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Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.


Complexity, Adaptation, and Results

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.

Another Call for COD Aid Pilots

This is a joint post with William Savedoff and Ayah Mahgoub.

Shout-out to Duncan Green and Oxfam for commenting on our new book and calling, like Nicholas Kristof, for pilots of COD Aid. Best of all, Duncan noted (as have several others such as Owen Barder in this note among others) that many of the usual concerns about COD Aid (see our FAQs for some) apply as much or more to other forms of aid.

But on one big point we disagree: It’s not true that COD Aid has been tried before.

Linking Aid to Results: Why Are Some Development Workers Anxious? (Guest post by Owen Barder)

I am pleased to share with our readers at Owen’s request this discussion of Cash on Delivery Aid, which appeared yesterday on his blog, Owen Abroad.

Linking Aid to Results: Why Are Some Development Workers Anxious?

By Owen Barder

The Center for Global Development is working on an idea which they call Cash on Delivery aid, in which donors make a binding commitment to developing country governments to provide aid according to the outputs that the government delivers. I think this is a good idea in principle, and hope that it can be tested to see whether and how it could work in practice. The UK Conservative party have said in their Green Paper that if they are elected they will use Cash on Delivery to link aid to results.

Linking aid more closely to results is attractive from many different perspectives. My own view is that linking aid directly to results will help to change the politics of aid for donors. Many of the most egregiously ineffective behaviours in aid are a direct result of donors’ (very proper) need to show to their taxpayers how money has been used. Because traditional aid is not directly linked to results, donors end up focusing on inputs and micromanaging how aid is spent instead, with all the obvious consequences for transactions costs, poor alignment with developing countries systems and priorities and lack of harmonisation. If we could link aid more directly to results, I think donors will be freed from many of the political pressures they currently face to deliver aid badly; and it would be politically easier to defend large increases in aid budgets.