FYI: What We're Reading

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David Jacobstein

Sep 30, 2022, 3:15:34 PMSep 30
to LCD TA SUB Working Group Mail List (USAID), TWP.Learning, Adaptive Development | #AdaptDev
Hi all,

Here in the DC area, we're buckling down for a rainy weekend as the remnants of a hurricane that just hit Florida wash over us. Hopefully everyone reading this is doing so from somewhere safe and warm. If you too have some dreary rainy days ahead of you and are looking for some interesting reading to fill your hours, you're in luck - here are several good options:
  • Starting this quarter with an interesting silver lining of a tragic war, an examination of whether the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will revitalize democracy assistance. Several scholars weigh in, and I found much of it both compelling and useful. I particularly liked Anthony Smith's comments that "the fight for democracy is a campaign, not a war. It involves shifting norms and behaviors in whole societies. Western governments need to be persuasive, patient, and persistent by supporting local reformers while shifting the international dial on democratic standards." I also liked his call for democracy to be woven more robustly into all engagements: "they can find smart ways of integrating democratic governance into all of their external relations... [they] can use democracy impact audits to consider the effects that actions have on democratic governance and find win-win approaches. For example, it is possible to build the need for legislative oversight into international health programs and integrate the need for a civil society voice into negotiations on trade agreements. In other words, Western governments can do development democratically."
  • Closely related, here's a clarion call from Ukrainian civic activists for the West to offer both support and trust. They highlight the incredible ways in which Ukrainian businesses, NGOs, and people have helped one another: "Neighbors are taking care of each other and protecting homes others have been forced to leave behind, business owners and staff are using their facilities and equipment to respond to community needs outside of their normal operations, and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are continuing to provide the most vulnerable communities services while taking on new responsibilities of support and aid. Ukrainians are fighting a war for their freedom, and keeping hope alive that they will win. They also still have their jobs and daily responsibilities, they’re raising children and trying to shield them from trauma, they’re volunteering and responding to the needs of their neighbors, they’re uplifting social causes that can be forgotten in the fog of war but are nonetheless critical, and much more."  And they urge the rest of us to believe in this evidence and back it: "Ukrainians and their local non-governmental organizations need not only global generosity, but they also need global trust—trust that Ukrainians know their needs, infrastructure, and resources best; trust that they know, better than anyone else, exactly how to support and take care of each other now; and trust that they will know how best to rebuild."
  • As someone with a background in civil society strengthening who now works on TWP, I found myself repeatedly exclaiming "yes, that's true" when reading through this article around how the managerial tendency to "solve" uncertainty translates efforts to work politically into inputs in an apolitical machine, in ways that limit adaptation (h/t TWP COP newsletter, you should be reading it if you're reading this one!). They particularly were critical of some of the findings of the Global Learning for Adaptive Management (GLAM) project - one intended to advance systems practice - as one for which "the focus is on enhancing effectiveness, outcomes, and value for money by knowing how to choose the right tools that facilitate evidence-based decision-making" and contrasted that with "the social transformative vision of development which is proposed by most CSOs, which define development as a political process of changing structural inequalities." In other words, if you're keeping your objectives and project workstreams/boundaries constant but just trying to integrate more sources of knowledge into them, your work will fall short of the transformative, power-shifting approaches that we frequently say we endorse.
  • It connected for me with a broader critique on where values fit into evaluation and how evaluators make judgments without reference to the values or understandings of communities evaluated, by using a positivist and technocratic frame to shape judgments. To be sure, there are good reasons to use a classic technocratic paradigm as a filter - but those should be surfaced, subject to debate, and most of all visible to practitioners so that we can make decisions about when and how to shift.
  • This debate was interesting for me to reflect on while reading through an example of "evidence-led adaptation" that seems to manage to both employ adaptive management as a technical matter and foster real joint ownership, in part because the objectives of the program (female economic empowerment in Mozambique) lend themselves to such joint approaches. Does this represent a path forward or elide the tensions at hand? Curious what readers think.
  • Some good news around civil society and democracy may be the rise of informality in European civil society, which is both an adaptation to shifting conditions and perhaps a sign of democratic revitalization. Interestingly, as their focus turns to dealin with emergent challenges, this makes them more nimble and responsive. Perhaps a counterweight to the tendency to conflate "professionalism" with "effectiveness" among donors (to be sure, there are some limitations around sustaining structural change through informal groupings, but most donor-funded CSOs gain formality without accessing structures at large enough scale to sustain social change anyway).
  • Here are a couple of interesting blog posts from our USAID colleagues look at some new materials around how USAID can support collective action, and how collective action relates to CLA and other areas. Some really rich materials are linked within these blogs and the toolkit itself is a fantastic synthesis of USAID experiences trying to get beyond technocratic approaches and truly support locally-led development; it has a rich set of case studies as well as practical guides. 
  • Related to movement building and what it takes over time, here is the annual report from JASS , which is great in a number of ways, but particularly because it has a clear and useful graphic around what movement building takes: 

  • In terms of democratization, a novel argument made here argues that, at least in Asia, shifts to democracy have happened not where autocrats are weak but where they have pursued democratic reforms as a proactive strategy to revitalize their power from a position of strength.
  • For those who prefer video formats, an excellent presentation and discussion around the Dollars to Dissent research from Ben Naimark-Rouse, which looks at the ways in which donors fund nonviolent movements (and the ways in which movement members which donors supported them).
  • And another video from Jonathan Fox introduces work on donor coordination and interaction effects across it - ways that donors support, undermine, or even synergize with each other, often without significant conscious intent. 
  • We've shared previous posts from UNDP about their efforts toward a systems journey - here are some excellent reflections on learning so far, including how mindsets and intent underpin the journey from projects to portfolio and from normal to transformational work.
  • From a different space, a reinforcement of the importance of systems thinking: this study around the Finnish education system, which has consistently overachieved in various ways, felt almost like a restatement of the development work of Yuen Yuen Ang or Dan Honig: it looks at the role of "humble governance" in fostering improvements. As they write, "In the case of education, this means that the purpose of central government is not to dictate and manage the implementation of education policy and practice. Instead, its role is to create an educational context which provides a growth environment for each and every child. National government therefore sets a direction, and enables local experimentation with the practice which best achieves that." Their emphasis on building trust and offering trust, and on why scaling is failing, are also compelling.
Hopefully you find it all interesting, until next time!



David Jacobstein 

DCHA/DRG Policy, Coordination and Integration Team

United States Agency for International Development

T: (202) 712-1469

Context-Driven Adaptation Collection:

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