where we bring our expertise around data, learning and politics – and our position in broader discussions about governance and development – to facilitate collaborative efforts to understand and address governance-related challenges. And second, our engagement with actors such as the World Bank, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Open Government Partnership, and USAID, where we deploy insights and evidence from our country-level work, to support and encourage their efforts to work in ways that put locally-led innovation, learning and adaptation center-stage.

Our strategy and associated learning plan give attention to three interconnected levels of learning (giving me the opportunity to use an image of Star-Trek Three-Dimensional chess!): learning by country level actors; learning by external actors; and, our own organizational learning. All three levels and their interconnections matter, but in our view, the primary focus needs to be on learning processes that can enable country-level actors – the actors who really understand the context and are best-placed to drive effective and sustainable reforms – to navigate and shape the political dynamics and incentives around locally-prioritized problems. What flows from this is a number of characteristics, or principles, that learning has to have if it is to have any hope of shaping these dynamics and incentives.

A first pass at these principles is as follows:

  • Learning should accelerate, and focus on, progress towards particular outcomes. Learning that lacks a purpose does little to drive results;
  • Learning should inform decisions and influence actions. Learning that does not inform decisions or influence actions has little impact;
  • Learning should go hand in hand with implementation, on a rolling basis. Learning and analysis that takes place only before a program starts, or after a program ends, does little to support effective implementation;
  • Learning should be fueled by data, including data generated through monitoring and evaluation, so that it’s informed by and aligned with local realities. Learning that is not informed by data about facts on the ground, is unlikely to lead to effective approaches;
  • Learning should involve reflection on the political challenges and opportunities for reform, and the incentives faced by different stakeholders, in order to inform the design and implementation of effective reforms. Learning that neglects politics, power and incentives will not address the root causes of social problems; and
  • Learning should be inclusive, participatory and empowering, so that it has the potential to strengthen and broaden the local ownership of reforms, and to shift the power dynamics and incentives of the system. Learning processes that are restricted to powerful players are unlikely to lead those players to change the rules of a game that they are already winning.

We endeavour to put these principles into practice, in different ways, across everything we do, including: our support for the learning journeys of civil society organizations in Africa and Asia; our work with Mexican partners to understand and improve the fiscal governance landscape; our ongoing engagement with the Open Government Partnership about the potential of data-driven learning cycles; our work on the use of data – including governance data – to support collaborative learning around governance-related challenges; and, our leadership of the space for learning and collaboration that is the Open Gov Hub.

Putting these M/E/L principles into practice, in order to support change in complex political systems, entails a number of challenges. These include the following:

  • First, it’s a challenge to persuade funders to invest in approaches that, by putting locally-led innovation, learning and adaptation center-stage, relinquish some of their (sometimes illusory, sometimes unhelpful) control, with the promise, but not the guarantee, of that leading to better outcomes. Relatedly, it’s a challenge – and one that we should not and can not duck – to persuade funders that investing in the capacity of a DC-based organization to support others’ learning makes sense;
  • Second, while we’re determined to link and sync our levels of learning and to make the case that collaborative learning and action is the path to sustainable results, it can be a challenge to balance the need to meet our own organizational learning needs and our need to report to funders about what difference their investments are making, with our imperative to support and prioritize local actors’ learning;
  • Third, and remembering I was on an M/E/L panel, it’s a challenge to pick indicators that are relevant to outcomes AND that we can make a plausible claim to have affected AND that can be measured; not an insurmountable challenge if you’re not hung up on attribution and are comfortable with qualitative indicators, but a challenge nonetheless; and
  • Fourth, the most important challenge is that of designing and facilitating learning that  – by getting the process, the participants, the content, and the location right – really enables local actors to navigate and shape the political dynamics around governance-related challenges.

Finally, I concluded by making the point that adaptive programming has two related but distinct aspects. One way in which programming can be adaptive is when it involves funders and implementing organizations such as DAI and Palladium adapting their approaches in response to emerging challenges and opportunities. A second way in which programming can be adaptive is when it supports learning and adaptation by the local actors who – if they have the autonomy – are best placed to make the decisions, and drive the action, that is needed to address complex, political and context-dependent challenges.

