Friday, 6 December 2013

Can any human being fail to be moved by the death of Nelson Mandela?

By Stephen Devereux

It is often said that we should not mourn the passing of an older person who has led a long and fulfilled life, especially if they were frail and ill towards the end, as ‘Madiba’ was. We cannot but celebrate the remarkable life, extraordinary achievements and above all the humanity of Nelson Mandela. At the same time we have to mourn the passing of greatness. The real sadness is our fear that there will be no more Nelson Mandelas, that he was the last iconic global leader. Truly, our world is diminished.

As a white South African, I want to celebrate Madiba’s life by making serious points through two jokes. 

Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison on 11 February 1990. The following month, on 21 March, Namibia achieved independence from South Africa. This joke was heard in Namibia around that time. Question: “What are those skid-marks on the road outside Windhoek?” Answer: “The 4x4s of the White South Africans who were fleeing to Namibia after Mandela was released, until they heard on their radios that Namibia was independent.”

If ever white paranoia about the transition to black rule in Africa was misplaced, it was in South Africa. White South Africans are better off now than ever – we have not made the sacrifices needed to close the gap between white privilege and black poverty. Mandela did not make us pay; he did not even make us apologise. By visiting the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the ‘architect of apartheid’ and the Prime Minister who imprisoned Mandela on Robben Island, he showed that he favoured reconciliation over revenge. We whites got off lightly.

I left South Africa in the 1980s, shortly before P.W. Botha declared a state of emergency, sent the army into townships to suppress civil unrest, and ordered the air force to attack ANC outposts in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For the first 10 years that I lived as a refugee in the UK, I was embarrassed about being a South African. Then in May 1994, I vividly recall watching Mandela’s presidential inauguration speech, when he declared: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign." And I was liberated, along with millions of others. Since that day, I have been proud to be South African. Thank you, Madiba.

The South African cartoonist Zapiro famously satirised the evolution of humankind by depicting seven South African Prime Ministers and Presidents, 4 from the apartheid era – Verwoerd, Vorster, Botha, De Klerk – and 3 since the transition to democracy – Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma. The joke is that Mandela is the apotheosis of humankind; no-one can match him, before or after. He taught South African politicians how to lead with integrity, how to represent the entire ‘rainbow nation’, and how to leave office graciously.
Reproduced with kind permission from
The irony is that what made him stand so tall was his unique and seemingly totally genuine humility. If ever anyone practised the social justice principle of treating everyone with equal respect, wherever they are in social hierarchies, it was Madiba. The paradox is that Mandela’s towering goodness was only possible because he was the antithesis of apartheid, and its nemesis. He was as good as apartheid was evil. In the end, apartheid was defeated and democracy finally came to South Africa not via brute force and civil war, but via Madiba’s infectious smile and avuncular charm.

Finally, since not many obituaries will point this out, I should mention that the Centre for Social Protection, based at IDS, also has something to applaud Nelson Mandela for. In 1998, during Mandela’s term as president, South Africa introduced the Child Support Grant, which has since become the largest social protection programme in Africa, and is a model often showcased to social policymakers from countries across the world. South Africa might still be blighted by poverty, inequality and unemployment, but more than 11 million South African children and their families are demonstrably better off because of the Child Support Grant.

Thank you, Madiba.

Stephen Devereux is an IDS Fellow and Director of the Centre for Social Protection

Monday, 25 November 2013

Research to action: The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), Tanzania

By Fran Seballos, Tamlyn Munslow and Dolf te Lintelo

On November 14, Tanzanian dailies fronted with headlines estimating that 11.3 per cent of Tanzanians experience extreme (food) poverty. This coincided with an IDS presentation of results from the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) to a group of Tanzanian members of the Parliamentary Group for Nutrition, Food Security and Children’s Rights, including two deputy ministers. This blog reflects on some key learning from our engagement with ‘hunger and nutrition champions’.

Co-construction enables greater access to decision-makers

Working in partnership with Save the Children and the Partnership for Nutrition in Tanzania (PANITA) – who supports the Parliamentary Group to act as ‘nutrition champions’ – IDS led the process of co-constructing a set of key findings with which to target the MPs. They married evidence from the HANCI secondary data and primary research conducted in Tanzania to critical issues in PANITA’s existing advocacy strategy and aligned them with ongoing efforts of the Parliamentary Group. As such key findings were first shared with, and approved by, the Chair of the Parliamentary Group to ensure their suitability for our audience.

Evidence-informed messages targeting political leaders

Where evidence allowed, we praised the Government of Tanzania for initiating key actions, notably establishing a National Nutrition Strategy; a coordinating mechanism which brings together stakeholders from across sectors; and having a separate budget line for nutrition. But - based on research undertaken with 40 Tanzanian experts - the first key finding stressed the need for improving the functionality of the coordination mechanism to better support the mainstreaming of nutrition into policies and strategies across sectors. Further evidence from the expert survey was used to highlight the lack of financial resources in the nutrition budget line which impacts on the realisation of policy objectives, particularly at the sub-national level. The third key finding noted that data on both nutrition outcomes and the quality of the delivery of policies and programmes was insufficiently available to usefully inform decision-makers.

While these findings produced affirmative nods from audience, Parliamentarians were surprised to hear that political party manifestoes (2010-2015) were seen to not adequately reflect hunger and nutrition as key development issues. Nevertheless, they quickly accepted that improving this could be a key political driver for greater action on hunger and nutrition in national government policy, laws and budget allocations.

Developing political ownership of findings and solutions

Presenting HANCI evidence on ‘problems’ and ‘why they matter’, and not prefabricating solutions successfully facilitated the MPs to themselves propose (and own) ‘solutions’, and translate these into personal action.

From solutions to action…

The MPs enthusiastically noted that HANCI evidence grounds complex nutrition issues and provides useful ammunition for them to exercise political leadership and strengthen their oversight over the Government. Specifically the MPs were keen to learn from the actions of other African countries that out-ranked Tanzania (8th) in the Index, in order to emulate and leapfrog them in future. Consequently, the MPs proposed several actions:
  1. To take the lead in ensuring that nutrition is included as a key development issue in the next set of political manifestoes (2015-2020)
  2. To champion nutrition in their regions and districts
  3. Seeking to get the National Nutrition Strategy as a permanent agenda item in sub-national committees and council meetings
  4. One MP committed to preparing a private motion for Parliament to demand regular and improved collation, access and use of nutrition outcome and policy implementation data at the district level throughout the country, thus enabling MPs to hold policy implementers better to account and to incentivise them to perform better.
All in all, the visit made a very promising start of what we hope will be an enduring relationship with Tanzanian decision-makers, to support them to foster greater political action on hunger and nutrition.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Is social protection an effective toolkit for addressing undernutrition?

by Stephen Devereux

On 13-15 November 2013 a preparatory technical meeting for next year’s ‘Joint FAO/WHO Second International Conference on Nutrition’ (ICN2) was held at FAO in Rome. One panel discussed the role of social protection in protecting and promoting nutrition. The discussion paper for the panel was presented by Harold Alderman of IFPRI, [1] and it included this policy recommendation, which sparked as lively a discussion as is possible in a meeting of 200+ delegates:

“Include nutrition outcomes as an explicit objective of social protection programmes, to promote improved nutrition”.

