Getting Real about Governance and Governance Indicators

written by Matt Andrews

Many have asked me how I personally think about governance and assess governance when I visit countries. I have a new working paper that presents my thoughts on this. These thoughts manifest in what I call an ends-means approach to looking at governance.

I focus on ends as a starting point in looking at governance because these reflect the revealed functionality or capability of states—what they can do. I think that revealed capabilities and ends are ignored in much of the current governance discussion because of a bias towards questions about form and preferred means of governing. The bias manifests in reform programs that introduce commonly agreed-upon and apparently ‘good’ means of managing public finances, structuring regulatory frameworks, procuring goods, organizing service delivery, managing civil servants, and much more. The bias is even reflected in views that governments should be transparent and non-corrupt and have merit based hiring procedures. I am sure we all want to be in governments that look like this, but do appearances matter as much as action? And do these appearances always promote the action needed from governments, especially in developing countries?

In promoting a form based governance agenda (of what we want states to look like), I think we (as a community of governance observers) often forget that governments exist to do and not just to be. We thus focus on the means of being rather than the product of doing. This bias leads to governance indicators and reforms that emphasize perfection of means, often failing to make a connection to the ends or even clarifying which ends matter. (Or allowing for the idea that different ends might matter in different places at different times or that different ends might justify and even warrant different means in different countries or even sectors in countries). This is particularly problematic in developing countries where governments are only five or six decades old and are still defining and creating their ends and their means. Approaches to governance should help in this process of defining and re-defining, but this help should start by emphasizing ends—what governments need to do to promote development for citizens—and then think about means—how governments could do such things.

The tension between ends and means in the governance discourse

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The first section of this new paper makes the argument for focusing on ends and then means. The second and third provide details on the ends and means I typically look at; identifying seventy of these to get as full a picture of governance as possible. A fourth section then discusses why I do not use stand-alone, hold-all indicators of governance to present this picture. The next section introduces my own way of actually looking at and analyzing governance data: Using comparative, bench-marked dashboards and narratives instead of stand-alone indicators. I build a dashboard example to show how it allows a view on the multi-dimensional nature of governance and fosters a conversation about strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in specific countries.

Here is what it looks like. For details you will have to read the paper, but the idea is that one picture—made up of 70 pieces of data—illustrates how a specific government compares with others on important ends and means. The variation in colors reflects the variation in governance characteristics and performance, which is commonly evident in countries. Hold-all governance indicators commonly fail to show this variation, averaging it out instead of revealing it as key to getting a full picture of the governance situation in any state.

Example of a Dashboard

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I don’t intend for this to be an academic treatise, but offer it as my personal viewpoint on an increasingly important topic. Think of it, perhaps, as an exercise in ‘thinking out loud’. As such, the paper is a cover-all piece on my views about this subject to date, which one will see in the references to my work, including articles, blog posts, formal figures and tables and less formal cartoons. Hopefully the totality of this work provokes some thinking beyond my own. In particular, I aim to contribute to the discussion about including governance indicators in the post 2015 development indicator framework. The final section of this paper offers specific ideas in this regard, intended to build on already-important contributions.

 

 

 

 

The Chief Minister Posed Questions We Couldn’t Answer

Guest post written by Jeffrey Hammer

I was recently at a conference in Lahore, Pakistan sponsored by the International Growth Centre where the keynote address was given by Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the province of Punjab, Pakistan (100+ million people). While fun to see old friends and colleagues, the conference was a little depressing in the way it reflected the state of the development economics profession.

The Chief Minister posed serious questions that have traditionally been the bread and butter of the economics profession. Unfortunately, we are not even trying to answer them any more. The specific question was “Should I put more money into transport? Infrastructure (power, roads, water)? Law and order? Social services? Or what? And where am I going to get the money?” What questions could be more solidly part of the core of economics than these? Unfortunately none of these were even remotely the focus of the “evidence-based” policy making discussed.