The first aspect of adaptive programming is important. The second is key if we really want to support and leverage the power of local actors to shift the dynamics of complex political systems and reshape the landscape of incentives. Otherwise, lots of talk about learning and adaptation will deliver little more than better managed programs that have little purchase on the political dynamics and incentives that lie behind complex governance and development challenges.

The question, to quote Robert Chambers on “learning to adapt”, is: “whose adaptation really counts, and how can we empower actors on the ground to put their adaptation first?” If learning-centered and adaptive approaches are to make a difference, it seems to us that they have to empower the relatively powerless and/or shift the incentives of the relatively powerful. We look forward to continued collaboration as we work with local partners, grappling with the complexities of power and learning, in order to address governance-related challenges, in ways that drive progress towards sustainable results.

Thanks to Michael Moses (our M/E/L lead, amongst other things), Katherine Haugh and Monalisa Salib (USAID LEARN) and Rosie Pinnington (University of Oxford) for helpful and generous comments on an earlier draft, to Dave Algoso and Florencia Guerzovich for early and ongoing conversations around learning and power, and to David Jacobstein and USAID colleagues for their leadership around the “locus of learning” and learning-centered and adaptive approaches to governance reform.

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Learning to Make All Voices Count – Six Learning Journeys from Five Countries https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/learning-to-make-all-voices-count-six-learning-journeys-from-five-countries/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/learning-to-make-all-voices-count-six-learning-journeys-from-five-countries/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 16:54:14 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19636 Michael Moses – Director of Advocacy and Programs, Global Integrity and Sue Soal

November 30, 2017

Learning to Make All Voices Count (L-MAVC), a program funded by Making All Voices Count, and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity, supported six MAVC grantees working in five countries (Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines and Indonesia). We worked with our partners to co-create and apply a participatory, learning-centred, and adaptive approach to strengthening citizen engagement in governance processes in their contexts, including with respect to the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

Our partners documented L-MAVC in various ways over the life of the program, creating a rich and detailed body of evidence that tracked progress towards project outcomes, as well as the ways in which the adaptive learning methodology contributed to those outcomes.

We intentionally pursued a participatory approach in all dimensions of L-MAVC, including our bilateral engagements with grantees around their strategies and projects, the design and style of the open and responsive peer learning workshops (which brought project managers, donors and grantees together for equitable and inclusive exchanges), and consultation and participation in the production of videos and blogs on the program. We also worked with grantees to make participation integral to the very approach to citizen engagement that they promoted and nurtured in their contexts. In this way, and in its everyday practice, L-MAVC sought to quite literally ‘make all voices count.’

To capture their experiences on L-MAVC, grantees wrote their own case stories at the program’s end. Grantees generated these case stories during the final peer learning workshop through a facilitated, collaborative ‘writeshop’ process. We then worked together to further develop the case stories through a consultative editing process. The final cases capture key challenges, lessons, and achievements, of each individual project, and therefore offer rich stand-alone accounts of the learning journeys of L-MAVC grantees.

The case stories produced by grantees can be accessed under findings and materials, here.  For more on L-MAVC, please see our website.

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Learning to Make All Voices Count: Localizing the Open Government Partnership https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/learning-to-make-all-voices-count-localizing-the-open-government-partnership/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/learning-to-make-all-voices-count-localizing-the-open-government-partnership/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:00:59 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19610 November 22, 2017

Michael Moses, Director of Advocacy and Programs

An increasingly compelling body of evidence suggests that governance reform is inherently political and complex (see, for example, Halloran 2014;  Menocal 2013; Levy 2011; and the 2017 World Development Report). There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to governance challenges, no blueprints for reform that can be imposed by external actors, or transplanted wholesale from one context to another. Attempts at encouraging reform are most likely to be successful when two conditions are met: first, local stakeholders are at the forefront of efforts to define governance challenges, develop and implement solutions, and pursue sustainable change; and second, those stakeholders have the flexibility to learn and adapt as they go, especially when working in complex political contexts (Guerzovich and Schommer 2016; Valters, Cummings and Nixon 2016; Ramalingam 2013; Booth 2011; Unsworth 2010; Andrews 2009; and Grindle 2005 are among many recent arguments to this effect).

