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“Data for development can be likened to money in an economy or blood in the system of a human being.”

Demographic data provide an essential evidence base for the development and evaluation of policies. The bottom line is that “a country cannot develop without data.” Although the term “data” has technical overtones and there are important technical issues that need to be considered, the more fundamental connection is between good data and good governance. It is in part through the collection and inspection of data that nations and communities have defined themselves, identified inequities, challenged misconceptions, and justified their claims upon resources.

An overriding issue-indeed, one that is seen in rich and poor countries alike – is that policies are often driven by political views rather than by empirical analysis. In rich countries, however, quantitative data provide a means by which such ill-founded policies can be challenged.

In an ideal world, policy development would always take into account the evidence base. In reality, policymakers need to balance a wide range of factors and pressures. Data may be ignored if they challenge policymakers’ personal views or political needs. In the cases where policymakers do seek out data, it may occur after the fact to support policies already enacted. In one country, a research organization reported seeing the greatest demand for data during election season; another respondent seconded this notion by saying “it appears that data are quoted for the sake of elections rather than for planning.” The consequences of not considering the evidence can be detrimental: “it is like crisis management. The policies are not well thought out and that is why sometimes we get policies that do not stand the test of time.” Until a culture develops whereby data are used to inform policy, the demand for data collection and use will remain low among policymakers themselves.

Even when national policies become evidence-based (because at that stage many interested parties and key stakeholders are involved and the available data is reviewed), problems can arise during the process of policy implementation, when data are often completely ignored. As noted in one country: “Policies are made for the shelves. We hardly implement…You find that the two are not related at all…When it comes to the actual implementation of programs, there is very little or weak linkage with available data to inform those programs.”

from this report.

International demand for monitoring and evaluation of the development goals has some influences:

The international approach of linking investments with measurable outcomes often places great pressure on developing countries. These countries may be ill-equipped to produce the requisite data, and the consequences can be severe. Interviewees reported that their country recently lost 30 million Euros in funding due to an inability to produce data showing that the relevant targets had been met.

and potentially, media:

“quality information used by the media is the most effective advocacy tool.”

… being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.

One interesting idea is the quadrants formed by self-regarding to other-regarding behaviours axis and novelty-seeking to tradition/conservation axis. He argued that our systems systematically encourage one narrow quadrant of self-regarding and novelty-seeking behaviour. Therefore the solution is not about changing human nature, but opening up the breadth of human possibilities.

The MDGs, as they are currently conceived, address the symptoms of poverty and underdevelopment, but mostly ignore the deeper causes. They draw attention to 18 targets in total – those for which data are most easily compiled. But the result is that the MDGs may divert attention from the mechanisms that produce underdevelopment – rather like the drunken man searching for his keys under the lone streetlamp because the light is better there.

from this commentary.

Some people (optimists like some economists) are confident (overconfident?) about human . They think that human can solve any problem as long as there is a need. This perception formed may be due to the industrial advancement (standard of living, science and technology, better institution) since the last few centuries. But can we attribute it solely to the human ingenuity? Why human did not achieve the great leap earlier (note that human has already been evolved to this current form since at least 50,000 BP, before the last fews centuries human history keeps showing rise and fall of the civilizations)? Some other people argue that rising of current civilization is mainly due to high EROI of fossil fuel. I cannot judge because I think it is hard to identify the root causes in an unrepeatable process like this.

While I have no plan to talk about reasons of rising of current industrial civilization in this post, it is a good example to show that how poor our knowledge be. While we can send people to the moon, we cannot eradicate war, hunger, AIDS, traffic jam; we still struggle in developing technology that can recognize people’s face un-intrusively and flexibly under natural environment like human does; or we cannot even predict how the water level of a bathtub change. There are lots of examples you can think of about what human still cannot do presently, even there is a will (e.g. forecast direction of winds that bring the volcano ash).

The most critical evolutionary constraint on human is to understand complexity (complex means difficult to understand, so a thing will not be called complex if we can understand it). For example, no one know for sure what will happen in the current Euro financial crisis. What if we let Greece bankrupt? What is the consequences (especially unintended consequences) of current decision to bail it out? We grow our civilization to this state of complexity but we don’t know how to manage it. In a world of changing faster and faster and becoming more and more interconnected (interdependence), we just realize how poor our ability to control it to achieve the vision we want.

This is my thought after reading this post:

The ultimate challenge for humanity, then, is to figure out how to make insight about complex systems evolutionarily successful.

At least, we need to recognize that we still ignorant of many things. We should be more humble. We should be more careful. We should be watchful about where our current direction leads us to be, and rethink the actual relationship between economic growth and human development. So I think the first step should be raising awareness about our poor ability to learn complexity (especially dynamic complexity).

If you think this is not an issue, then ask yourself: Are you happy? Do you feel your life is full of happiness? If not, why? Do you think you are happier than people before the industrial civilization? Or more simple question, happier than people who died before the internet has invented? You enjoy so many modern innovations, you should be much happier than them. If not, this is a sign of unhealthy development. Development should increase people’s happiness, not less. Let’s think about it.

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