Almost all of the cases analyzed were  single, simple policy “tweaks” that were, first of all, isolated from the broader market context in which they occurred and, second, had no conception of opportunity cost – what we would have to give up to pursue these things? We had an answer to “how to improve a public food distribution system” but even with a precise answer (to whether a tweak would work) we had no idea whether the substantial amount of money funding such a system is a good idea. Maybe the Chief Minister would be better off improving education or road networks or police or rural electricity. Some of these alternative policies could have more impact on food consumption than food distribution if we thought about how the world worked. Getting food to market securely (roads, better cold storage, trustworthy police and safe roads – this is Pakistan, which no one seemed to notice) may increase food availability much more than any tunnel-visioned food program Or not – maybe the food distribution system is better. We just don’t know. And none of us “experts” are trying to find out.

On spending priorities, what we need is the old fashioned notion of opportunity cost. “Evidence” now is “did something work?” meaning did it have any effect at all? or “can we get it to work a little better?” But the real question in such a resource-constrained economy is “does it work well enough to take money away from the power plant it prevented or any other thing money could have been used for?”  Or even, “is it better than leaving the money in private hands by not collecting the taxes to pay for it?” Besides not knowing the marginal welfare cost of taxation (anyone remember that?), we forget that poor people use their money for food, so the first-order effect of tax revenues is to make poor children hungrier. Is the benefit from secondary education or bicycles or the fertilizer subsidy so good as to impose this cost on these children?  We don’t know who ultimately pays taxes (when wages, for example, respond to indirect taxation) but it is likely that poor people, the majority of the population, pay at least some substantial share. And we don’t know how badly distorted the tax system is – in its very structure, not just in its administration. The incidence and efficiency loss of the whole structure of taxation are the first order answers the Chief Minister needs. No one studies these anymore.

When someone says “we should have more “X” because we have evidence that it works”, the response should be “compared to what?” What should we cut in order to promote your particular interest? My hobby horse these days is more sanitation in South Asia. I should have to defend it against (at least) a few alternatives.

It’s not like we have no basis for making this comparison. We usually try to determine which things the private sector (i.e. almost everyone – farmers, bicycle manufacturers and repairmen, truckers, shopkeepers, halal sausage casing makers) can be safely relied upon to produce, where it goes somewhat wrong (exactly how bad are private schools or doctors?) and where it is a flaming disaster such that the government is utterly indispensable. While we’ve all drawn the gap between public and private costs (or benefits) to help us talk about optimal Pigouvian taxes, when was the last time anyone tried to measure this one, central concept for valuing interventions in developing countries? Or in developed countries, for that matter? We look at enrollment rates (or even learning rates) but never ask “how much is this secondary education worth, and how much of that isn’t captured by the student?” Further, since there is no reason to think the number is the same in any two places, even if there were a couple of such studies, it wouldn’t make up the bulk of what we call policy-relevant research. And it’s not like it’s easy to do so we can’t just say “let the practitioner-types do the (routine) calculations”. There is nothing routine to it at all.

 In the conference, several research projects measured an effect (not an externality, not a welfare loss – just an effect) that could well be part of an almost completely private good with no serious market failures to speak of. Can it really be the case that date exporters genuinely didn’t know that packaging for export was available (and wouldn’t a phone call to either the exporters or the marketing wing of the packaging producers suffice)? Did football producers really need to know a better pattern for cutting pentagons out of leather when mechanized stitching (as the commentator on that paper noted) is swiftly changing the entire production process worldwide? Will the competition that is currently mechanizing allow firms to exist even with the 10% higher profits that a better pattern enables? And are policy makers (even with Ivy League economists as their advisors) really going to make better decisions than those producers or, much more importantly, the competitive forces in the economy?

My defense of my promoting sanitation is that I contrasted the value of health via providing public goods (sewer systems in cities) to spending on publicly provided health care (a rival and excludable service – I’m avoiding the “p” word, this being the sub-continent). I don’t know if I’ve cleanly identified the effect that I purport to have measured – whether open defecation without sewage in slums damages the health of its residents – but it makes sense, is tied to most peoples’ notions of the nature of public and private goods, and gives some evidence of an externality. One reason to avoid specifying which service should be sacrificed is to avoid fights. Even fairly convincing evidence that publicly provided healthcare is of questionable value can provoke uncomfortable arguments. But not even mentioning the opportunity cost of a proposed policy is irresponsible.