However, and despite an emerging consensus on the importance of local ownership and learning, many questions remain about the practical implications of these insights, including with regard to the Open Government Partnership (OGP). What does it mean, in practice, for domestic reformers to take a politically engaged, learning-focused and adaptive approach to governance reform? How would external actors support such an approach? And how might adaptive programming fit into and complement existing OGP processes, such as the National Action Plan cycle and the Subnational Pioneers Program?

The Learning to Make All Voices Count Initiative (L-MAVC), a program funded by Making All Voices Count and implemented in collaboration with Global Integrity, attempted to explore and address these questions. Global Integrity partnered with Making All Voices Count staff and six Making All Voices Count grantees in Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania. We worked together to design and operationalize a participatory, learning-centred and adaptive program management methodology, with the intent of helping grantees strengthen citizen engagement in governance processes in their contexts, including with respect to the OGP.

Two overarching sets of lessons emerge from the experiences of L-MAVC grantees. First, supporting citizen engagement and government accountability in subnational contexts, and localizing the OGP in ways that matter to citizens, is not straightforward. Doing so successfully entails engaging with, navigating and shaping political and power dynamics in those contexts, and iteratively adapting to emerging lessons and challenges. Second, the effectiveness of adaptive ways of working depends in part on the extent to which they offer opportunities for cross-context peer learning, support the regular collection and use of data, and are themselves adaptive.

These lessons have implications for the broader community of actors working to support governance reform, including the OGP and its partners, donors and multilateral institutions, and practitioners and policy-makers. The evidence from L-MAVC suggests that if these actors are to contribute more effectively to reforms that affect citizens’ lives, substantial changes – with respect to the nature of support provided to domestic stakeholders and to grant-making practices – may be warranted.

For more on L-MAVC, and the lessons from our work with our enterprising partners over the past year, please see the full report. Stay tuned for forthcoming policy briefs as well. For more on specific learning journeys, we’ll soon publish individual project case stories produced by grantees themselves. Finally this short video summarizes some of the work undertaken as part of L-MAVC over the past year.

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Costing Open Government Reforms: What About the Politics? https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/costing-open-government-reforms-what-about-the-politics/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/11/costing-open-government-reforms-what-about-the-politics/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 16:51:50 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19562 Alan Hudson, Executive Director

November 9, 2017

Next week at the Open Gov Hub, we will be hosting a discussion about the pioneering work that colleagues at Results for Development have been doing to develop a framework for estimating the cost of open government reforms. You can sign-up for the event here and see the report – “Priceless?” – here.

We’re looking forward to hearing from the authors of the report, Praneetha Vissapragada and Naomi Joswiak. The creative minds behind the Open Gov Hub – Nathaniel Heller, also of Results for Development, and Jean-Louis Sarbib of Development Gateway – will join Praneetha, Naomi and I to discuss the value and limits of the approach to costing open government reforms that the report sets out.

This is a piece of work that we’ve followed closely as it emerged from the Research Consortium on the Impact of Open Government, with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. (Here is what we had to say a year ago).

  • Enthusiasm, because we agree (see “The value of open governance”) that the opengov agenda needs to move beyond rehearsing normative arguments for openness and pay additional attention to the costs, benefits, and pathways to impact, of more open processes of government. Paying attention to costs is in some ways the low-hanging fruit, but it is an important part of the mix.
  • Skepticism, because estimating the costs of supporting reforms that are political in nature, and generating cost estimates that are transferrable across different political contexts, is a major challenge and one which the Results for Development work does not at this stage – and notwithstanding the helpful caveat about context and variation on page 6 of the report –  squarely address.