The discussion paper poses significant challenges to everyone who works on social protection, because many of us have invested much effort into trying to make a convincing argument for the effectiveness of social protection as a set of policy instruments, not only for addressing poverty and vulnerability but also for tackling food and nutrition insecurity. This paper, and the discussion at the ICN2 preparatory meeting, made me realise that we still have some work to do in making that convincing case, especially in terms of nutrition outcomes.

Several findings in the discussion paper suggest that we have too little evidence to give a definitive answer to the question about whether social protection does have significant positive impacts on nutrition status. This statement, about Ethiopia’s ‘Productive Safety Nets Programme’, could be generalised across many other social protection programmes.

“While the program has been successful in improving food security and asset accumulation, there is no evidence to date that this has translated into improved nutritional outcomes for children.”

We do know from impact evaluations that the Productive Safety Nets Programme (PSNP) reduced the annual ‘hunger gap’ by more than one month in participating households, from 3.6 to 2.3 months, between 2006 and 2010. [2] This is a significant positive impact on household food security, so why does it not translate into measurable impacts on children’s nutrition status? I can think of three plausible hypotheses.
  1. Maybe it is because nutritional outcomes aren’t measured – but if not, why not? Surely this is one of the most robust and relevant indicators of social protection effectiveness? An important methodological point is that food security indicators, such as dietary diversity and the number of meals consumed per day, are quantifiable indicators but they are self-reported, so they are prone to all kinds of potential bias. Anthropometry is one of the few objectively measured indicators of food security outcomes, so shouldn’t it be included in rigorous impact evaluations whenever possible?
  2. Is it because programme evaluators and administrators don’t want to monitor nutrition status, in case they find little evidence of nutritional impacts and their programme will be judged a failure, despite achieving success in terms of other indicators?
  3. Or maybe it is because social protection should not even be expected to improve nutrition status? If one primary objective of social protection is to protect vulnerable people against downside risk, then stabilising food consumption through bad times is certainly a core social protection function, but raising food consumption sustainably is arguably more appropriate for poverty reduction and broader development policies.

Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the evidence base on causal linkages from social protection to reduced undernutrition is limited, and needs to be strengthened. This could certainly be achieved by insisting that nutrition is included as a direct objective of social protection programmes. But do we agree with the implication that nutrition outcomes should be included as an impact indicator for all social protection programmes? One contributor to the discussion at FAO pointed out that it depends on the objectives and design of each specific programme, but argued that the overall social protection system in each country should be oriented towards reducing undernutrition rates, as one fundamental indicator of wellbeing that social protection should seek to influence.

“It depends” is always a safe non-committal academic answer, but I tend to agree. Improvements in nutrition status should not necessarily be an indicator of success for each and every social protection programme, but social protection definitely needs to be an integral component of any integrated and systematic approach to reducing malnutrition.


[1] Alderman, H. (2013) Social Protection and Nutrition Discussion Paper, Preparatory Technical Meeting, Joint FAO/WHO Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2). Rome: FAO, 13-15 November.
[2] Guush Berhane, Hoddinott, J., Kumar, N. and Alemayehu Seyoum Taffesse (2011) The Impact of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Nets and Household Asset Building Programme: 2006-2010. Washington DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Urban poverty ‘without an outside’?

by Dolf te Lintelo

In recent discussions with development studies colleagues on the relationship between urbanisation and urban poverty we were often drawn to acknowledge the importance of linkages between the city and ‘the beyond’, whether that be the rural, the peri-urban or something else. However, the theoretical, methodological or practical ways of operationalising this in day to day work is not always obvious. The Flexible City Symposium at Oxford University on 24/25 October offered a chance to learn from urban theory and critical urban geography scholars grappling with this issue. What take away points resound with enhancing our understanding of the dynamics of urban poverty?

1. Contemporary urban geography perspectives are very actively seeking for connections rather than posit dichotomies between the urban and the rural, the urban and the suburban, the urban and the post-urban, between the centre and the periphery, etc – you get the point.

2. So what could such connections look like? Some excellent keynote presentations from Neil Brenner (Harvard) and Matthew Gandy (UCL) offered a glimpse. Both started off taking a long term historical perspective, to argue for breaking down conceptual barriers between the social and the natural; and the social and the technological. Brenner thus argued that urbanisation and the insatiable urban demand for energy are not just connected but constituted by the processes of dramatic environmental degradation. Provocatively offering a picture of the maimed landscapes of Canadian tar sands as an image of the urban, Brenner posits that the latter’s invisibility to the urban inhabitant’s eye does not detract from their necessity in producing the latter’s experience of the urban condition.

3. Brenner thus suggests a radical replacement of common dichotomies with the idea of an ‘urban fabric’, driven by both concentrated and extended forms of urbanisation at the global level. Gandy’s and other participants’ talks further highlighted the role of materiality in transforming as well as locking in human behaviours, social organisation, and social mores. We are all familiar with the ludicrously inefficient potable water use of the common western toilet, which nevertheless continues to get installed in places all around the world. Thus, the material itself is ‘vital’, having an active role to play as driver of urban change.

4. Classic notions of the urban and urbanisation are deeply embedded in everyday language, in policy speak and in theory, and are not receptive or suited for dealing with a more integral and connected notion of the ‘urban’. Advancing the latter requires ontological change (i.e. change in deeply held knowledge of ‘what is’), as Brenner put it, asserting ‘Urban theory without an outside’. That is: not to posit the urban against the non-urban, against the rural, against the peri-urban, and not to continue privileging the urban as analytical starting point, or as the centre of such theorisations, from which the other and the peripheral is defined.

This is not easy, because it challenges established wisdom: in the shape of common knowledge, the vernacular speech, established traditions of urban theory, and not least, public policy and essential tools of governing such as statistics, and administrative boundaries and distributions of labour. Ontological shifting sands cause discomfort, not just for some participants in the seminar (one protested against the very idea), but also for policymakers. In the world of development, the uncertainty regarding its implications for how policy data is generated, by the World Bank, UN, but also at national level, leave alone for cities themselves, would create a big barrier to change. Major questions thus remain to be answered about what such change would look like, but in fairness, this is not what the speakers set themselves as a task. Moreover, the academic world itself still needs convincing: witness the very naming of ‘Urban Studies’, ‘Urban theory’ and the ‘Flexible City’.