On collecting more taxes: this is, of course, a core government activity. Any way we can efficiently get more money into government coffers to support critical public services is to be applauded. But what we were treated to was a two-year experiment on something that looks like tax-farming (and indeed, was titled as such). Higher powered incentives to collect taxes? When you’re being watched?  Tax inspectors didn’t know an experiment was underway? Even if it was double blind (which it was not), can a two-year project using currently recruited tax inspectors (i.e., those that entered public service expecting to get a salary without having to work too much) anticipate what happens in equilibrium when everyone figures out how to make money from these high-powered incentives? That is, core government service or not, there is a labor market in which the people who this experiment purports to study operate. It is the nature of the long-run equilibrium of that market that is the proper level of analysis for policy purposes, not the behavior of the particular individuals who happen to have the job at present. As the commentator on that paper noted, the proposal looked like the medieval version of tax farming. But that scheme always deteriorated in time (longer than a two-year experiment would tell us) into an ugly system that brought down rulers.

The Chief Minister is a committed and capable man. With the recent elections behind him, he has the opportunity to actually accomplish things. He deserves much better support than we’re giving him.

This post originally appeared as a World Bank Blog.

You cannot Juggle without the Struggle: How the USA historically avoided the “Tyranny of Experts”

written by Lant Pritchett

The period between the end of the American Civil War and the end of World War II saw a transformation of America with the rise of dominant large organizations in both the private economy and public life. The economic historian Alfred Chandler’s in The Visible Hand and Scale and Scope documents the rise of “managerial capitalism” with large economic bureaucracies in the railroads, oil, steel, automobiles, electricity, and telecommunications establishing new foundations of a productive economy.

Similarly, in nearly every domain of engagement the organization of the state became more centralized, more bureaucratic, more centrally controlled. Or, as this is typically described, the “Progressive Agenda” caused governance to become more “professional” more “scientific” more “efficient” as bureaucratic hierarchies displaced localism and Ostrom-esque “polycentric” systems.   Historians of the US tell this story about many fields and organizations.

Samuel Hays Conservation And The Gospel Of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 is summarized as: “Against a background of rivers, forests, ranges, and public lands, this book defines two conflicting political processes: the demand for an integrated, controlled development guided by an elite group of scientists and technicians and the demand for a looser system allowing grassroots impulses to have a voice through elected government representatives.” In the end the “modern” organizations of management of publicly owned lands—but only after having to struggle to prove the improved effectiveness of their methods against continued powerful opposition.

Daniel Carpenter’s The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks, and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 narrates the rise of (among other organizations) the “modern” Post Office as a centrally controlled civil service bureaucracy. It had to struggle itself into control of the post against powerful political forces and local resistance that supported the former Jacksonian system of locally appointed postmasters.

Education historian David Tyack’s The One Best System: History of American Urban Education tells of the rise of the urban school system as a “modern” and “scientific” organization that struggled—with mixed success—to consolidate and control the myriad of locally controlled schools and school districts. American began the century with 150,000 school districts, down to around 15,000 today.

Hernando de Soto, though not an academic historian like the others, tells “The Missing Lessons of US History” in chapter 5 of his Mystery of Capital. He shows that property rights in the US as the country expanded westward were a constant struggle between local systems of de facto recognition of use and attempts at de jure top-down ordered and rational systems. In this struggle the de facto usually won politically and the law changed to acknowledge the reality, rather than vice versa.

In each of these cases narratives of “scientific” and “efficiency” and “rational” and “ordered” and “modern” were used to justify placing ever greater power into the hands of centralized organizations. But these organizations had to struggle against counter-claims of people and grass-roots movements and local politics who knew they were losing power. Westerners strongly resisted the claims of the “conservation” movement that they should be given consolidate power over land use. Parents resisted being sidelined in their control of the schools.   People with de facto usufruct rights over land resisted the formal legal claims against their control. Local postmasters resisted the increasingly central control of the post office.