There is no doubt that information about costs – and still more, impacts and pathways to those impacts – can be helpful inputs into decisions about whether and how to invest in opening government. There are however, some significant challenges in translating costings across contexts for investments that deal with issues such as governance that are, at their heart, political issues whose dynamics may vary greatly by context. Conducting lots of costings exercises – something which Results for Development are hoping to see happen – will provide additional data points, but more data points alone will not address the challenge of ensuring that the data can usefully inform investment decisions in other contexts.

We’ll have more to say on Tuesday, but as a sneak preview it seems to us that the sort of approach that Martin Williams of the Blavatnik School of Government sets out for considering whether a policy can translate across contexts, might also be useful in considering the extent to which costings estimates make sense across contexts (see here, and, relatedly this excellent paper on “the generalizability puzzle” by Mary Ann Bates and Rachel Glennerster). That is, to consider the extent to which the key assumptions made in the costings estimates, and in the underlying investments that have been made in one place, are likely to hold in another place where a similar approach is being considered.

We look forward to being part of the conversation about how investment decisions being made in one place can be informed by estimates of the costs of investments elsewhere. And to broadening the discussion to consider how efforts to measure the impacts of investments in governance and transparency – efforts such as those planned as part of the Brookings/Results for Development/Natural Resource Governance Institute collaboration on leveraging transparency to reduce corruption – can take account of the fact that the impact of investments in governance reform is, because of the political nature of governance reform, highly dependent on context.

Come join us as we grapple collaboratively with these important challenges, Tuesday 14th November, at 11am, at the Open Gov Hub – sign up here!

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A Leader on Learning, Accountability, and Impact: Welcome to Gertrude Mugizi! https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/10/leader-on-learning-welcome-gertrude/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/10/leader-on-learning-welcome-gertrude/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 21:27:56 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19504 October 24, 2017

We are delighted to be able to introduce Gertrude Mugizi as the newest member of Global Integrity’s board!

Based in South Africa, Gertrude has a wealth of experience in supporting progress towards more accountable governance, by supporting champions of governance reform as they try, learn and adapt towards solutions that work in their particular contexts.

Gertrude currently works with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). There, she runs PSAM’s Regional Learning Programme, an initiative to put learning – including cross-country peer learning – at the center of governance reforms that meet citizens’ needs.

Prior to working with PSAM, Gertrude worked with the Policy Forum in her home country of Tanzania, and also with the UK’s development agency, the Department for International Development.

Gertrude has a joint BA in Political Science and Language Translation (French – English) from Concordia University and an MSc in Public Policy and Management from SOAS, University of London.

We are thrilled to have Gertrude join our board and look forward to benefiting from her experience, expertise, perspective and insights!

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Launching the “Defending Democracy: Lessons from Around the World” Program https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/09/launching-the-defending-democracy-lessons-from-around-the-world-program/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/09/launching-the-defending-democracy-lessons-from-around-the-world-program/#respond Sat, 30 Sep 2017 17:30:52 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19477 ***This blog was originally published on the Open Gov Hub blog 9/29/2017***

September 30, 2017

Nada Zohdy – Director, Open Gov Hub


Click here to view this one page program overview as a PDF

American democratic values and norms are facing unprecedented threats, from deep polarization, to the erosion of public trust in institutions, political capture by special interests, and more. Yet the US is not alone: many other countries have been tackling similar challenges stemming from a pervading sense that governments are only serving a privileged few, rather than the many.

In response, Global Integrity, the Open Gov Hub and the Sunlight Foundation (with support from the Omidyar Network) are launching a partnership, in collaboration with Transparency International – Defending Democracy: Lessons from Around the World. The goal is to bolster the efforts of domestic democracy advocates and journalists by supporting  them to learn from other countries’ experiences in defending democracies in distress.

The program has two components: a “Democracy Dialogues” Series that will include a total of 12 convenings (each highlighting a different international experience); and a parallel effort to write-up and summarize lessons to promote continued dialogue and learning (an “Open Repository on Closing Governance”). We aim to create a platform for dialogue and exchange between diverse media and civil society actors, all protecting and promoting foundational democratic practices in their own ways.

