Maintaining your support through a change process is often a challenging task which requires time and effort. In this video, Matt Andrews, explains how one does not only have to maintain the initial authorization, but also expand the number of actors who provide authorization, thus increasing the legitimacy of the project or reform. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
In the systems we operate within, who identifies problems? who identifies solutions? and how do these people mobilize the ones who have power and authority? In our research we find that leadership is about multi-agent groups and not single-agent autocrats.
In this video, Matt Andrews, contrasts examples of anti-corruption reforms in Malawi and Botswana to illustrate that authority is cultivated, built in groups, and not around individuals. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
It is important when thinking about building state capability, to first ask, what is the “type of problem” you are trying to solve? In this video, Lant Pritchett, provides a framework to determine the capability required for implementing development projects. He begins by asking whether your task is transaction intensive, followed by whether it is locally discretionary, to better understand if the nature of the task is logistics or implementation intensive. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
Policy implementation requires agents of organizations who are responsible for implementation, to do the right thing, at the right time, and in the right place. In this video, Lant Pritchett, uses an example of delivering the mail and issuing driver’s licenses to illustrate this point. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
Development involves change, and change always happens within a context. The focus in development however, is on transplanting successes and adopting ambitious “best practice” modes of governance and public administration, which emphasize form (what organizations look like) and not function (what they actually do). This often provides the financing and legitimacy which allows continued dysfunction, while potentially crowding out space for local initiatives.
In this video, Matt Andrews, uses an example of internal audit reform in Burkina Faso to illustrate that when context is taken into consideration when introducing a reform, it functions even though it might take on a different form. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
This is the third of the four common excuses that I hear about why PDIAcannot be done in development. If you are interested, you can read the first and second one.
Excuse 3:International development experts often tell me that PDIA is not possible because it takes too long.
This is not true, especially when one considers the timing issues of traditional development projects. In my experience, many development projects last 5 years or so and deliver little more than new forms. These projects are then followed by a new project doing the exact same thing. Yes I know it sounds far fetched, but I see this in all countries and areas of development. So, if the counterfactual is 20 years of anti corruption reform in Malawi (that did not curb corruption) why say PDIA is too slow when it calls for crawling the design space for a year or two before we lock in a solution?
Second, traditional projects take ages to prepare (often one to two years). The preparation is largely passive, based on work in offices by project designers whose ‘product’ is the project design (not its implementation). PDIA offers much more with multiple active experiments and iterations in the context that lead to on the ground learning, capacity building, team and coalition building, experiential learning and active project design + quick wins. These gains far exceed those of many traditional project design phases, and yield projects that are already being implemented.
Iterative processes take multiple steps, but these are not necessarily long, can be much shorter than one step projects, and offers an opportunity for structured learning along the way. We need to use our time well and PDIA allows us to do this.
This is the second of the four common excuses that I hear about why PDIAcannot be done in development. If you are interested, you can read the first one.
Excuse 2:International development experts often tell me that PDIA is not possible because politicians will never support it.
Again, simply not true. It is true that many politicians will look for big projects promising large things. This is what I call signaling in my book and is a major constraint in many countries. I think it is facilitated by donors who offer large loans in response to big promises for best practice, which often leads to a ‘what you see is not what you get‘ situation. But my research shows that there are reforms that yield functional improvements in government. And studies of these reforms suggest that politicians can also welcome and support PDIA type processes that go beyond signaling. Where a locally felt problem exists, it is clear to me that politicians are often very interested in processes that promise real solutions. And many politicians are aware that these solutions need to emerge gradually so that they are properly authorized and capacitated.
So a PDIA approach of active and iterative engagement is not foreign or unwelcome in such situations. Indeed, I see many politicians creating a holding environment for such engagement. These politicians value the tight feedback loops and the rapid opportunities to learn and build capacity in their organizations. They also like the quick wins, especially when these wins feed into broader narratives about solving problems and promoting development. Indeed, tight iteration may overcome the time inconsistency problem we often see in reform (where politicians need results quicker than a large multiuser project can deliver). Read the Burundi post for an example.
Almost every time I give a presentation on PDIA (and I have given many), I hear excuses about why PDIA cannot be done in development. So, I’ve decided to set the record straight. I am writing a blog post and drawing a picture for each of the four most common excuses I hear. This is the first one.
Excuse 1: International development experts often tell me that they cannot do PDIA because they have to produce projects and project processes don’t allow the flexibility implied in PDIA.
This is simply not true. Every development agency I know of, has traditional project mechanisms that are rigid and foster disciplined process BUT every development agency also has instruments that allow experimentation and flexibility. The names of these instruments differ but common tools have (over time) included trust funds, learning and innovation loans, adaptable projects, and even some results based loans.
So, development experts can find tools to do flexible problem identification and active project design and implementation IF THEY KNOW THESE ALTERNATIVES EXIST AND TAKE THE EFFORT TO USE THEM. If they choose not to use these alternatives because they are risky, or hard, or different, that is one thing. But experts should stop saying that these alternatives do not exist. If you want an example, read the PDIA in Cameroon blog post.
I ran across the following quote from Hirschman today. A reminder that implementation is neither easy nor prone to scientific certainty. Rather, it requires journeys, of finding, fitting, and discovering. Do we promote such journeys in development? Are we open to the destinations we might end up reaching?
” The term “implementation” understates the complexity of the task of carrying out projects that are affected by a high degree of initial ignorance and uncertainty. Here “project implementation” may often mean in fact a long voyage of discovery in the most varied domains, from technology to politics” (Hirschman, 1967, p. 35).