5. Geographers love maps. No news here, however various presentations showed that maps remain very potent visual tools for communicating complex ideas.

6. These discussions speak well to emerging, relational notions of understanding poverty, urban or otherwise. Like more ‘connected’ urban theories, relational poverty perspectives shift challenge traditional poverty analyses, whose starting point is the individual, and his/her attributes and deficits; as lacking income/skills/assets/etc. In contrast, relational poverty considers foreground how the condition of impoverished people (as groups, as well as individuals) is intricately connected with their social, political, ecological and economic environments. This means that urban poverty is no longer understood ‘without the outside’.

Whether focusing on wellbeing or otherwise, such approaches allow for a better recognition of the poor‘s ability to act creatively, bring in their own experiences, and critically do not equate the study of poverty with the study of poor people (cf B. Harriss-White). Thus, various conference presentations noted the creative yet often constrained political agency of poor urban communities. Colin McFarlane (Durham) noted the earthy example of slum-dwellers in Mumbai, who in protest to the hiked fee for toilet services, started relieving themselves in the space used by the toilet attendants. Such political agency is however highly diverse, and context sensitive, and efforts to understand the role of such ‘everyday’ politics in the production of urban poverty thus requires micro-level analysis.

7. Finally, like ‘connected’ approaches to urban theory, relational poverty approaches posit an almost ontological challenge to how we understand poverty, and thus face significant obstacles in gaining traction. Yet both seem to be ideas whose time has come.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Can we actually measure resilience?

By Chris Bene

Resilience as a new paradigm...

There is little doubt that resilience is now part of the post 2015 development discourse. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) but also the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), the European Union, the World Food Programmes (WFP) or even the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are some of the many bi- and multi-lateral agencies which have recently embraced the resilience agenda. In parallel –or perhaps slightly pre-empting this general move-, a growing number of non-governmental organizations including CARE, CRS, MercyCorps, Oxfam, World Vision, etc. have also adopted resilience as one of their new programmatic pillars. In these conditions no wonder that resilience will be one of the key topics put forward in both the 2014 World Development Report and the 2014 Human Development Report.

... Yet we are still not sure what resilience is exactly

Some would probably see the fact that resilience is becoming the new development paradigm as a possible paradox, in the sense that no one (so far) has actually managed to propose a definition that enjoys a general consensus. How can a concept become a paradigm while it is still not properly defined? Well... when we think about it, this is not necessary so paradoxical. Poverty or even vulnerability are certainly two other examples for which many different and sometimes conflicting definitions exist in the literature. This did not prevent them from becoming central elements in the past and recent development discourse.

There are however at least two major difference between the case of poverty as a driving paradigm for development, and that of resilience. First: poverty is something we try to avoid, or to reduce; while resilience is increasingly becoming this ultimate ‘objective’ we are trying to reach. In that regard, I am not sure everyone would agree but avoiding something even if it is loosely defined, is perhaps easier than targeting something that is equally loosely defined? Second: poverty has (at least in the past) benefited from some degree of consensus around the way it can be measured/monitored. Even if the concept of income poverty and its Foster-Greer-Thorbecke metric have been continuously criticized for being too simplistic and mono-dimensional, some would certainly argue that this mono-dimensional nature is actually a strength when it comes to measure poverty (see for instance the recent debate between Sabine Alkire and Martin Ravaillon).

An urgent need to be able to monitor resilience

For resilience, however, such mono-dimensional indicator does not exist, or at least not yet. The question which one may then ask is: are we likely to see emerging in the near future an ‘universal’ indicator of resilience? If we let our pragmatism lead the reasoning, this eventuality might not be such a bad idea. Since so many agencies and NGOs are now claiming that the objective of their development programmes and interventions is to ‘strengthen the resilience of the poor and vulnerable’, it will soon become urgent to make these agencies and NGOs accountable for the money they are spending and more importantly for the ‘experiments’ they are implementing on households and communities in the name of resilience.

However, without an independent and quasi-universal (in the sense comparable across projects) indicator of resilience, we have so far no choice but to use the context and project -and often time- specific indicators that are being proposed by these NGOs or agencies which we are supposed to assess. In these conditions it may be difficult to rigorously evaluate all these different programmes and distinguish those amongst them which effectively have an impact on people resilience from those who are simply recycling some old wine in new bottles...

Some initial progress...

There is therefore a need to agree on some form of resilience measurement or indicators, and this is with no doubt one of the reasons the FAO and the WFP recently set up a ‘Resilience Measurement Technical Working Group’ under the Food Security Information Network (FSIN). In their introductory declaration the Working Group note: “Given the relatively recent emergence of the concept of resilience within the wider development community, there is an understandable scarcity of robust, verifiable evidence of the impact of programmes seeking to build resilience”. The Working Group had its first meeting this week in Rome (9th - 10th Oct.), with the firm hope to make some good progress toward the identification of some measurement principles.

This need to identify the ways of measuring resilience is also the motivation of a recent working paper “Towards a quantifiable measure of resilience” published by IDS. The main objective of the paper is to propose a new framework that addresses some of the concerns and limitations of resilience measurement as identified in that literature. In doing so it also identifies a series of key-principles which, the paper argues, are critical to build an appropriate measure of resilience. These key-principles are:

  • Multi-scale: Resilience indicators should be able to capture change in resilience at different scales: individuals, household, community, (eco)system, national levels;
  • Multi-dimension: resilience is not simply about coping strategies that help households to ‘survive’ a shock; resilience is also about adaptive strategies or even transformative strategies. It is about ex-post but also ex-ante (anticipation) strategies. An appropriate resilience indicator would be one that captures all these different dimensions.
  • Objective and subjective: resilience is as much about what people do to go through a harsh period, than about how they feel about it. Resilience indicators should therefore aim at monitoring both objective changes and subjective perceptions – including stress.
  • Generic: Although we recognise that indicators are relevant only if they can capture and reflect the specificity of the situation they are applied to, too many indicators are currently built on specific circumstances or specific agenda. An appropriate resilience indicator is one that can be scaled out and replicated.
  • Independently built: to be analytically useful, a resilience indicator needs to be defined and measured independently from the factors and processes that are (presumably) affecting its level, such as income, assets, level of participation or social coherency. Only when these factors are not incorporated in the resilience index can we explore and test rigorously the actual effect of these characteristics on resilience.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Making of 'Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights'

by Deepta Chopra

Unpaid care work:

  • What is it?
  • Who does it?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • How does it affect the rights of women and girls?

Public policy for economic empowerment of women and girls:

  • How is this linked to unpaid care?
  • How do policy decisions affect unpaid care work?
  • What does public policy sensitive to care look like?

The problem for policy makers

Imagine for one minute you are a policy maker. Imagine you have huge amounts of work to deal with, and need to provide key information about the two areas listed above. Imagine you had read something in a research report last year. Unfortunately you can't remember the details, and you definitely don’t have time to find the key messagesin a huge and complex report. Imagine you have eight minutes to provide this information, before you need to move on to the next topic.