We will focus on three broad themes: corruption, elections, and media/press freedom. All activities will aim to focus on new challenges within these themes (for example, combating fake news, entrenched oligarchy, and securing digital voting infrastructure). These themes were identified as priorities in our early consultations with US-focused organizations and are issues to which we bring relevant expertise and networks. There is also a timely window of opportunity to address them, given the growing severity of challenges related to corruption and press freedom, and the upcoming 2018 US midterm elections alongside numerous elections throughout 2018 worldwide.

This program will run from September 2017 until March 2019. We are looking to partner with a wide variety of actors to implement this critical work. Whether you are domestically or internationally focused, if you would like to participate in one or more convenings, submit a short written piece, suggest international cases or actors, or support this work in any other way, please contact Nada Zohdy, Director of the Open Gov Hub, at nada@opengovhub.org.

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Recap: How China Escaped the Poverty Trap https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/09/recap-how-china-escaped-the-poverty-trap/ https://www.globalintegrity.org/2017/09/recap-how-china-escaped-the-poverty-trap/#comments Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:36:07 +0000 http://www.globalintegrity.org/?p=19449

Nada Zohdy, Open Gov Hub Director and Alan Hudson, Global Integrity Executive Director

September 21, 2017

Last Thursday September 14th, we at Global Integrity and the Open Gov Hub were pleased to host Professor Yuen Yuen Ang for an event about her groundbreaking book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. This was accompanied by a rich panel discussion with commentators Edouard Al-Dahdah from the World Bank and Shanthi Kalathil from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Ang’s book has begun to make waves in our field (see book reviews from Yongmei Zhou, Michael Woolcock, Lant Pritchett, and Duncan Green),  and we were excited to convene a discussion to help continue the conversation forward.

You can watch the full event here.

Moderator Alan Hudson kicked off the event by noting three reasons he was excited to hear from Yuen:

  1. to better understand the amazing progress China has made in reducing poverty
  2. to reflect on the implications of China’s experience for the “Good Governance” agenda
  3. to hear about how innovation, learning and adaptation can be fostered in contexts that are far from open

Ang opened her remarks by presenting the poverty trap: the notion that poor countries are poor because of their weak institutions, and that they have weak institutions because they are poor. While this vicious cycle is concerning, she contended that encouraging poorer countries to adopt governance arrangements that rich countries now have – “getting to Denmark” – often makes things worse (citing Woolcock and Pritchett’s paper, “When the Solution is the Problem.”)

Ang then highlighted three key facts about China’s path to rapid, unprecedented development – lifting 800 million people out of poverty in just one generation. First was a reminder of just how poor China was in 1980, with a lower GDP per capita than Malawi, Bangladesh and Chad at the time. Second, she noted that China’s development process began in an authoritarian but un-technocratic bureaucracy (unlike Singapore and Hong Kong for example which inherited technocratic bureaucracies from British colonial rule). Most Chinese government officials only had 6 years of education when this process began. Third, she reminded the audience that that China ultimately lifted 800 million people out of poverty without any anti-poverty policies. How?

Based on these insights, she presented a novel, three-step framework to understand how development occurs:

  1. use existing institutions that outside experts might consider “weak/backward/wrong” to build markets
  2. emerging markets stimulate stronger institutions
  3. strong institutions preserve markets

In other words, “Poor and weak countries can escape the poverty trap first by building markets with weak institutions and, more fundamentally, by crafting environments that facilitate improvisation among the relevant players” (from p.16 of the book – you can read Alan’s notes from throughout the book here). The key piece of advice here is: start with what you have, not what you’d like to have.

Ang asserted that institutions that outside experts might categorize as “weak/wrong/backward” can be functionally strong. For example, Chinese local civil servants used patronage and personal connections to marshall resources for the government. (Intriguingly, Ang argued that the millions of civil servants in China should be considered part of civil society.) But as local governments got richer their preferences changed over time, evolving to become a specialized, professional bureaucracy.

She stated that while China is the best example of this three-step process unfolding, other examples of the same process can be found in the emergence of the Nollywood film industry in Nigeria, property rights in late medieval Europe, and the public financial system in the American Gilded Age in the late 19th century. Perhaps indeed, in many or most stories of development.

