A new era for development – the future or already reality?

Guest blog by Arnaldo Pellini

Michael Woolcock, the Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank, gave the keynote speech at the International Conference on Best Development Practices and Policies organized by the State Ministry of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS) on August, 19-20 in Jakarta. He is one of the leading voices in the debate around new ways for approaching development problems and designing development interventions that are more flexible and context specific. He is the co-author of a well-known paper that presents an alternative approach, the Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation.

Here are some of the key insights I took from Michael Woolcock on a new era for development:

  • We are entering a new era of development which we can be called Development 2.0. Development 1.0 was concerned with technocratic reforms required to provide access to basic services such as education and health. Most countries (certainly middle income countries) have achieved that and have the infrastructures in place: policies, schools, health centers, textbooks, etc. Development 2.0 is about the state capability to make those systems work, providing good quality public services to citizens. For example, schools have been built, teachers are trained, national policies on salary and curricula are in place. So, why is it that some schools perform well and other do not perform well? Those are the questions that we need to research and answer in Development 2.0.
  • Development 2.0 is about multiple (and localized) solutions to development problems. A traditional approach in development is to find smart or best practices and scale them up through nation-wide policies. That approach has had mixed results. Development 2.0 is more about mapping out where public services work well and why as well as where service do not work well and why. Smart practice can still emerge but they can be interpreted to provide a variety of policy responses. This will require moving from the technocratic evidence and knowledge central to Development 1.0, to a more multidisciplinary approach to research and multiple types of evidence that can inform policy decisions aimed at improving service delivery.
  • Multiple sources of evidence help to deal with diversity of development problems. The new evidence generated by various types of research methods and various types of knowledge (eg, community knowledge) will produce maps of variations in service quality and delivery, which can suggest the need for multiple solutions or interventions and to draw as much as possible on local knowledge, initiatives, and various forms of capital (eg budget, social capital, human capital, etc.).
  • Development 2.0 is an era where variation and uncertainty have to be accepted and embraced. It is an era where one-size-fits-all solutions will struggle to succeed and where context specific, technically sound and politically feasible solutions can have a greater chance of success.
  • We, development practitioners and researchers have to learn to become more modest about the extent of what we can learn and, especially, what we can suggest. We can map where bureaucracies struggle and contribute with ideas that can help segments or units of the bureaucracy to provide the services that citizen expect from them. We should avoid the temptation to suggest the solution having mapped with our work only small bits of complex political and institutional realities.

At the end of the meeting I remembered the review written by Malcolm Gladwell about the biography of Albert O. Hirschman, The Gift of Doubt: ‘The economist Albert O. Hirschman […] was a “planner,” the kind of economist who conceives of grand infrastructure projects and bold schemes. But his eye was drawn to the many ways in which plans did not turn out the way they were supposed to—to unintended consequences and perverse outcomes and the puzzling fact that the shortest line between two points is often a dead end. He understood the power of failure and had the gift of doubt.’

Development 2.0 is already here. It seems to me that we should all make use of the same gift of doubt if we are to contribute to progress and innovation in building state capabilities.

Busting Myths about Governance and Development

David Booth highlighted 5 myths about governance and development in a blog earlier this year. Two of his points are particularly relevant for PDIA.

You can find the entire blog here.

Getting Best Fit in Development Projects is like buying a new suit

written by Matt Andrews

I often hear talk of moving from best practice to best fit in development. When I ask what people mean by this I seldom get the same answer. But the basic idea is that multiple solutions are considered  instead of a one-best-way solution. I like the idea in concept and have written on it as a way of ensuring that we get past the tyranny of one-best-way. But I don’t think having multiple solutions to choose from is enough.

Getting Best fit is not simply about looking at a variety of options and deciding which one works best in the place one is working. This is because it is really hard to know what led to and informed the ideas being considered, and it is hard to know what the contextual realities are in the place where one is doing the fitting. So: One may think that an idea from South Africa will work in Botswana, because there are contextual similarities, but one does not know if the South African idea depends on very localized political or capacity issues that are not present in Botswana.

The only way one truly does best fit is by trying stuff out and learning what works, hopefully why, and then adapting. Try the South African example in Botswana, ask where it is working and why, and then chisel the idea into a shape that fits Botswana better — simultaneously building some new capacities in Botswana to make the fit work.

It is not, therefore, about getting best fit in some conceptual manner, but about ‘fitting’ in practice. Kind of like being a tailor to someone looking for a new suit. How might it work? Let’s think of buying a new suit….

  • Identify the general type of suite that interests you…
  • Choose a variety of potential suites off-the-shelf
  • Try them on…with the tailor advising on their fit…
  • Learn what kinds of cuts and styles work best for your look (you may be surprised and find your assumptions were incorrect)
  • Decide on the style and cut and color you want (and other characteristics)
  • See what you can take off-the-shelf (you may have the entire suite, or a jacket, or a jacket with sleeves that need shortening, etc.)
  • Get the tailor to make alterations you need… as many as required
  • try it on again
  • make more alterations
  • pay that tailor and leave, to impress the world with your best fitted suit!

How do money, ideas and, reforms come together to produce better development outcomes?

Despite the considerable time, money, and effort that aid agencies, international organizations, and NGOs expend producing analysis and advice to inform or influence policymakers in developing countries, there is a remarkable lack of understanding about which of these instruments are most and least effective at spurring and sustaining reforms – and why.

In an attempt to answer these questions, AidData gathered firsthand experiences and insights from 6,750 policymakers and practitioners in 126 low-and middle-income countries. Through their analysis, they identify overall trends, attributes of influential assessments, and both intended and unintended effects of such assessments. These are summarized in their Marketplace of Ideas for Policy Change report.

Here’s an excerpt from the conclusion:

“The Minister’s adviser would probably tell her that, of the wide variety of assessments at her disposal, the policy analysis and advice contained in the assessments of large, global international organizations have proven to be particularly valuable to other reformers. He might also warn the Minister not to rely on the analysis and advice provided by assessment suppliers who lack an in-country presence. These suppliers may not be able to provide the contextual insights needed for the effective design of specific reform features. Additionally, after explaining that external performance assessments are generally associated with more successful reform efforts when they source their data from the governments they assess, the adviser would probably suggest that the Minister pay particularly close attention to assessments that draw upon the data that the government is already producing.

The Minister and her adviser would eventually confront the issue of whether to use country-specific performance assessments or cross-country benchmarking assessments. The adviser would likely explain that each type of assessment has its own advantages and disadvantages. Country-specific assessments contain in-depth diagnostic and advisory content, which may resonate with local stakeholders because they are more attuned to local needs and realities. These assessments tend to be more popular with policymakers across the developing world; however, they can also leave host government officials with a false sense of confidence in the analysis and advice they provide, thus bypassing critical internal processes of introspection, deliberation, and iterative problem solving.

Cross-country benchmarking assessments, on the other hand, are less attractive at first blush because they lack nuance and context specificity. However, when decision-makers confront complex issues of corruption, informality, and institutional dysfunction, they can provide greater policy flexibility and maneuverability than country-specific assessments, enabling the government to experiment with different reform strategies and iteratively adapt in pursuit of better, de facto outcomes.

Noting the Minister’s interest in Greek mythology, the adviser might remind her of the many perils Odysseus faced on his journey home from Troy and counsel the Minister to avoid steering her country into the “capability trap” that has ensnared other well-intentioned, would-be reformers. He would encourage her to focus on simple, solvable problems before undertaking more complex reforms. To underscore his point, he might even slip a copy of a short article by Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, and Matt Andrews into the Minister’s read file, which describes the capability trap as a dynamic that enables [policymakers] to document instances of apparent reform and thus assure a continued flow of development resources to their country or sector, despite the fact that the reforms themselves may be generating few actual improvements in performance.”

Read the full report for more.

PDIA in Indonesia: The new frontline service delivery policy

How does the government of Indonesia make its presence felt by all 250 million citizens across the sprawling archipelago?

While decentralization provides district governments the authority to address local needs, effective execution of these functions relies heavily on the capacity of the local governments to analyze service gaps and drive more coordinated efforts to address them, as well as the capacity of communities to voice their needs, provide feedback and be part of the solution.

To address this, the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2015-19 includes a new policy to improve basic services for the poor and vulnerable. The approach focuses on enhancing interactions at the front line between government, service providers and citizens, as well as their collective ability to diagnose and solve service delivery bottlenecks at the community level.

A multidisciplinary team from 8 sectors conducted a series of field visits between September 2014 and January 2015, with a mission to identify local innovation and best practices for improving services for the poor and vulnerable. Using a PDIA approach, they engaged with a broad set of stakeholders, had enriching interactions, and were able to view the same problem from different angles. Vignettes from their field visits are captured in Catalyzing local innovation to improve services for Indonesia’s Poor. Some of the lessons they learned include:

  • Focus on fostering experimentation and learning at the local level , rather than fixating on sluggish reforms at the central level.
  • One size does not fit all. Instead of prescribing a set menu of interventions to improve service delivery, the approach should be to create a supportive policy and institutional environment that fosters innovation.
  • The locus of innovation also matters. The closer the innovation occurs to the community, the more potential for catalytic change.
  • Diffusion can happen organically but knowledge sharing and creating communities of practice can help the expansion of innovative ideas.

Watch Anna Winoto from the National Development Planning Ministry in Indonesia discuss the frontline service delivery policy at the Doing Development Differently Philippines workshop. The challenge in this work is to facilitate district governments to innovate, which requires multi-disciplinary district teams who can solve problems together, access flexible financing, leadership and change management, and diagnostic tools to allow for rapid feedback.

Getting real about development; It is hard

Written by Matt Andrews

I’m reminded so regularly that development is about change. If it’s done well it is about change that sticks, and even more about countries becoming adaptive (able to change continuously at the right pace and in the right way).

This requires learning and building a specific type of DNA in people, organizations, and countries. And this learning is hard. Often because learning is perceived as failure, and failure is feared.

The truth is that most key development breakthroughs happen out of the lessons of things gone wrong, but in the moment of going wrong it is hard to see how valuable the failure is; it seems like all is falling apart and critics come out of every window and door they can.

Keeping one’s head in these moments is crucial, and is required to let people see failure as learning and to see that learning itself is the key to success.

I wonder how often public policy schools teach students about these moments and how to manage yourself in the face of the turmoil these moments involve. I think this may be one of the most important lessons to learn if you want to work in development and not spend all the time writing safe reports no one uses or consult from a distance, or do stuff without bringing local folks along to learn how to do it themselves.

Making the case for case studies in development practice

Written by Michael Woolcock

The frequency and sophistication with which case studies are deployed by social scientists has greatly expanded in recent years. The goal now is not merely to document or describe, but to diagnose, explain, interpret, and inform a basis for action. Professional schools across the disciplines – from medicine and engineering to business and public policy – now routinely use ‘the case method’ not only to teach but to generate practical knowledge.

World Bank staff have been active contributors to and beneficiaries of these trends, especially as the role of institutions and governance has gained prominence in efforts to enhance development effectiveness. When complex places, processes, people and projects come together, they inherently yield a diverse range of outcomes. Mapping this variation with survey data and then explaining how it varies using targeted case studies can yield uniquely instructive insights for development policy and practice.

This twin approach forms the empirical foundations of a forthcoming report on public service delivery in the Middle East and North Africa region, and will be a central component of the new Global Delivery Initiative (which will focus on explaining and improving the quality of implementation systems).

Rather than seeking universal ‘best practice’ responses as a basis for policy advice, analysts use case studies to learn from ‘natural’ (or sometime overtly experimental) sources of intra-country variation. Everyone can agree in the abstract that context and high quality institutions matter for development, and that one size doesn’t fit all, but these truisms aren’t much help when trying to provide specific advice in response to a specific problem in a specific place, such as stemming urban violence in Rio de Janeiro or promoting more effective antenatal services for women in Cairo. Case studies are emerging as a useful strategy for eliciting not just uplifting success stories, but as unique data collection tools that can guide policy and practice by helping domestic actors adjust in real time as they seek solutions to emerging problems.

The recently completed ‘Institutions Taking Root’ (ITR) study is an exemplary instance of this new approach to discerning what works, and how success happens, in development. In places that initially seemed unlikely venues for successful development, the ITR team began from the premise that someone, somewhere, somehow had probably figured out how to make real gains where others had not.

In contexts ranging from rural electrification in Lao PDR to basic and secondary education in The Gambia, researchers sought out islands of success in seas of seeming failure, defining success as positive outcomes which were measurable, legitimate and durable (i.e., robust despite exogenous shocks or changes in political leadership). An institution was considered to have achieved results if it exhibited sustained, measurable improvements in key agency outputs and outcomes, doing so across prevailing social cleavages (e.g., rural-urban, between ethnic groups, etc.).

Having identified such outcomes, researchers sought to test hypotheses examining the institution’s interaction with its context, and the organization’s inner workings. This procedure was followed in each of the case studies to guide and standardize data collection, thereby making systematic comparison of the cases possible. Interviews and focus groups were conducted both outside-in (focusing on external stakeholders and constituents first before moving onto officials) and bottom-up (beginning with frontline service providers before moving to agency management and political leaders) to ensure that typically less dominant viewpoints were represented.

One memorable example from the ITR describes the ministry of public works in Lao. Most such ministries, especially in poor countries, have strong imperatives to focus on building new roads rather than maintaining existing ones: new roads look impressive, provide officials with elaborate opening ceremonies and flattering media coverage, and most have an immediately large economic impact.

Fixing old roads, by contrast, is boring, time-consuming and devoid of political pay-off, no matter how necessary. But in Lao, the minister of public works had managed to shape a broad public consensus on the moral, economic and political importance of keeping roads in good repair. Deploying a memorable slogan, he travelled the country reminding villagers and elites alike that “Making children is easy and fun; raising children is hard and costly!” In this way, he argued, roads were like people: they should be cared for if they are to make a lasting contribution to Lao society. No matter their level of education, everyone in Lao understood the minister’s analogy; his unique but explicit leadership on this issue enabled him to secure political credit for an important issue that is usually overlooked.

Is this then “the answer” for raising the profile of road maintenance in developing countries everywhere? Readers will doubtless have their own views, but I think it is an answer, demonstrating how a particular team of people found a way to solve a tough but widespread problem. As such, it can hopefully be a source of inspiration and ideas for others elsewhere seeking to find their own solutions.

(Read more posts about this report here)

This post previously appeared on the World Bank blog.