We imagined this policy maker too. We were the authors of the research report that the policy maker had read a year ago. Our research programme is built on the critical fact that unpaid care work underpins all development policy, and is critical to ensuring sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls, leading to true gender equality. This is because of five factors:
  1. Unpaid care occupies large amounts of women and girl’s time, leading to time poverty which impacts directly on the rights that women and girls can enjoy – including the right to work, right to education, and the right to participation. These links have been made explicit in the UN special rapporteur’s report on unpaid care
  2. The lack of leisure time reduces women and girl’s wellbeing as well as impacting negatively on their health.
  3.  Women in the paid labour market may not be able to provide for adequate substitutes for their care responsibilities, compromising the human development outcomes for those that they are caring for.
  4. Any substitutes may come through pushing the care responsibilities to older women and girls, which impacts on their development and rights.
  5. Finally, the income from paid work may be eroded by payments for substitute care, which defeats the objective of economic empowerment.
While this makes clear the links between economic empowerment and unpaid care work, the question is whether unpaid care work is visible or not, in designing and implementing public policies. This question underpinned the thematic review we conducted, in which we concluded that unpaid care work was largely invisible in social protection and early childhood development policies (more details can be found  in the full research report ). We hypothesised why unpaid care work was invisible to policy makers, and are currently engaged in an action research programme to understand how unpaid care work could be made more visible in public policy.

But the problem was this key information was hidden in over 80 pages of two extensive research reports. And we know that the policy maker has only eight minutes to view the information and respond. So how were we going to make unpaid care visible?

Our solution

We imagined an animation which would tell the story of a woman living in poverty, and her daily life. We imagined policy makers making decisions without realising the implications of these decisions on the life of this woman. We imagined first the disconnect, and then through a process of immersion, the connections that could be made, the solutions that policy makers could propose to recognise and redistribute unpaid care work, and reduce the drudgery it entails.

We imagined an animation that would deliver key messages about unpaid care work in under 5 minutes, with visuals that would be striking and stick in the memory. We imagined that these visuals would cut across boundaries of geographical regions, being as valid to an East Asian setting as to a Latin American setting, as relevant to policy makers in Sub Saharan Africa as to policy makers in South Asia. We imagined music that would carry the story line with emotion. Above all, we imagined a critical message being conveyed with simplicity and clarity, without losing its nuances.

The result

We produced ‘Who cares’

The process

It took us a year to conceptualise the story line, work with an animation company to develop characters, provide constructive feedback to deliver the right messages, the right images and the right music. What you see now, is the final product of many hours of discussion and thought, always with the image of the sympathetic but incredibly busy policy maker at the front of our minds.

Our hopes

We hope this animation will provide the answers to the questions posed at the start of this post. We also hope that this animation will bridge the gap between policy makers constraints on time, and their need for simple yet useful messages backed by complex evidence on the subject of unpaid care and economic empowerment of women.

We hope that this animation will urge policy makers to put into place policy solutions that:
  1. Recognise the importance of care as work, as being fundamental to everyone’s well being, and as being critical to the realisation of the rights of women and girls
  2. Reduce the drudgery associated with care work,
  3. Redistribute care responsibilities – from women to men and from the family to the state,
  4. Reallocate national budgets to ensure support for care amongst poor and vulnerable families.
Please leave your feedback and comments below, and share the message to ensure sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Inconvenient truths for Kenya after Westgate attack

by Jeremy Lind

Two weeks after Al-Shabaab militants murdered over 60 shoppers and diners and laid waste to one of Nairobi’s smartest malls, a reckoning has begun: how could an attack of such ferocious brutality happen in the heart of one of the city’s wealthiest enclaves? Could it happen again and, if so, how can an attack of a similar magnitude be prevented? And what does the Westgate massacre say about the state and condition of Kenya as a nation and people? With the fate of 39 missing civilians as well as the number, fate and identity of the militants still unknown, these are the questions Kenyans have begun asking each other as well as the country’s divided political establishment. The search for answers will expose a number of inconvenient truths.

The first of these is that violence and insecurity are deeply imprinted in contemporary Kenyan life. Even before the Westgate attack, a number of conflicts and low-level violence were bubbling away at the margins. In recent years militants have attacked churches, bars, bus stations, and police posts in Nairobi, Mombasa, Garissa, Mandera among other towns and cities. Authorities were uncertain and feeble in responding to the violence, even as it encroached further and further into the country and claimed many lives. Yusuf Hasan, MP for Nairobi’s Kamukunji constituency, told the Guardian, “In the past two years, there have been 11 bomb attacks in my constituency. Yet there have been no arrests, and not one single person brought to court. What does that tell you about the state of the investigations? The government told us it was al-Shabaab and that that was the end of the story. It’s not good enough.” All the while, across the border in Somalia Al Shabaab was honing its capacity to execute sophisticated attacks. This year it has launched several devastating assaults, including on the UNDP compound in Mogadishu in June that killed 15.

While attacks by militants have rocked many cities, violence has continued to flare in Kenya’s north. Devolution under its new constitution was meant to devolve decision-making and resources leading to improved accountability, as well as spreading development funds more equitably between the country’s agrarian, highland core and the long marginalised dryland areas. It is still too early to tell if Kenya’s devolution experiment will be a success. So far, there has been uneven progress, with genuine innovation and dynamic leadership by governors in some counties. However, ethnic and clan fault-lines old and new have opened up in many places, leading to clashes and displacement. Hundreds are feared to have been killed in recent months.

President Kenyatta’s launch of a Commission of Inquiry
into the Westgate attack has been met with some cynicism.
A second inconvenient truth is that violence is as an effective technique and strategy to advance discrete political and economic interests in Kenya. Close and even casual observers of Kenya’s politics will recognise the simple reality that violence pays in Kenya’s broken political system. But how can this system reform itself when it harbours and provides sanctuary to people whose very position has been secured in part through violence? Some openly speculate that the Westgate attacks may in fact provide leverage to a campaign to dismiss the cases
of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President
William Ruto before the International Criminal Court.

The dismaying revelation of widespread looting of Westgate’s luxury shops during the rescue operation by Kenyan Defence Forces to free hostages gives the impression of indiscipline and corruption run amok in Kenya’s military institutions. It has been pointed out that the same structures that allow a customs inspector at the port or a border official or a policeman looking at a truck of goods on the highway to turn a blind eye for a bribe are the structures that terrorists exploit to their advantage. The Kenyan journalist Bertha Kang’ong’oi wrote, “Westgate exposed our shame. It was the most visible display of the country’s failed systems, which have been allowed or tolerated for too long.” The structures that permit ivory poaching, car hijacking, organised crime, tax evasion, and the siphoning of funds are the same ones the Westgate militants used to stash a weapons cache in a shop in the mall before the attack, to collude with a shop employee, and to otherwise form partnerships to carry out such a complex attack in the middle of Nairobi. Any meaningful plan to strengthen security needs to get to grips with Kenya’s culture of violence and impunity more widely.

