ReCom - autumn 2012 and beyond

Exciting research about the impact of aid on different sectors continues steadily from the ReCom project. This newsletter is an effort to present the newest papers. They can also be found on the ReCom website.

For a start, I would like to highlight a paper by Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock and Matt Andrews, which marks the beginning of a new research project under the Governance and Fragility theme of ReCom, Building State Capability through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA).

Lant Pritchett, Professor of the practice of international development at Harvard Kennedy School, will also deliver the 2012 WIDER Annual Lecture on the 27th of September in Helsinki on the same topic, the crisis of state capability around the world where some states cannot even carry out the most basic functions like security, policing, taxing or regulation. Pritchett, chosen 2011 as one of the Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers, is someone ‘known for pairing careful empiricism with wilful provocation’. We are in for an interesting afternoon and beyond when the results under the ReCom project start to come out later in 2013.

In their research paper the authors present a depressing scenario where catching-up in the worst case scenario takes hundreds of years. Their concept of ‘isomorphic mimicry’ has already created a debate among development economists. What they mean is systems where external incentives drives aid recipient organizations and their agents to adopt a camouflage of organizational forms that are deemed successful elsewhere, only to hide their actual dysfunction. Awards to organizations that appear as ‘modern’ and adopt ‘best practices’ are given with disrespect to contextual and cultural issues. These are concerns that development practitioners are acutely aware of. This awareness is often revealed in the use of non-modernization aphorisms such as: ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, or ‘there are no silver bullets’.

As Pritchett, Woolcock, and Andrews conclude: blueprints for reform are themselves too often part of the problem. They also underline the need for researchers to contribute to an alternative theory of change, one that is less dependent on the modernization paradigm. This is, on a grander scale, also one of the ambitions with the ReCom project as a whole. Still, it needs to be pointed out that the evaluation of micro-successes often is a more realistic way of finding out what works, and what could work in development aid before moving on to the next level of what is scalable and what is transferable.

In this issue

In this newsletter a wide range of issues are covered, from more general themes such as aid and structural change in Africa to more specific issues like democracy issues in Benin and Ghana, or a case study on the impact of aid to democracy in Tanzania. Please also take a look at the working paper ‘Opening the black box: tracing casual links between aid and growth’ which is part of a continued effort by Channing Arndt, Sam Jones and Finn Tarp to use macroeconomic tools to test the impact of development aid at the general level. The policy implications of their research are important.

At the moment we are busy working with preparations for the ReCom aid and employment results meeting in Copenhagen titled Jobs – Aid at Work. It will take place on the 8 October 2012, which will be a big international happening with some of academic stars in the field presenting important and interesting new results. We will for instance have Dr Martin Rama there, the director of the 2013 World Development Report on jobs. He will be discussing the challenges of job creation in the developing world.

The conference web page will soon open for registration.

Carl-Gustav Lindén
Senior Communications Specialist

For me this is the start of a new journey in professional life since I have left journalism to work with communication in the ReCom project. I look forward to all comments.