A nice example of how government-to-government peer pressure can lead to innovation

Guest post from John Hammock of the Oxford Poverty & Human Development InitiativeJohnHammock

In your thought-provoking blog ‘Hello SDGs, what’s your theory of change?’ you rightly identify peer pressure as a potentially very effective means of governments coming to internalise the SDGs in their domestic processes and influencing others to follow suit. Let me give an instructive case study based on our experience at OPHI.

I think there is common ground that effective change must be owned by the implementers of change, not by donors or academics, not by consultants or think-tanks, not by well-wishers (or even bloggers).  Change happens in government when the change is owned and this happens when the policy maker sees how the policy will help both deal with the problem in real time and help the government in power.

Let’s take the case of multidimensional poverty and its measurement.  OPHI—an academic centre—developed at the end of 2008 the Alkire Foster method to measure multidimensional poverty, giving the world a practical tool to measure many deprivations that poor people face at the same time.   Four years later, three ‘vanguard’ governments [to borrow your phrase!], Mexico, Colombia and Bhutan, had adopted the measure but take-up elsewhere was painfully slow.  Statisticians and geeks loved it, but governments were not following the starting three.

MPI 2015
MPI 2015

That is when Mexico and Colombia made a crucial decision based on their concept of change.  Instead of going to large donors to buy the new methodology in order for them to then deliver or “sell” it to countries, they decided that change would come only if high-level policy makers from governments got involved and assumed control of the process of change. So, they created the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network, a south-south informal network of policy makers who deal with poverty. President Santos of Colombia became the network’s first champion and presided over the opening of the first meeting of the network along with Amartya Sen in 2013.

Here we see combined solid academic grounding of a method—an operationalisation of the Sen capability approach—tied to one of the key tenets of its approach, namely that governments and people must be empowered to take control of their own development.  From its inception, southern countries owned the MPPN network. And the network was open to all governments interested in multidimensional poverty. A government did not have to have made a decision to launch an official multi-dimensional poverty index or MPI to join. The theory of change led to openness of sharing, of education of policy makers, of debate and questioning.

The MPPN is a loose, informal network of Ministers and heads of state that meets as a group once a year, though its members mount peer-to-peer missions to assist individual countries in between. It has simple, clear and focused objectives—first, to educate governments on the utility and benefits of national MPIs for public policy, leading to the adoption of MPIs as national measures to complement income and, second, to promote dialogue on the need for a global MPI as part of the SDGs.

Again, this comes from a theory of change that focuses on both the need for national level data and programmes that are effective and varied in accordance with national priorities and on the need for global comparisons to help measure global progress over time. A global MPI would give the world a clear method for measuring poverty across many of the goals of the SDGs, leading to the meeting of Goal 1.2 which aims to reduce at least by half the proportion of those living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions by 2030.

A theory of change is essential for long term impact in development programming. Our experience with this peer-to-peer network shows that change can be rapid if the change meets a need, gives policy makers tools for effective action, is locally owned and adapted to local realities and reflects the values of that society.  The MPPN network, which started only two years ago,  now has 40 participant governments and a number of these governments are now about to launch official national MPIs—technically solid but reflecting their own values, their own policy needs.

And here’s a 5m video on the MPI methodology

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One Response to “A nice example of how government-to-government peer pressure can lead to innovation”
  1. Dear John,

    My comment is not based on solid science, but on a fear I have seeing how the development caravan evolves.

    Looking at the SDGs I see one group that definitely get its due, if not the poor: those who gather data. In some parts of the development community there is the idea that everybody wants to help the poor, if they only had better information of what the problem is and what the evidence on the solutions is.

    However, I don’t think this is the way it works. Poverty in a MIC or higher is the results of policy choices that are the effect of power struggles. In this power struggle not reality but perception counts. I refer to the last debate of the GOP presidential candidates where the moderators asked a question to each, based on their published plans, and each of them replied bluntly lying about their own program. What is needed is indicators that are telling and convening. This is why the MDGs might have been successful (although, apparently, not even).

    This is also why any compounded indicator is scientifically interesting, and politically useless. If only UNDP had used as its development index, only life expectancy of the bottom half of the population as its index! Compared to the richest and to other countries. Nothing more. The bare cost of dying. Now after 20 years, everybody still uses Gdb per person as a crude average, even for defining poverty.

    So yes, 2 points I would like an answer on:
    1) is the data gathering really changing poverty or only poverty measurement? Or is it just an academic corporatist reflex (every evaluation: a: we need more data;b: we need more research). I have the same feeling about baselines in development programmes. Are they really cost effective? or only delivering more elegant evaluations and research.
    2) do you really think that a compound indicator has political cloud and is a driver for change?

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