In the immediate aftermath of the Westgate attack, the world’s attention and that of many Kenyans focused on Al Shabaab and international terrorism more broadly. As the days passed, Kenyans increasingly looked at themselves for answers on how the attack could have happened. As questions mounted, President Kenyatta launched a Commission of Inquiry, which has been met with some cynicism. Some wonder whether the attack will give impetus to reform the country’s security architecture and culture, something advocated by members of the National Assembly. Yet, the problem runs deeper.

Strengthening security in Kenya will require more than tinkering at the edges of its security and intelligence structures, or expanding military operations in Somalia. Kenya’s military involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia, ostensibly to create a buffer between Kenya and violence-plagued southern Somalia, has failed to prevent terrorist attacks in Nairobi and elsewhere. Kenya’s political leaders should also resist the urge to rush through further anti-terrorism laws, or resort to punitive policing of its Muslim populations. Effective security requires getting the basic functions of government to work better for all Kenyans, not just its embattled political establishment. The Westgate attack has touched the very top of Kenyan society. Let us hope they will act in ways that meaningfully improve security not only for Nairobi’s well-heeled but also a wider citizenry terrorised by extremist violence and spreading conflict.

This blog was originally published on AfricanArguments

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Time to change the record on aid? Some reflections from the UK Labour Party’s annual conference

By Hannah Corbett

For the majority of party members, lobbyists and media attending the three main political party conferences in the UK, domestic issues take precedence.  Given the current climate of austerity and falling living standards that’s not surprising.  But does it also reflect a broader lack and quality of debate on international issues in the UK?  Is this having a negative impact on public support for UK international development policy? And what role do research organisations like IDS have to play in addressing this problem?

On the fringe

Discussions about international issues are mostly confined to the well-trodden fringe circuit at all three of the UK’s main political parties’ conferences. You’ll generally find them at the end of a long corridor in a too hot/too cold pre-fab conference room, with the odd cheese straw or vegetable samosa thrown in to enliven proceedings.  What I imagine a UN side event to be like (although I’ve never been).

At Labour Party Conference this year, taking place in Brighton right on IDS’ door step, there were some genuinely interesting conversations about international development happening on the fringes.  Margaret Hodge (MP and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee in the UK Parliament) and Ivan Lewis (Shadow Secretary of State for International Development) spoke engagingly about the central role of tax in tackling inequality at home and abroad at the Christian Aid and Action Aid event. And ODI’s Executive Director Kevin Watkins talked about what a new set of global development goals might look like in the context of the UK at the Labour Campaign for International Development’s (LCID) reception, which was timely given the recent announcement from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 will be applicable in all countries, not just developing ones.  

What more aid?

But why do these conversations remain for the most part on the fringes?  And that’s not just at party conferences, but in parliament and the media as well.  The issue that generally hits the headlines or takes the main stage in the UK when it comes to international development is aid.

Aid undoubtedly continues to have an important role to play in UK international development policy.  But talking about the UK’s role in the world solely in terms of whether we do or don’t spend 0.7% of GNI on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) misses the bigger picture. And when polls and surveys, including IDS’ own UK Public Opinion Monitor, report that public support for aid and international development is dwindling, it’s hardly surprising given that debates on these issues have become stuck in an ‘aid’ rut. 

Changing the conversation

 So how do we change the conversation and re-engage the UK public with these issues?  Earlier this year, IDS joined forces with the International Broadcasting Trust to host an event that brought together UK parliamentarians with representatives from INGOs, academia and the media to try and answer exactly this question.  The group came up with a number of recommendations, two of which are particularly interesting:
  • We need to talk about the world as it is not as it was – this means less about aid and more about the role of emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China, about high growth rates in Africa, about the positive impact of growing domestic tax revenues in developing countries.
  • We need to link stories about poverty at a national and a global level and highlight the ways in which people’s lives are connected.

This is where the international development research community and organisations like IDS can help.  From the role of rising powers, to improving taxation systems in developing countries, to shining a light on the impact of the food, fuel and financial crises on communities across the world, to the increase in use of food banks in high-income countries – this is knowledge that we have at our fingertips. 

But we need to be willing to engage in these debates and by working more closely with the media and politicians actively seek to reframe the narrative.  At a time when UKIP are growing in popularity and with concerns about increasing isolationism being voiced, it’s critical that we start telling a different story about development that isn’t just about aid and that resonates more clearly with those outside of the party conference bubble.  

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Child labour on the decrease: a reason for patting ourselves on the back?

by Keetie Roelen

 A report published by the ILO – Marking Progress against Child Labour - earlier this week has the welcome news that the incidence of child labour has dropped considerably; since 2000, child labour has decreased by one thirds from around 245 million to 168 million children. The majority of the decrease occurred in Asia and the Pacific and took place in the last four years.

The report identifies various policy choices underlying this positive trend, including education, legislation and social protection. Although it is recognised that general changes in child labour trends cannot be directly attributed to any of these policies individually, these are considered to have played an important and positive role. Social protection contributes to reducing poverty and improves families’ resilience to shocks, thereby preventing people from having to resort to coping strategies such as sending their child to work.

Is this encouraging news and the acknowledgement that social protection played its part reason for those working in or on social protection to pat themselves on the back? Maybe briefly, but certainly not for too hard and too long.

First of all, the problem of child labour is still massive. The ILO estimates that another 11 percent of the world’s child population are still involved in child labour, and that 85 million of those are engaged in hazardous work. Whilst the absolute number of children working is greatest in Asia and the Pacific, the incidence is largest in Africa with one in five children involved in some form of child labour. Maybe most worrying is that forms of hidden child labour, and particularly that of young girls working as domestic servants, are on the rise. Not only makes the hidden nature of such types of child labour difficult to account for them but also difficult to address.

Secondly, for all the good that social protection does in terms of reducing child labour, it also does harm. And this harm is not sufficiently recognised, presenting a danger to the progress in reducing child labour as social protection policies continue to expand in coverage and size.

Social protection programmes that deserve particular scrutiny when considering their impact on child labour are public works programmes – programmes that require people to work for cash or food. Evaluations of such programmes have shown that they can contribute to reduction of child labour, both in terms of incidence as well as the number of hours worked. The additional cash or food available in the household ensures that children no longer need to provide an additional source of income or labour. That said, there are some potential negative side effects that deserve due attention.