In this struggle they used their rights as citizens for a variety of modes expression of opposition and their voice in democratic processes. The result was a messy, protracted, conflicted struggle.

I take one of the main points of Bill Easterly’s new book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor to be that the mainstream “development” process underestimated the necessity of the struggle. That is, it was thought that “modernization” could be achieved as a purely technical exercise in which the demonstrable successful organizations and institutions of the “developed” world could be transplanted to other countries. Why should the newly sovereign country in the 1950s and 1960s “struggle” towards an effective Post Office when there exist working models throughout the world (US Post Office, Royal Mail, Bundespost)? It was believed that “modern” police forces, schools, roads, courts, forest services, water companies—the organizations that make a state capable and deliver what the state promises—could be created without all of the bother of citizens being empowered to not just vote, but also resist, to subvert, to complain, to protest, to organize and agitate.

There are a variety of conjectures as to how and why this possibility of “transplantation” through development could actually, in some instances, make things worse.

One, organizations could gain legitimacy simply from mimicking the forms of rich country organizations without their function. Sociologists of organizations call this “isomorphism” and describe the pernicious impacts of allowing organizations to attract support without having to demonstrate superior functionality.

Two, the availability of resources from development agencies who were more familiar with and expected to see “modern” organizations meant that accountability to citizens could be attenuated.

Three, by changing the nature of the struggle the “experts” were not forced into a process of testing their ideas and notions and ways of “seeing like a state” against direct and immediate feedback—and push back—from local realities. Mistakes of mismatch between what the “experts” recommended and the reality of what could work in the local context could be larger and persist longer when insulated from the test of functionality.

But you cannot juggle without the struggle. The fact that someone else can juggle, and can show you how to juggle, and describe juggling in great detail does not mean that functionality is transferable. By changing the nature of the struggle many developing countries are stuck with state organizations that just cannot juggle.

Rigorous evaluation, but to what end?

written by Salimah Samji

Many development projects fail because of poor design. They have no clear roadmap of how they will get from A to B and therefore no way of knowing whether they are on the right track. However, design alone is not enough for success. In fact, many development projects that are well designed, fail because of last mile implementation problems. These include (but are not limited to) existing capacity constraints, difficulties with finding skilled staff, lack of funds, politics and misaligned incentives.

Spending time, effort and resources to rigorously evaluate projects like these can be a wasteful exercise. It would make more sense to begin by testing the logic of your intervention by using low-cost tools, like process audits or collecting and analyzing meaningful data on outputs and intermediate outcomes, that feed back into the design and implementation thus increasing the possibility of success. Does the project make sense in your context?

Several years ago when I worked for Google.org, I had suggested that a grantee of ours, one who conducted large-scale assessments, consider a process audit to identify gaps and to improve implementation. They were very open to the idea. I wanted to hire an external consultant to ensure impartiality, but also ensure that the consultant was seen as a team player who was hired to help them. The grantee was thrilled with the findings and told me that this simple process audit had been much more useful and cost-effective than the other Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) they had been part of. They invited the consultant to share the findings with their entire team and together brainstormed ways to improve implementation. It marked the beginning of a long collaboration between the two – but that is another story …

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to read a paper by Diana Epstein and Jacob Alex Klerman entitled, When is a Program Ready for Rigorous Impact Evaluation? The Role of a Falsifiable Logic Model. They argue that a program that cannot achieve the intermediate goals specified by its own logic model, will not have the desired impacts and should therefore not proceed to Rigorous Impact Evaluation (RIE). And the determination of whether a project can achieve its own intermediate goals can be done using conventional process evaluation methods, that is, careful observation of program operation, at low-cost.

