Where are the chronically poor? Evidence to policy

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by Judith Randel, Development Initiatives.

The Chronic Poverty conference evidence to policy sessions are an opportunity for people to comment on how we can make research and policy actually deliver for poverty eradication and empowerment. Here are some of the key points drawn from Wednesday’s session and other feedback.
We did not try to reach any consensus but in practice there was a lot of common ground.

6 reflections on content, 4 on process.

1. There was remarkably little attention to the CHRONIC in chronic poverty. Even the title of the conference didn’t talk about chronic poverty.

2. People want more about the numbers – who CP are, where they are, have the numbers increased or decreased, what do we know about who is moving into or out of poverty. And allied to this, people are actively concerned about availability of and access to data and who is able to use the data.

3. Recognition of the measurement issues raised yesterday  – you are what you measure – but also have to recognise that measures are not just a neutral research instrument but a real political tool. Changing the measures or goal posts risks giving people an escape route and avoiding responsibility for achieving targets.

4. Continued emphasis on the importance of  multidimensionality and the need to continue to bang this drum. Eg in debates on the causes of maternal mortality or the importance of working on social protection in context, not as a standalone.

5. The relative importance of the political process and the need for better analysis and information on how it obstructs or facilitate progress (esp compared with economic issues)

6. A recurring theme was social values and norms;  the nature of the social contract and accountability. This is where we start to bridge between the content that people highlighted and the evidence to policy process – and in particular how it links to people on the ground. 
a. So if you want to challenge the social norms that make it acceptable for people to live in extreme poverty, how do you use research or policy to do that? 
b. How people can possibly demand accountability without knowledge of resources? 
c. How can we expect change if poor people themselves have idea about their entitlements or rights and think their poverty is just normal? 
d. How is the information to have traction with better off people who are nonetheless prepared to tolerate living in a society where many are very poor. 
e. There was a lot of support for clarifying and simplifying the MDGs, along the lines of Make Poverty History.

Now about the research to policy process.

7. Living a lie/playing the game.  We are working on assumptions which pay no attention to political economies (ie interests and incentives) and are a sort of collusion between research funders, policy makers and the research community that if only we had more knowledge effectively communicated we would have the right policies and they would be implemented. This is pernicious because displaces attention to the other forces which drive or inhibit change and would affect power relationships. Also the discussion group is pretty exclusive – where are the private sectors, journalists, militaries, political parties etc

8. We need to be much more realistic about what drives policy.  We work on the basis of assumptions .  We assume that policy makers make rational choices based on evidence;  we assume that researcher’s priorities are the application of their research to policy. The incentives driving the researcher will include publication, that may drive people towards a strong theoretical base, refining methodologies with a  policy prescription at the end (pro poor growth and more research).  What really drives policy is the political process – so if the information doesn’t get there before the by-election it may have no value.  And the messenger is important. There are different levels of respect for and trust in different messengers – and different investments.  So while World Bank is a convincing authority for some, it would be the kiss of death for others. And while NGOs may have been saying the same as Jo Stiglitz for years, it has totally different levels of traction now he is saying it!

At the very least everyone –funders, users, policy makers, researchers – need to be much more realistic and explicit about the incentives and interests which drive policy making and research. 

9. Demand from governments North and South for reliable, scientific information about what works and what is feasible– data and analysis, expressed in a digestible form. The rhythm of this relationship is not about producing research and transmitting  it, it’s about understanding the demand – what its needed for, when.

10. But the gap between researchers and practitioners  is nothing to the gap between the access to information ON THE GROUND and policy level information. 

This works in both directions – lack of information direct FROM people affected  and lack of access TO information by people ON THE GROUND. 

And people are not looking here for voices to be mediated by research or policy makers, they are looking for channels so that people can be heard in their own right and on their own terms.  This is not about research to policy linkages – this is about turning the telescope around.

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