The key lesson: once you have established markets and healthy economic activities, any society does need ‘good’ institutions such as rule of law, but in order to create markets societies have to start with what they have, no matter how ‘backwards’ or wrong those institutions may appear to outside Western development practitioners.

Ang argued that we often take an ahistorical approach to development, forgetting that countries that are rich today didn’t start with the institutions they have now, and “kicking away the ladder” of options that currently rich countries used to develop as Ha-Joon Chang puts it. She discouraged the practice of comparing everything to a contemporary Western model (striving to have all countries “get to Denmark” may blind us from seeing existing institutions in any country that can be harnessed to enable economic growth), and instead argued in favor of using multiple benchmarks of good governance.   

This gave guidance for external development actors: “When foreign experts enter developing contexts and insist that there is one universal standard of good institutions – namely, that found in wealthy capitalist societies – this by itself imposes a lethal impediment against localized adaptation” (p. 245).

Shanthi Kalathil asked how the pursuit of economic growth might mask other trends counter to democratic development, such as growing inequality. She critically asked if working with existing corrupt institutions to promote development further entrenches corruption. Edouard Al-Dahdah then echoed Ang’s distinction between the normative versus functional role of institutions by emphasizing that the World Development Report 2017 argues that it is important to consider the function as well as – and perhaps more than – the form of institutions; that is, how effective they are at doing what they are supposed to do. In the language of Deng Xiaoping, who dropped Mao’s ideology in favor of effectiveness: it doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mice!

Al-Dahdah summarized how the WDR 2017 looked at 13 diverse country cases of growth, equity and security and they found that all countries had three things in common:

  1. governments that made credible commitments (enforcement)
  2. cooperation between citizens and governments
  3. social coordination

This incrementalist understanding of development aligned with Ang’s presentation by pointing out how many countries begin with apparently corrupt practices (rather than ethical standards) and only evolve preferences and norms against corruption over time.

A rich discussion between audience and presenters ensued. One question was about how exactly China implemented these reforms, to which Ang responded “directed improvisation” – meaning that the Chinese central government never strictly controlled local governments and instead gave them broad parameters in which to operate (similar to the guidance artists receive for their performances). This – along with incentives to innovate – allowed and encouraged local governments to experiment, adapt and improve based on their specific contexts and ultimately achieve strong development.

A related question was, “what should we learn from how China learns,”to which the response was largely to not bother to imitate the form of institutions but instead consider their function, and was to create conditions for spontaneity – learning happens best in an environment that combines freedom and structure.

Another question asked if culture is not a deeply influential factor in shaping the norms and institutions in any society? Ang responded that culture is by definition fixed over the long-term and thus cannot explain the sudden great change in development in China’s very recent history. Al-Dahdah added that incentives and cost-benefit analysis can explain the development of any society rather than culture, and that the form of institutions should not be copied but rather development practitioners should always ask themselves what function institutions are fulfilling in their particular contexts. As Ang states in her book, “My central message is that the underlying ‘cause’ of economic development, if indeed we had to name one, is the construction of an adaptive environment that empowers relevant actors to improvise solutions to continuously evolving problems” (p.223)

A healthy debate ensued around corruption. Ang noted how petty corruption has declined in China but grand corruption is on the rise (and her next book will be on categorizing and measuring types of corruption and specifying their effects). She argued that ultimately corruption does not affect people’s daily lives as much as it used to as people no longer need to pay bribes as much in their daily government interactions. Shanthi Kalathil pushed back and asked what democracy and human rights-related problems we may be inadvertently contributing to in pursuit of economic growth. Another audience member asked if it is truly possible to harness corruption (as an institution in service of economic growth), without embracing it? Yet all agreed that Ang’s work – and China’s success in lifting 800 million people out of poverty – highlights the need for thinking, policy and practice to move beyond the “Good Governance” agenda, and adds much to the emerging outlines of an agenda that focuses on local innovation, learning and adaptation.

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