Development Links – May-July

Wow, so I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t gotten around to writing up some posts, so let’s see if I can get back into the habit of blogging again by getting this draft of several articles I was looking at from the begining of the summer.

  • Violent Conflict and Gender Inequality – A World Bank working paper that takes a look at the varying gendered effects of conflict around the world. It feels a bit like a literature review. There are some very interesting papers cited in this review. I didn’t see a whole lot of new information, but it is a good summary of the many ways that conflict can effect both men and women.
  • Education Technology Success Stories – Excellent paper from Brookings looking at some of the successful and promising technologies that could be harnessed to improve our education system. I think that the spirit of the paper is especially important in that they are looking at technologies as aids, that can enable teachers and students to better use their skills and improve the efficiency of the education process.
  • A Welcome Half Loaf on Food Aid Reform (Center for Global Development) – An excellent post looking at the proposed reforms the the U.S. Food Aid program. I am generally in agreement with the author that any reform of the program would be welcome. Increasing local and regional sourcing would be more efficient, and allow for greater spill over effects into regional economies, instead of using food aid as an excuse to subsidize the transportation and agriculture sector. If a full reform isn’t possible at this time, incremental steps are better than nothing, and if implementing these reforms increases the push towards greater trade liberalization of the agriculture sector in Europe, than all the better.
  • RTC Study on School Uniforms in Ecuador (PDF)
  • Internet and Elections (World Bank Blog) – Not sure if the world is ready for voting on the internet. It is true electronic voting could encourage greater participation, improving access to voting, and speeding up the counting of votes and encouraging transparency, while reducing opportunities for voter intimidation. However, moving the election online could also open up elections to security attacks (hackings) and easier falsification of identity on the one hand, and if implemented by less than honest governments could facilitate ballot stuffing. Much like in most areas the promise of technology to improve our lives needs to be weighted with a good deal of skepticism, because the devil is always in the details.
  • Kenya’s laptops for schools dream fails to address reality (The Guardian)

Admitting Failure, Greater Stakeholder Involvement, and Improving Development Outcomes

Since attending a FailFaire a couple years ago, I have been very interested in the challenges of identifying failure, admitting to the failure, and learning from failure. We all make mistakes in our own lives, and professionally. We make mistakes for hundred of reasons, but one of the most common reasons is lack of experience and information. Poor information and understanding of dynamics on the ground in places we try to do development greatly increases our chances of failing. International development is littered with failure, in fact, I think that the number of failed projects greatly outnumber successful projects. However, by not accepting we fail and owning up to these failures we are wasting an amazing body of experiences we could be learning from. Admitting to these failures not only give us opportunities to learn from what has gone wrong, but help us develop greater credibility with our stakeholders who see that we take responsibility for our actions and attempt to right things when they invariably go wrong.

Still, development institutions find it difficult to admit shortcomings in projects…there is a tendency to handle these shortcomings by defending the decisions made rather than showing empathy or directly addressing stakeholders’ concerns. Things have certainly improved, yet the immediate reaction is to be defensive. – Shamiela Mir (World Bank)

This defensiveness Mir points out is a major problem. Trying to pass off responsibility for a project’s failure is natural, but we need to start taking more responsibility for the failure of our projects. We also need to do a better job of involving stakeholders in all stages of the development process, and admitting to failure will make this easier. Increased stakeholder involvement would be beneficial in many ways

  1. Greater involvement from the beginning allows us to better design and target interventions that meet the needs of the beneficiaries we are trying to help
  2. When interventions target needs identified by the beneficiaries there is much higher likelihood of ownership of the project and the results, which should increase the possibility of sustainable development
  3. Keeping open communication during the implementation phase increases the opportunity to hear what is going right as well as what is going wrong. This allows for a more flexible just-in-time mentality where we can better adjust the implementation to local circumstances.
  4. When the beneficiaries are fully involved and own the project, they are more likely to participate in followup studies to assess the long-term effects of our interventions

Further Reading:
I highly recommend checking out the blog post by Mir that I quoted above. She looks at the value of giving apologies, and how owning mistakes could be beneficial to international development.

Not only is this blog post interesting there are some excellent links to other articles about making effective apologies and learning from failures. I particularly liked the following ones:

If you are interested in reading more about improving stakeholder involvement in development I highly recommend checking out Listening to Those Who Matter Most, the Beneficiaries, a recent article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, by Fay Twersky, Phil Buchanan, and Valerie Threlfall

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Annals of Misleading Statistics: Literacy 83

Amen David McKenzie. In the field of International Development the availability of good data is frustratingly awful, which makes it difficult to identify let alone pursue good policy. There is no need to compound this problem by misrepresenting and oversimplifying what limited data we have. I applaud any attempt to communicate the real problems that exist in the world, and increasing awareness, but the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is often not the best way forward if we are concerned about real long term changes. Instead building capacity to understand and interpret more complex situations and numbers should be the goal, and refrain from “Fox-Newsifying” everything in the attempt to quickly reach people and avoid having to do the hard and long work of educating people on the issues.

Does Gender Matter in Migration

Does Gender Matter in Migration

An excellent short blog post by David McKenzie at the World Bank, which illustrates the difficulty in untangling causation in gender related issues. I wish more people would follow his skepticism and caution when trying to make causative assumptions on complex social issues like gender and development.