Not all evidence can be digitised: further reflections on chronic poverty

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by Judith Randel, Development Initiatives

These are reflections from the evidence to policy discussion that took place on Thursday 9 September at the Chronic Poverty Conference in Manchester.
1. Measurement and understanding poverty

Yes, it is important the measures used really capture the nature of the experience of poverty – so that they include risk, vulnerability, multidimensionality and can drive improvements in overall wellbeing, not just changes in economic circumstances
BUT
a) Let’s not forget these are pale imitation and just proxies for an understanding of the experience of poverty
b) Not all experience can be digitised
c) It’s not good value for money to invest in refinements at the margins of measurement methodologies “Are we going to spend so much time on measurement or are we going to get o the ground. 

2. Lack of attention to  environment. Only a few passing references to climate change and sustainable resource management.

3. The experience and perceptions of the poor and the solutions that they want help with should be the starting point. Rights, self determination.
a. “It’s the listening bit that’s the problem”  – not so much voices of the poor but cloth ears of the rich. We need new mechanisms that get the voices of the poor to be heard that go  beyond something tacked onto the end of the programme. And listening doesn’t need to be done in boxes – “I will hear your experience on access to education, but I’ll turn down the volume when you want to talk to tell me about violence or wages”
b. Starting point should be what people perceive as the obstacles in their lives and what solutions they want.
c. We heard reports that space for civil society and alternative voices is being closed down in many places and internationally.  That we need a return to the UN conferences where national, regional,  international level engagement possible

4. Access to information, connectivity and new technologies.

a) We were all struck by the impact of the right to information act in India.
b) Access to information enables people to claim their rights and know their rights (remember point from yesterday about how can we expect change when people living lives of extreme poverty think that it is just normal).
c) Connectivity and technologies – ‘we appear blind to new technologies’  – how can they be harnessed to meet this agenda – because people already have access to them and are using them for all sorts of different things – security, markets – but need to use for accountablity.
d)  The dev community needs to move from a focus on connectivity for projects –  small scale initiatives or mobile banking – and thinking about how it can enable accountability. So for instance if we could find a way of getting people to know their first port of call should be their parliamentarian, it would create a poll of concerns in a district.
5. Social protection
a) Ten years ago, soc protection was a little add on to the development discourse and it was about  small, ad hoc schemes.  MORE than ten years ago, as well as various pension and social protection schemes around the world,  Mexico and Brazil were introducing their comprehensive social protection programmes.  So social  protection has gained respectability in the policy debate and the perversity of the political economy of this world is that people only engaged in that discourse think that it was an idea they thought up and they are worried about imposing it on developing countries!

b) The spread of the information on social protection is a good example of power of base line data, evidence and communication. But development community more widely needs to tool up and there are lots of different levels of knowledge and  a need for information to catch up with the rhetoric and not lose site of the need for soc protection to become embedded.

c) Social protection and the growth agenda. There is a need for synthesised evidence about the impacts and ways of building comprehensive social protection schemes and the impacts on growth. The context of social protection debate should not only be about chronic and extreme poverty but also about the context of overall economic and social development.

d) Finance ministries need to take account of how social protection relates to growth – and not just through the increased consumption that comes about as a result of cash transfers. Impact on growth rates, but also distributional effects of growth.

6. Equity  and inequality.

a. Recognition of the need to know more about how to address inequality specifically. Here norms and values come in about what types of policy are socially and politically acceptable and TO WHOM. (Note Ravi Kanbur’s point yesterday about how the vested interests determined the acceptable policies on the bail out).
b. Would like more foucs on policies that work on redistribution, tax reform and subsidies and impacts for pro poor growth.
c. Not just income inequality – services, inequalities among different groups.
d. Differentiate inequality BETWEEN countries – decreasing – from inequality BETWEEN countries – increasing. Importance of looking at experience outside the OECD – need to look in China and see what are the acceptable norms on inequality. Do we have to accept some increase in inequality as a price of economic devt?  At what point is it unacceptable?
7. Relationship between goals of good governance and effectiveness and the imperative to address poverty now. “ Changes on  a small scale can really turn around people’s lives.  Good governance will take a hell of a long time to take place”. In the aid world we have ambitions way beyond the scope of what we can achieve – as outsiders you can’t ‘achieve’ good governance  – and we fail to respect enough the investments that improve people’s lives on a daily basis, now.

8. Message to MDGs
a. Addressed the usefulness of the global indicators for local level change
b. Global targets need to be translated not just nationally (Malaysia – govt complacent, Uganda – govt more ambitious) but also sub nationally to make sense.Absence of theories of change/attention to process of change, who is an is not empowered.  Move away from basic needs to issues around attitudes, norms, social transformation, justice, power.
c. BUT transformational debate and building evidence and demand for data; tangible for people who don’t understand the dev sector.  Using that well known benchmark –does my mother know about this?
d. Weakness of a target that is about halving poverty and DO NOT let the next target be a proportional change again – otherwise the extreme and chronic poor and those least likely to be visible to or a priority for officialdom will never be reached. It will be putting the last last; Reaching the Very Poorest – LATER MAYBE.

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