In a new report, “Adapting Development — Improving Services to the Poor” ODI (Overseas Development Institute) argues that if we are to avoid reproducing the pattern of uneven progress that has characterised the MDG campaign, there must be more explicit recognition of the political conditions that enable or obstruct development progress.
The organization is therefore calling for a different approach to development to ensure further and faster progress and highlights three ways development organizations can support doing development differently.
1. Be politically smart and problem driven: This means tracking down problems, avoiding ready-made solutions and understanding what is politically feasible and possible.
In Nigeria, the U.K. Department for International Development has supported the State Accountability and Voice Initiative. Unlike traditional “demand-side” programs, SAVI chose not to provide grants to civil society but rather to identify specific problems (such as disability access in Lagos and control of corruption in Jigawa) and to build genuine partnerships of like-minded and reform-committed actors, from government and outside government, to take action on these problems.
2. Be adaptive and entrepreneurial: Because many development problems are complex and uncertain, allowing for cycles of doing, failing, adapting and (eventually) getting better results is key.
In a short film that accompanies the report, ODI documents how three entrepreneurial activists, with assistance from international nongovernmental organization The Asia Foundation, were able to support significant reform, resulting in a 1,400 percent increase in residential land titling, and helping the poorest who had previously risked losing their properties. This was achieved through an entrepreneurial approach — one which tried multiple options, eventually ending support to ideas that had less promise and focusing on those that got traction.
3. Take action that is locally led: Change is ultimately best led by those who are close to the problem and who have the greatest stake in its solutions, whether this is central or local government officials, civil society or private sector groups, or communities themselves. While ownership and participation are often namechecked in development, this has rarely resulted in change that is genuinely driven by individuals and groups with the power to influence the problem and find solutions.