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The political economy of development policies and aid, innovative finance, transparency and accountability, complexity, technology, public financial management, information, knowledge, new media, Africa, health economics.
Owen Barder is a Vice President at the Center for Global Development, Director for Europe and a senior fellow. He is also a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics and a Specialist Adviser to the UK House of Commons International Development Committee. Barder was a British civil servant from 1988 to 2010, during which time he worked in No.10 Downing Street, as Private Secretary (Economic Affairs) to the Prime Minister; in the UK Treasury, including as Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and in the Department for International Development, where he was variously Director of International Finance and Global Development Effectiveness, Director of Communications and Information, and head of Africa Policy & Economics Department. As a young Treasury economist, Barder set up the first UK government website, to put details of the 1994 budget online.
Millions of people face hazards like cyclones and drought every day. International aid to deal with disasters after they strike is generous, but it is unpredictable and fragmented, and it often fails to arrive when it would do the most good. We must stop treating disasters like surprises. Matching finance to planning today will save lives, money, and time tomorrow.
In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.
In this working paper, Owen Barder raises fundamental questions about the purpose of aid transfers. For many donors the purpose is "poverty reduction" in the narrow sense of growth that reduces poverty. Barder argues that such a focus ignores key trade-offs, such as between reducing current and future poverty and between addressing the causes and symptoms of poverty, and results in less effective aid. This is an important paper for practitioners as well as students of how the aid system works.
Traditional economic models have tried and failed to understand why some countries have managed to improve living standards while other countries have not. Using ideas from complexity theory, Owen Barder will argue that development is a property of an economic and social system, not the sum of what happens to the people within it. Drawing on the understanding of complex adaptive systems in physics and biology, Barder will address important policy implications for policymakers who want to bring about faster development in their own country, or to help other countries to make faster progress.
Based in London, Owen Barder is the director of CGD in Europe, which he established in 2011. Barder was a British civil servant from 1988 to 2010, during which time he worked in the UK Treasury, No.10 Downing Street and the Department for International Development. He was Private Secretary (Economic Affairs) to the Prime Minister and previously Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the Department for International Development he was variously Director of International Finance and Development Effectiveness, Director of Communications and Information, and head of Africa Policy Department. Barder is a director of Publish What You Fund and a member of the advisory board of Twaweza.
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The Center for Global Development (CGD) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will hold two thematically-linked, consecutive events.
We will begin with the release of the 2014 OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) annual flagship publication, the Development Co-operation Report (DCR), at 9:45 a.m. This year’s DCR focuses on the challenges and opportunities for Mobilising Resources for Sustainable Development. A presentation of the report’s key findings and recommendations will be followed by a discussion and questions from the floor.
Following a coffee break, CGD fellows Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch will present a preview of the findings from a forthcoming CGD book, Why Forests? Why Now? at 11:15 a.m. The book draws upon science, economics, and politics to show that tropical forests are essential for climate stability and sustainable development, that now is the time for action, and that payment-for-performance finance is a course of action with great potential for success.
The first part of the program will provide a valuable overview of the available resources and options for mobilising financing for sustainable development. The second will allow a deeper look at how to apply the ideas in the OECD-DAC report to the specific and urgent challenge of protecting the climate and promoting development by slowing tropical deforestation.
The World Bank President Jim Kim has said that the next frontier for the World Bank is to 'help to advance a science of delivery'. But the problem is not that we are ignoring politics, as Kevin Watkins suggests: the problem is that we are ignoring complexity.
Why does poverty persist across so much of the world, despite billions of dollars in international aid and the efforts of development professionals? William Easterly’s answer, as proposed in his new book, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, is a lack of respect for liberty—not just on the part of governments of impoverished countries but also, more provocatively, on the part of the development experts. Owen Barder, director of CGD in Europe and a noted development expert himself, disagrees. A vote of the audience will determine who wins the debate, which will also be streamed live.