 Firstly, although public works programmes will officially not allow minors to work on their programmes, it is not uncommon to find children replacing their parents on the programme with supervisors not checking their age or not intervening. Secondly, public works programmes are also known to lead to a ‘substitution effect’, with children taking on their parents’ responsibilities on the family farm or in the house as one or both parents work on the programme. Not only can this increase the incidence of child labour, it often goes at the expense of other developmental activities of children, such as time spent at school, studying at home or playing.

 Although last decade’s reductions in child labour are to be applauded and are certainly cause for optimism, we should keep on our toes and remain critical about what policy choices have which kind of effect. This certainly holds with respect to social protection more generally; the rapidly expanding evidence base pointing towards positive effects of various programmes makes it appealing to base policy and programmatic decisions on assumptions about what works and what doesn’t. Praise should be given when and where it is due, but after that it is quickly time to do even better.

Monday, 16 September 2013

How to ‘Do’ Economic Development in Conflict-Affected Contexts (Hint: It’s about Politics)

By Patricia Justino

* This blog is a part of a collaborative series in partnership with Economists for Peace & Security and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The economic security of individuals and households is a major challenge for development interventions in conflict-affected countries. Once the conflict is over and humanitarian aid leaves, how do you feed people, secure livelihoods and improve markets and market access? An important finding from a major EU -funded research program on conflict analysis is that the answer to this question
is closely linked to processes of institutional change that take place during violent conflict.

Violent conflicts kill and destroy. However, conflict-affected countries are also characterized by intense institutional change that needs to be better understood. Institutional change takes place when different actors contest and sometimes win over former state institutions, transforming social, economic and political structures, organizations and norms.

Research conducted in the MICROCON project over the last six years has found that these institutional changes have profound impacts on the survival and security of ordinary people, and are central to explaining why armed conflicts persist, why they may mutate into different forms of violence and criminality, and why sometimes peace prevails. Furthermore, because they shape the distribution of political power, these forms of institutional transformation determine also how development processes succeed or fail in reducing poverty and promoting economic stability.

A common feature of conflict-affected countries is the breakdown of state functions, including its monopoly of violence and the ability to deliver public goods. The literature has described these processes as forms of ‘state collapse’ or ‘state failure.’ However, the collapse of state institutions in countries affected by conflict is not necessarily accompanied by the collapse of order and governance.

In reality, order tends to emerge in many contexts as different actors gain control over contested areas, and replace weak or absent state institutions. In many developing countries, these actors may include community members that form collective arrangements to access goods and security, or traditional authorities that take on state functions. In conflict areas, these actors are often linked to, or are themselves, armed groups (e.g. rebel groups, militias, gangs) that aim to control populations. Control is frequently—although not exclusively—achieved through violent means.

These local systems of order are an important mechanism in the transition of conflict-affected societies to stability because they affect how people live and survive, mediate the engagement of citizens with state institutions, and tend to persist beyond the end of the initial conflict, making them a key factor in how peace and development efforts will succeed in the long term.

However, the control of populations and the provision of public goods and security by non-state actors are typically viewed suspiciously by the international policy community, which associates the actions of these groups with illegitimacy, illegality and informality. The problem is that in contexts of violent conflict—even during the post-conflict phase—state structures are absent, do not work, or are illegitimate in the eyes of the populations they aim to rule.

New evidence suggests that non-state actors and the organizations they establish sometimes operate sophisticated structures of governance, promoting the rule of law in some form or other, and providing security, food and basic services. Despite the fact that these structures are often illegitimate or illegal, we should at the very least seek to understand them—and we need to do so in a systematic and rigorous way. This is important because these forms of institutional transformation shape the effectiveness of interventions in countries affected by violent conflict, including the establishment of elections, the enforcement of property rights, the reform of justice and security structures, and the improvement of systems of food distribution, employment and social service provision.

Development interventions cannot therefore be de-coupled from institutional and political processes that emerge during violent conflict and persist once the conflict is over. This implies acknowledging that actors beyond the state shape levels of economic, social and physical vulnerability of the very same populations targeted by development interventions. This is an issue where development policy still needs to make significant progress.

This blog was originally posted on United States Institute of Peace website on 13 August 2013

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Has Twitter killed the media star? (or How I stopped worrying and learned to love social media)

By James Georgalakis

Back at the end of the last millennium my biggest preoccupation at work was how to secure more column inches for my employer. As a press officer it was my job to feed carefully crafted press releases into the fax machine and get on the phone to pitch in the story. My success or failure to engage bored sounding interns manning the phones of busy news desks with a new report or announcement determined my organisation’s ability to set the news agenda, engage the attention of policy makers and raise profile. Ten years on social media had firmly established itself as a channel through which you could tell your stories and engage key opinion formers. But this was a slow transition and an organisations’ ability to pitch stories into traditional media outlets remained of paramount importance.

However, last June, the balance seemed to tip. Perhaps in other sectors and in other contexts this has occurred many times before but at least here at the Institute of Development Studies it felt like a significant moment. IDS was busy launching the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI). The index provided scores for donor countries on their commitment to reducing hunger and undernutrition in terms of their aid spending, policies and endorsement of international agreements. Our strategy had been to coincide with the high profile UK hosted Nutrition for Growth summit to maximise media interest. Results were mixed. Despite around twenty pieces of media coverage many of the most highly valued outlets we had hoped would cover it ignored us. Save the Children and the big NGOs, who were busy promoting their own stories for the hunger summit, with their enormous resources and access to media friendly human interest stories and celebrities had the likes of the BBC pretty much sown up.

The tipping point: Social media versus traditional media

But all was not lost. Our social media strategy was having a real and immediate impact in terms of engaging policy makers with the index. We had carefully targeted key influencers on Twitter and key bloggers. Some of these were project partners, others were organisations we had identified through our stakeholder mapping as having a shared advocacy or research agenda. We shared with these networks advance links to our assets including an infographic, a website and a short animated film. We met with them, briefed them in nutrition network meetings or simply fired off an email a few days ahead of the launch asking them if they could help. Once the launch was underway we also tweeted messages to some of our key followers.  The result of this strategy was that even if HANCI failed to make the grade in the news room it was an instant hit on Twitter and in the blogosphere.

Within hours of HANCI going live a shout went up from our Digital Communications Officer: “Canada’s just tweeted HANCI”. Sure enough Julian Fantino, Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation tweeted Canada’s HANCI score. This was followed-up by the Canadian government’s Nutrition Coordinator contacting IDS directly to get the full data. “The Dutch just tweeted” went another shout. Head of Food Security and Financial Sector at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Dutch Government Marcel Beukeboom tweeted: “disappointing 16th place for Netherlands. We are more ambitious than that. Interested in indicators to learn how to improve.”  By the following day the Index received an official response from Irish Aid, with a press release quoting Ireland’s Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello welcoming the index.

