How to win the argument on the private sector; seeing like a liberal, and a lifecycle approach to supporting aid agencies

November 28, 2014
Had a great day at Oxfam Australia last week, immersed in a series of conversations that were dotted with ‘synaptic moments’, when different bits of thinking come together in your head and a lightbulb goes on. Three examples: Whose private sector is it anyway? The drumbeat of private sector rhetoric is deafening in Australia’s aid sector. This seems to worry

Why Positive Deviance could be the answer to working in complex, messy places like Papua New Guinea

November 27, 2014
Final post on PNG trip, after overview and paean to roads and leadership. Field trips operate on several different mental levels. Superficially, you are seeing new communities and programmes, and learning about the country. But there is also a constant process of interpretation, where you compare what you are seeing with what you have been reading back home or seen elsewhere, and

The Importance of Leadership and the Magic of Roads

November 26, 2014
Yesterday, I described the grim state of PNG politics and administration, but the Aussies decided to send me to an outlier (in both senses) – the remote inland district of Nuku. Nuku is in the middle of a fascinating mini-transformation, and DFAT is pretty excited about it. That transformation forced me to question two of my extensive array of NGO

Who/what explains the world’s biggest developmental under-achievement? A visit to Papua New Guinea

November 25, 2014
So did you miss me? (I know, holes, heads etc) After a week on the road and away from the blog, it’s time to try and make sense of last week’s trip to Papua New Guinea (my first visit). I was there at the invitation of  the Development Leadership Program, which is funding my How Change Happens book. Population of 7

Using aid to strengthen Parliaments: fix the car, or worry about the driver?

November 24, 2014
You’d think that all the aid money trying to install functioning democracies around the world would target parliaments and political parties. In fact, they are more often an afterthought. Alina Rocha Menocal (Developmental Leadership Program, University of Birmingham) looks at the evidence and explains the neglect. People all over the world have a very low opinion of parliaments and parliamentarians.

Politics, economists and the dangers of pragmatism: reflections on DFID’s governance and conflict conference

November 14, 2014
DFID really is an extraordinary institution. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the annual get together one of its tribes professional cadres – about 200 advisers on governance and conflict. They were bombarded with powerpoints from outside speakers (including me), but still found time for plenty of ‘social loafing’, aka networking with their mates. Some impressions: They are hugely bright and

What are the big trends on conflict and fragility? Some great presentations at DFID

November 13, 2014
I spent a seriously interesting couple of days this week in a rainswept Brighton, attending DFID’s annual get together of its 200 (approx) governance and conflict advisers. Definitely worth a couple of posts – I’ll give some general impressions tomorrow, but want to start with a fascinating panel on conflict and fragility. First up was David Harland, an ex diplomat

Should NGOs jump on board the Payment by Results bandwagon? New research suggests proceed with caution

November 12, 2014
Payment by Results is getting a lot of airtime at the moment, not least due to the indefatigable advocacy of CGD. Should NGOs be jumping on the bandwagon? Michael O’Donnell, Head of Effectiveness & Learning at the UK network of Development NGOs, Bond, summarizes the findings of some new research. Over the summer, DFID launched a new strategy on Payment

What next for human rights organizations like Amnesty?

November 11, 2014
Autumn/fall must be the blue skying season. I ended last week having my remaining brain cells picked in exchange for yet another free meal by Amnesty International’s Savio Carvalho (campaigns and advocacy) and Clare Doube (evaluation and strategy). Going to have to watch my waistline. They are thinking through Amnesty’s global strategy for 2016-2019, and as with many INGOs, want

How can Faith Groups get better at campaigning on climate change?

November 7, 2014
On Monday, I had not two fascinating big picture conversations under Chatham House Rules – these are a gift to bloggers as you don’t have to remember who said what,  and can take all the credit for anything clever. I’ve already blogged the discussion on theories of change and the Middle East. The second was run by a faith-based NGO

The Four Magic Words of Development, by Tom Carothers and Saskia Brechenmacher

November 6, 2014
This guest post comes from Thomas Carothers and Saskia Brechenmacher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Tufts University, drawing from their new paper Accountability, Transparency, Participation, and Inclusion: A New Development Consensus? The penultimate para in particular got me thinking about the different tribes present at the recent Doing Development Differently event. If you are about to visit

What happens when 20 Middle East decision makers discuss Theories of Change?

November 5, 2014
My first job after returning from holiday (disaster tourism in Northern Ireland – don’t ask) was to speak on Theories of Change to a really interesting group – a ‘building a rule of law leadership network in the Middle East’, funded by the UK Foreign Office. The John Smith Trust has about 20 lawyers, civil servants, policemen, UN personnel and