They highlight five common forms of failure of programs to satisfy their own logic models. These include:

  • Failure to secure required inputs: ability to establish inter-organization partnerships and to recruit and retain certain types of staff.
  • Low program enrollment: it does not attract the target number of clients/participants because there is no demand.
  • Low program completion rates: initially enroll in the program but do not complete the expected treatment.
  • Low fidelity: the program as implemented falls short of what was envisioned in the logic model.
  • Lack of pre/post improvement: sometimes clients show minimal or no progress on pre/post measures of the intermediate outcome which could be due to history and maturation.

Then, for each form of failure, they discuss how it could have been detected by a process evaluation – through the observation of the operation of a program, an experienced outsider can suggest direct and immediate ways to improve the program’s operation.

They also note, “it seems plausible that lessons learned in the first year or two of operation might lead to program refinements, improved program implementation, and improved client outcomes.” This fits nicely with our paper, It’s All About MeE: Using Structured Experiential Learning (‘e’) to Crawl the Design Space which helps develop a learning strategy that achieves more than monitoring, is cheaper than impact evaluations, has timely dynamic feedback loops built into the project and extends the insights gained into the design and management of development projects.

Can PDIA help to deliver services for the poor?

10 years ago, the World Development Report (WDR) 2004 entitled Making Services Work for Poor People, marked a watershed moment in the development agenda. It recognized that politics and accountability are crucial to improving services. Furthermore, it shifted the focus from measuring inputs to outputs.

Earlier this month, ODI and the World Bank jointly organized a 10th year anniversary conference to celebrate the achievements over the last decade and to discuss what remains to be done. You can browse the multimedia summary of the event.

In the opening plenary, Shanta Devarajan stated that the WDR 2004 changed the nature of the conversation by recognizing that: (i) services fail poor people, (ii) money is not the solution, and (iii) “the solution” is not the solution.

What have we learned?

  • Context Matters: We got better at describing service delivery problems but not at improving services. Ruth Levine in her interview acknowledged that we have learned how to measure how significant the problem is and to unpack the dimensions of service delivery quality. But we have not learned anything generalizable because context matters.
  • Politics Matters: Marta Foresti noted that ‘politics is not just a problem it’s also part of the solution.’ Working around politics rather than with it, does not work.
  • Connections Matter: In her reflections, Leni Wild wrote – we are dealing with systems and networks through which a much wider set of stakeholders are connected. So the nature of the connections matters, in terms of power balances, incentives and norms. This is similar to what Matt Andrews calls multi-agent leadership.
  • Motivating actors to do the right thing is much harder in practice, said Rakesh Rajani in his interview.
  • Individual capacity ≠ organizational capability: Lant Pritchett explained the difference in his interview.

So what will it take to deliver services for the poor?

  • Experimentation: Ruth Levine stressed the need to focus on organizations, individuals embedded in local circumstances/context and enabling local  providers to experiment and learn what works in their context. She added, “it is a long complicated road.”
  • Humility, Curiosity and Openness: Rakesh Rajani stated that we have to be able to know we don’t have all the answers. It is unlikely to work the first time and so we need to have the courage to tweak, listen to others and to learn from failure. Asking questions, trying, iterating, struggling and learning, rather than having solutions, is key.
  • Commitment at every level, political, organizational and individual.
  • Willingness to acknowledge and learn from failure.

These sound a lot like PDIA principles …

Muddling

Image reproduced from a blog on writing and inspiration:  http://inkspirationalmessages.com/2012/02/10371/

The 5 M’s of Development: Mobilizers matter (Part 5 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I have written about the importance of moments, muddling, the mundane and multiple men and women. In keeping with the ‘m’s’, today I will emphasize the importance of mobilizers.