In none of these cases could we find any obvious link to traditional media. There had been no Canadian press release, Dutch or Irish media coverage. It was Duncan Green’s influential blog and retweets from key development and nutrition influencers like DFID, Oxfam, ONE, Concern, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children and the IF campaign that had really stirred things up. The top five tweets and re-tweets alone received more than 134000 potential impressions. The most popular content was the infographic swiftly followed by our animation which was watched a thousand times in just a few days. Weeks later, the reverberations continue. Just in, the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition have tweeted about the HANCI animation: “This video gave me goose bumps.”

Targeted social media = real engagement

Am I heralding the death of traditional media and its usurpation by Twitter, Facebook and Google+? Absolutely not, but this is still a watershed moment for me because it has provided such a blatant example of the primacy of social media in engaging relatively niche audiences with our research. In this case Twitter was providing us with direct responses to HANCI from our target policy makers. This is exactly what we had set out to achieve. We want HANCI to be taken seriously by governments, and used in the advocacy of those that seek to hold them to account.

The news room intern and the Today Programme night editor are no longer the only means of getting government ministers and NGOs to respond to our research. This is more than just the blurring of boundaries between traditional media and social media. If we can be innovative enough we can bypass traditional media altogether. Of course, we are still reliant on intermediaries, in the form of twitter followers and bloggers and occasionally the media itself. Traditional media coverage can still be enormously impactful especially in relation to more mainstream or topical political issues. But much as marginalised citizens around the world have been able to harness social media to make their voices heard, research organisations can use non traditional media to engage key audiences around their research without having to rely upon the overstretched editor or broadcaster.

IDS already has a digital communications strategy that places social media at its core. But this recent experience provides reassurance that we are moving in the right direction.  I will always look back fondly on those days of the busy press office and the excitement of a story really taking off but I am glad that social media provides another dimension to engaging key decision makers and influencers around our work. Social media may not have killed the media star yet but it has certainly dimmed it a little.

Blog originally posted on Wonk Comm on 16 August 2013

Friday, 16 August 2013

The other Rising Voices in Development – what is new in the G7+ project

By Ricardo Goulão Santos
Having Timor-Leste as the setting of my PhD research has brought me into the centre stage of a different kind of voice, rising in the “Development World”. Different from the group of rising stars, the new emerging economies of the BRICS, Indonesia, Australia, (whose role as donors is the object of the study by IDS’s Rising Power in Development Programme), this would more likely be defined as “the basketcase group”.

Their slogan seemed to be “the countries that won’t reach a single of the Millennium Development Goals”. They were deemed, at one point, to be “failed states”. A slightly more benevolent label was that of “fragile countries”. In a previous blog post, I discussed the fluidity of these labels, when looking at Timor. However, some of these countries created an unlikely group, one that accepted the fragilities of its members but dared to claim such condition as what demands that they, and not the donors, are in the driving seat of the global effort to face their challenges.

Probably inspired by the G77 group of developing countries, the G7+ was born not long ago, in April 2010. Its main goal is “to stop conflict, build nations and eradicate poverty through innovative development strategies, harmonized to the country context, aligned to the national agenda and led by the State and its People.”[1]  In slightly more than a year, they had their manifesto, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, approved in the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness hosted in Busan, and promptly applauded as one of the successes of the gathering, as reported by Mawdsley, Savage and Kim (2013:6). However, even gaining the honour of having their chair, the Timorese Minister of Finance Maria Emilia Pires, as a member of the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the G7+ seem to have been left under the radar already. When they gathered to produce the Dili Consensus, as part of the consultation process towards the Post-2015 Development Goals[2], the interest of the international community seemed to have faded somewhat. Nonetheless, the process did not stop and the pilot Fragility Assessments of Timor-Leste, South Sudan and Sierra Leone are producing the first reports.

As part of my PhD research, when analysing the political economy of Timor-Leste I am called to look deeply into the Timorese engagement with the New Deal, especially as it now has a central role in the development partnerships the Government negotiates. In future blog posts I’ll seek to share more about the programme and the Timorese leading case study of its implementation. In this one I’d like to briefly explore the principles originated in the New Deal. In their document, the G7+ countries determined the need to seek a set of 5 Peace-Building and State-Building Goals (PSG), following a process (coined by the acronym FOCUS) and requiring from the donor community a commitment towards a set of principles framed by another suggestive acronym, TRUST. The first two establish a strategy of development.

Each PSG is a dimension that each G7+ country needs to reinforce in order to reach what they perceive to be their path to development:-
Legitimate Politics, encompassing an inclusive political settlement and conflict resolution;
PSG2: Security, the establishment and strengthening of people’s security;
PSG3: Justice, the reduction of situations of injustice and facilitating the access to justice;
PSG4: Economic Foundation, the capacity to generate employment and promote livelihoods;
PSG5: Revenue and Services, the State’s capacity to manage its revenue sources and to an deliver an accountable and fair public service.

Some of these principles may have resonated in the High Panel report. Concerns regarding the access to basic human rights, such as the access to justice or the promotion of livelihoods (that can be perceived in the commitment to end extreme poverty), the transformation of economies towards employment generation or regarding an accountable and fair service delivery seem to be clear commonalities. The concerns with conflict resolution and people’s security seem also to be present in both sets of guidelines. The concern with a sustainable development, keystone of the High Panel report, was already transparent in the Dili Consensus. This seems to indicate that the voices of the G7+ might have been heard by the High Panel and urges us to look with care to their implementation.

The process chosen to guide such implementation is delineated by the acronym FOCUS:-

      Fragility Assessment, as the main policy evaluation instrument;
O      One vision, one plan guiding the policies put into place by each ministry, in contrast with the current  multitude of (competing) priorities proposed by the diverse thematic, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies and international NGOs;
C       Compact, as the instrument of harmonization among stakeholders (political society, civil society and aid actors);
U      Use of PSGs to monitor, reinforcing these principles as the framework for g7+ country’s development;
      Support Political Dialogue, as the key to a politically inclusive process.

This process already establishes a joint commitment by both national governments and other national actors (starting with the political parties in opposition) towards dialogue and the prosecution of the PSGs, but also a commitment by international aid actors towards an harmonized support to these efforts.

The urge for harmonization becomes even clearer in second set of commitments inscribed under the suggestive acronym TRUST:-

      Transparency, a commitment towards a transparent reporting of aid and its implementation;
R       Risk-Sharing, the assumption that a commitment by the international community in fostering the development of “fragile states”, even if risky, is a better option than non-commitment;
U      Use and strengthen country systems, as the key to sustain the development efforts and aid effectiveness;
      Strengthen capacities, both of the State and Civil Society in a balanced way, namely through jointly administered pooled facilities, South-South and fragile-fragile cooperation;
T       Timely and Predictable aid, a remnant of the Accra Agenda for action, repeated in each document that echoes developing countries’ voices and, sadly, also repeatedly forgot by donor countries.

