Jetlag is a book reviewer’s best friend. In the bleary small hours in NZ and now Australia, I have been catching up on my reading. The latest was ‘Building State Capability’, by Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock, which builds brilliantly on Matt’s 2013 book and the subsequent work of all 3 authors in trying to find practical ways to help reform state systems in dozens of developing countries (see the BSC website for more). Building State Capability is published by OUP, who agreed to make it available as an Open Access pdf, in part because of the good results with How Change Happens (so you all owe me….).
But jetlag was also poor preparation for the first half of this book, which after a promising start, rapidly gets bogged down in some extraordinarily dense academese. I nearly gave up during the particularly impenetrable chapter 4: sample ‘We are defining capability relative to normative objectives. This is not a reprisal of the “functionalist” approach, in which an organization’s capability would be defined relative to the function it actually served in the overall system.’ Try reading that on two hours’ sleep.
Luckily I stuck with it, because the second half of the book is an excellent (and much more accessible) manual on how to do Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation – the approach to institutional reform that lies at the heart of the BSC programme.
Kenyan schools are not doing well. About a 120 of them were set alight in arson attacks last year alone which were largely blamed on fears arising from a government crackdown on cheating in national exams. Amid national schooling reforms, many pupils and parents continue to be unhappy about the changes. Where do the teachers figure within this period of heavy reform?
Both the best and worst performers in East Africa are in Kenya
Although school enrolment has gone up steadily, over a million children are still out of school. In terms of learning outcomes, Kenya performs relatively better than its neighbours, but results from internationally recognised competency test, Uwezo, shows that learning levels are poor, and have stagnated over time. For instance, in the 2014 Uwezo assessment, 39% of children aged 7-13 years passed a test that required them to demonstrate competence of Standard 2 level numeracy and literacy. This was not significantly different from the performance in previous years: 40% in 2011, 37% in 2012 and 41% in 2013. Looking at student learning levels, both the best and worst performing districts in East Africa are in Kenya. The extremities in quality within Kenyan education are huge. For instance, according to the same Uwezo data, “a child in the Central region is over seven times more likely to have attained a Standard 2 level of literacy and numeracy than a child in the North Eastern region”.
Fixing the education system in Kenya is an onerous task. The Government of Kenya has time and time again, reiterated its commitment to improving the state of education, and has outlined its vision in the National Education Sector Plan 2013- 2018. Alongside, a host of national and international development agencies in Kenya have over the years, financed numerous programmes, targeting various components of the education sector. These efforts have yielded a wealth of evidence. One should consider such evidence, while attempting to answer the question – how can we improve the quality of schooling in Kenya?
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
According to the World Bank report “Reaping Digital Dividends: Leveraging the Internet for Development in Europe and Central Asia” Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region has experienced, on average, a larger decline in routine employment than other parts of the world, coupled with an increase in high-and low-skill occupations. With anxiety about the job replacement effects of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the rise, let’s look into some of the highlights of the report focusing on possible short term disruptions and long term opportunities brought by ICT.
Is the Internet responsible for the increasing market polarization? According to this report, it is not. The authors argue that in addition to technologies associated with the Internet that may have helped this process, there are other aspects, such as structural changes in economies, technological and trade, as well as labor market liberalization that help explain such rapid labor market polarization. In addition, the report points out that the depth of Internet adaptation by individuals and firms tends to be lower in ECA than many other regions.
At the same time, the report found that countries that implemented reforms in the telecommunications sector, with an objective to improve competition, increase provision, and lower prices, created the enabling environment for the increase in Internet adaptation. The graph below demonstrates, that the introduction of the telecommunications reform is strongly correlated with the decrease in the routine labor employment share.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The International Legal Framework
A significant number of current conflicts involve non-state armed groups (NSAGs) that exercise control over territory and civilians. Often these civilians are in need of assistance. International humanitarian law (IHL) provides that if the party to an armed conflict with control of civilians is unable or unwilling to meet their needs, offers may be made to carry out relief actions that are humanitarian and impartial in character. The consent of affected states is required but may not be arbitrarily withheld. Once consent has been obtained, parties must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief operations. In responding, humanitarian actors must overcome numerous challenges, including insecurity arising from active hostilities or a breakdown in law and order, or bureaucratic constraints imposed by the parties to the conflict.
Measuring the Business Side: Indicators to Assess Media Viability
In times of digital transformation media all over the world have to come up with new ways to ensure their survival. Meanwhile, media development actors are searching for new concepts and orientation in their support of media organizations and media markets. This paper presents DW Akademie’s suggestion for new indicators to measure economic viability. The criteria not only take into account the financial strategies and managerial structures of individual media outlets, but also the overall economic conditions in a country as well as the structures of the media market needed to ensure independence, pluralism and professional standards. After all, money talks – and media development should listen.
Instituting reforms can be tricky business. The push and pull of politics, the power of vested interests, varying degrees of institutional capacity for implementation, and contrary public opinion can all make the success of a reform agenda tenuous.
So how can leaders and strategists increase the likelihood they will be successful at achieving sustainable reforms? The 2016 Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment was developed on the premise that successful implementation of policy reforms depends significantly on non-technical, real-world issues that relate to people and politics; and communication, when done right, may be the key to converting reform objectives into achievements.
During the 10-day program, held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, May 23- June 3, 2016, participants will learn the most recent advances in communication and proven techniques in reform implementation. Participants will develop the skills required to bring about real change, leading to development results.
Ha, what would life be without contradictions? In every human grouping there are taboo subjects, matters deemed better left alone, words deemed better left unsaid, issues considered better suited to the deep freezers of life. The unspoken injunction is: Don’t go there; don’t touch it. Yet, there are those who think that a group functions better if a way can be found to air taboo subjects. There are also those who believe that true courage is a willingness to discuss the undiscussable, a readiness to take on all issues, no matter how sensitive the subject.
In the sense in which I first encountered the idea, an undiscussable arises as follows. There is often a difference between the values we claim and the values that our actual conduct affirms. You do it, I do it, we all do it. But it is easier to see it in others.
Right to Information (RTI) laws can be a useful instrument for improving transparency – if the political will for implementation is sustained, and if the broader governance environment provides the enabling conditions for the exercise of the law. A research project that studied the implementation of RTI laws in a number of countries showed that implementation has been very uneven across countries. In some countries, RTI laws had been leveraged effectively for extracting information in a number of important areas, ranging from public expenditures, to performance and procurement, and exposing instances of corruption. In other countries, the existence of an RTI law had little impact in any of these areas, and oversight and capacity building mechanisms had either not been set up, or not functioned effectively.
The findings of the study are not surprising. The implementation gap between de jure and de facto reforms in countries faced with capacity constraints and political economy challenges is well-known. Yet, international agencies have pushed policy reforms without adequate attention to the constraints and challenges of implementation. The pressure to win support and legitimacy with international aid agencies has been an important driver of the adoption of RTI laws. The right has also been recognized in international human rights conventions, and more recently has gained increasing international attention (for instance, the existence of a law is one of the considerations for membership in the Open Government Partnership). Further, pressure from domestic constituencies has also propelled political actors to champion the law. But, once passed, capacity limitations, the erosion of political will, and active resistance have been important impediments to realizing the potential of RTI.