These are the people who bring multiple men and women together, encourage them to work beyond the mundane, muddle purposively, and take advantage of or create moments for change. They are people who convene small groups of key agents needed to play specific roles (often in teams or in small authorizing groups), or who connect distributed agents to each other (so the agents don’t even need to interact directly), or who motivate people across networks. These mobilizers are the key to effective leadership, if you ask me, because they bring all the different fucntional roles together. Here is an example of conveners and connectors in action, in a simplified version of a recent reform story I was engaged in. It was work in the judicial sector of a country. A donor had been supporting initiatives to introduce a statistical management system to the sector, so that resource allocation decisions could be more evidence based (everyone would know where case loads were high, where judges and prosecutors were present, where buildings were in place, etc.). After five years and millions of dollars no system existed. This was partly because different groups across the sector did not engage in the reform together. The donor had connections to the ministry of justice and although there were overlaps with the Supreme Court and prosecution, there were no direct connections. Thus the reform was not supported by the other agencies. See my diagram … Sorry it is a mess. Image
I started working on the issue, and had a local person work with some of the folks in the ministry of justice and the courts and the prosecution, as a convener (see M1 in the figure below). This person worked with me to hold meetings of people from these different agencies, and in this way created first degree relationships across the agencies that helped foster a common understanding of the problems warranting change and of the potential ways the agencies could work together to foster change. The role of one mobilizer created direct links between key agents and indirect links between all agents in the system. This opened up access to new ideas, functions, contributions, etc. Image
A second type of mobilization was also important, however, and involved another person working as a connector between distributed agents in the ministry of justice, courts and prosecution office (because it is not only important to convene the heads). This person (M2 in the figure below) created relationships between multiple people in the system and allowed them to connect with each other THROUGH him. This connector role ensured that all people in the system had a first or second degree link to other people, which made the network tighter than it was before, opening a path to agreement on reform and enhancing access to talents and ideas needed for reform to work. Image
The reform is still going step by step, but the connections are better than they have ever been. These connections are proving vital to reform and development and are only possible because of the role of mobilizers in the change process.

The 5 M’s of Development: Multiple Men and Women matter (Part 4 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I have written about the importance of moments, muddling and the mundane. Today I will discuss the fourth one: multiple men and women matter. In my experience, development and governance reform is about people, not as targets of change, but as agents of change.

This is not a surprising observation but is an important one nonetheless, especially when one considers how little attention development initiatives commonly give to the men and women who have to risk and adapt and work to make change happen and ensure change is sustained. Development initiatives tend to emphasize ideas and money much more than people, even though it is the latter that actually come up with ideas, shape ideas to contexts, and use resources to foster change.

When people are considered in development initiatives, it is often with a narrow lens on ‘champions’ or ‘heroes’. That’s not the picture I see as relevant in the research and applied work I have been engaged in. This work shows me that development and change require multiple functions or roles: we need someone to identify problems, someone to identify solutions, someone to provide money, someone to authorize change activities, someone to motivate and inspire, someone to connect distributed agents, someone to convene smaller groups, someone to provide key resources other than money, and someone who can give an implementation perspective (of the implications of proposed change).

For a variety of theoretical reasons I don’t think we will often find these functions played by one person, or organization. My empirical research suggests that this is true in practice. What I see in my studies is that successful reform requires multiple people providing leadership in a coordinated and synergistic way, such that all the different functional roles are played in an orchestra of change (people who are familiar with Lee Kuan Yew’s view of leadership will relate to the idea of the orchestra).:

  • I wrote a paper on leadership in twelve interesting reforms, where I tested whether one person stood out as the major leader. I found that this was not the case at all. Many people were identified as leaders in the cases, all playing different roles in the change process.
  • In a review of 30 cases of successful reform (from Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Societies repository) I found that an average of 19 agents were mentioned as playing the roles noted. They all took risks and stood out for providing an important part of the change puzzle.

    The research does find that ‘champions’ exist in many cases, however. But being a champion does not mean being multiple people (or wearing multiple hats, or playing multiple functional roles). Instead, my work showed that where a champion exists, he or she plays three specific functional roles: Authorizing, Convening, and Motivating. The champions do not typically play the other roles.

The 5 M’s of Development: Mundane matters (Part 3 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I wrote about the importance of moments which are vital to foster change in complex contexts, and muddling which is important to find and fit reform and change content that fosters real development. Today I will discuss the third one: mundane.

The mundane matters in development. What I mean is simply that everyday, boring, taken for granted events, pressures, relationships, activities and such have a huge influence on prospects for change and development. We think these things are ordinary, banal, and don’t matter. But actually they dominate time and activity, and are the key to ‘getting things done’ and to prospects for change and development.

If mundane processes and pressures do not foster efficient activity, organizations are likely to be inefficient–there will be loads of meetings and people answering emails and writing papers and filling in time sheets and doing due diligence activities but these mundane activities will not foster effective results. Similarly, if the mundane does not support change then change and development will not happen: people will attend meetings but won’t follow-up with new activities because their time is already spoken for by the mundane.

I have seen this more than ever before in some of my reform experiments in 2013. The trouble they ran into had little to do with a lack of ideas or money. Instead, the challenges were mundane: getting people to ‘do’ new things in already full calendars, and to sit in meetings and engage purposively without looking down at the three cell phones on the table in front of them, and more. In all the experiences I have been part of, change only started when these and other mundane influences were managed or even altered.

The problem is two-fold:

  • First, development is full of mundanity. Governments and development organizations are the ones Andy Partridge (lead singer of the 80s band XTC) was talking about when he wrote: “We’re horrible mundane, aggressively mundane, individuals. We’re the ninjas of the mundane…”
  • Second, the mundane is mundane. What I mean is that most development specialists think it does not matter. “Too boring. Too unimportant. So easy to overcome. Surely not as important as rigorous empirical analysis and fancy new ideas.” But they often find that the mundane crowds out the new activities and empirics–again and again–to limit and undermine development initiatives.

mundane

It would be great to see development experts taking the mundane seriously. I think a strategy to identify, manage and even alter the mundane could be more important than most fancy development strategies. And infinitely more valuable than a fancy ‘Science of Delivery’. We need to rethink the mundane, seeing it as the key to getting things done and the key to change; less ordinary and banal and boring and more central to development.

The 5 M’s of Development: Muddling matters (Part 2 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I wrote about moments yesterday. Today I will discuss the second one: muddling matters. What I mean is that developing countries need to muddle through if they want to improve governance; there are no quick answers to the complex challenge of governance reform.

However, I don’t mean that countries should be muddled. Muddling through–or purposive muddling as I like to call it–is an active, intentional and focused process that helps countries find and fit solutions that work in their context. I also don’t mean to say that muddling ‘should’ be part of a successful reform process. My research shows that muddling ‘is’ part of successful reform. There is ample evidence that successful change comes about through experimentation with multiple reform options, with an emphasis on solving problems, and a whole lot of iteration and learning. I’ve written a few papers in this regard and will continue to write more.

Many people in the development community tell me that they agree with the idea of muddling (conceptually), but don’t see how it can be done in developing countries or in governments where politicians are looking for solutions and want the solutions ‘yesterday.’ I keep telling these people, that purposive muddling is common, and necessary, and instead of saying ‘it isn’t possible’ we should be exploring the strategies others have adopted to make it possible (and to make it part of the DNA of some organizations).

Muddling

Image reproduced from a blog on writing and inspiration:  http://inkspirationalmessages.com/2012/02/10371/

The 5 M’s of Development: Moments matter (Part 1 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. The first is simple, but is one of the most important observations I continually make when observing successful change that fosters better government and development results: Moments matter.

‘Change events’ happen when contexts become ready for change. That is, when:

  • there is disruption that forces people to accept change,
  • incumbent structures are being questioned,
  • there are viable alternatives that local people are willing to try, and
  • the weight of agency shifts from the old and discredited ways to a search for new ways (that may be untested but promise better solutions to pressing problems).

Interestingly, I find that these moments are not always a product of lucky timing. In fact, I commonly see years of activity and engagement in advance of any ‘moment’ that seems to spawn change. Understanding the moment requires going back in time five or ten years (or longer) and learning about how coalitions were emerging, drawing attention to problems, and experimenting with new ways of doing things. These activities are often at the margin of the story until ‘the moment’ arrives… But without them there would probably have not been a moment at all.

The bottom line is that we should spend more time preparing for moments than we currently do. Moments of readiness matter more than the development solutions we try to stuff into contexts that are not ready for change.