These required commitments trace a significant set of obligations to be followed by donors themselves, much in the spirit of some of the commitments of the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action, and against which, time and again donors have failed to comply. The need for timely and predictable aid clearly flags one of the key failures in performance by donor countries, that despite precious admonitions regarding “developing countries” weaknesses, seem to continue oblivious to their own inconsistency, volubility in aid policies and lack of compliance towards committed financial support to recipient countries.

They also open a space for South-South cooperation, suggesting the possibility of a convergence with the Rising Powers. They go further, however. In a radical depart from the donor-recipient logic of aid, they propose and have put into place, in annual forums, a space for fragile-fragile cooperation. In this last possibility may lie the main innovative strength of the G7+ proposal. From the shared experience of weakness and challenges, more than from the success stories of those that never faced equal troubles, new ways and solutions may occur. If “necessity is the mother of invention”, opening and promoting the sharing of experiences may enable such opportunity of innovation to occur.

These sets of goals, processes and principles are being now piloted and tested. The Fragility Assessment of Timor-Leste of which we already have the first installment and from which we can already analyse its report serves as an opportunity to look into the practice of these guidelines.But that will the theme of another blog post.
[1] An introduction to the G7+ can be found here (pdf)
[2] A reflection I shared on this gathering can also be found in the Povertics blog.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

From failure to flies and beyond: Our top 10 posts

By Ya'el Azgad
It has been nearly a year since the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team at IDS started the Povertics blog as a space for our researchers to share their thoughts, analysis and findings on a variety of issues relating to their work.
Since then, we’ve had blog posts on subjects ranging from the death of a prime minister to advice for a new Poperiots, elections and oppression, altruism, nutrition and lots more besides. We've covered global issues as well as bringing you analysis on particular countries and regions. As well as written pieces our blogs have featured podcasts, TV programmes and an animation.
So in case you missed them, here's a recap of our 10 most viewed posts:
Inka Barnett on the importance of openness about failure in development. 
Clare Goreman on the achievements and limitations of the Productive Safety Net Programme in Ethiopia.
Nick Nisbett welcomes the idea of tackling undernutrition as part of a wider package of services that all children deserve.
Patricia Justino and Becky Mitchell on making women more central to peace-building processes.
Jeremy Lind examines the political and economic implications of the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. 
Andy Sumner suggests an alternative to low and middle income country classification.
Keetie Roelen and Martina Ulrichs argue that despite the positive contributions of social protection, there is a danger that this approach overlooks the structural causes of poverty.
Roger Williamson on the advantages of studying at IDS.
Jaideep Gupt speaks with Jos Verbeek, Lead Economist at the World Bank, about tackling urban poverty.
Stephen Devereux is sceptical about 'graduation'.  

Monday, 8 July 2013

Mixing Methods in Research on Poverty and Vulnerability: 10 years on

by Keetie Roelen

In his recent article in World Development, Paul Shaffer states that
“[...] the recent decade has been marked by a significant increase in the quantity of mixed methods materials produced on poverty [...]”.

This week the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) co-hosted a two-day workshop on Mixed Methods Research in Poverty and Vulnerability at UEA in London. The workshop brought together researchers, consultants, practitioners and students from multiple countries and disciplines with the aim to share ideas and learn lessons about current practice in mixed methods research in poverty and vulnerability in the context of both developing and developed countries. The workshop focused on three different themes – poverty measurement, poverty dynamics and impact evaluation. In doing so it gave rise to discussions about individual methods, the challenges in combining methods, and ways in which to meaningfully communicate findings following the combination of methods. Presentations encompassed technologies such as video, computer gaming, and GIS illustrating the range of methods now being mixed to enrich understandings of particular contexts and dynamics.
A number of recurrent and key issues can be drawn out from the many rich discussions during the workshop:

  1.  Firstly, the notion that despite great advances in mixed methods research in the past decade, it still appears to be hard to sell. Although there is wide acceptance that disciplinary dichotomies and strong distinctions between quantitative and qualitative methods are not conducive to gaining insightful understandings of poverty and vulnerability, workshop participants felt that such dichotomies and distinctions are still very much alive. Researchers experience resistance from colleagues working within strictly defined disciplinary parameters in accepting a mixing of methods as equally rigorous. By the same token, discussions within the theme of impact evaluation revealed that the push for evidence-based policy making and need to demonstrate value for money have led many policy makers and practitioners to favour quantitative and ‘confirmatory’ approaches over qualitative and ‘exploratory’ approaches, as highlighted by James Copestake from the University of Bath. 
  2. But even amongst the ‘converted’ of mixed method researchers, many new and recurrent challenges around individual methods and their integration exist. One such challenge is the multiple meanings of terms used in poverty measurement surveys such as ‘necessity’ and the potential of group-based qualitative methods to reach consensus on such meanings. Eldin Fahmy from the University of Bristol argued that qualitative research might help us take account of individual as well as patterned differences, which means that claims to present a consensus on anything, rather than simply the majority view, should perhaps be challenged. Many other presentations, including that of Janet Seeley from UEA, reflected on the role of qualitative research more widely. Often its role is seen as that of quality control whereby it is used to ‘verify’ or ‘triangulate’ findings from quantitative methods. Both the timing of the qualitative research and the imperative to integrate qualitative and quantitative research might reduce its subversive potential. Janet Seeley, for example, pointed towards the power of stories in their own right, whilst James Copestake argued that the current emphasis in development on evaluating against a theory of change reduced the potential of qualitative research to identify genuine impact or absence thereof.
  3. The increasing availability of secondary quantitative data sets also calls for reflection on the appropriate role of qualitative research in analysis and more innovative ways of integrating both types of data. 
The link between research and policy making was discussed throughout the course of the workshop. Questions were raised about how to communicate findings from mixed methods research avoiding oversimplification or ‘cherry-picking’ of messages in policy briefs. This concern was not exclusive to the discussion around policy, though. It was also pointed out that the strict word limits in academic journals force researchers to segregate analysis and discussion of findings, which means that claims often need to be taken on trust.

The push for researchers to formulate policy recommendations was also expressed as a real concern as much of the mixed methods research in poverty and vulnerability is geared towards gaining understanding rather than seeking to provide answers or solutions to the problems.
The wealth of experiences and range of ongoing initiatives that were presented during the workshop indicate that there is still great momentum around mixed methods research in poverty and vulnerability. The large range of studies that came about in the last decade have ensured that the ways in which mixing methods can add value to research in poverty and vulnerability are now well understood. In the years to come, it is time to be more critically reflective about individual methods, the ways in which they can be meaningfully combined and the engagement with those outside of the mixed methods ‘space’.

This blog post was written by Keetie Roelen (IDS) and Laura Camfield (UEA). A version of this post can also be found on the UEA website: Proceedings from the workshop can soon be found here: