This morning I have been browsing through a new publication from the Centre for the Future State – housed at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton. The report – called ‘An Upside Down View of Governance’ – pulls together research from a five year, DfID-funded programme. The purpose (from what I understand) has been to unpick received wisdom on good governance and how to make it better – and go back to the beginning; look from the bottom up.
This is partly interesting because it mirrors the journey of the 2020 Commission (though sadly not the 5 years and publicly funded bit!) – and its always fascinating to see how others are attempting the tricky balance between advocating a tangible shift in perspective, at the same time as saying something meaningful to people within the current system. This is actually very hard – look at the flak Philip Blond has taken recently for example (whatever you think of the Red Tory ideas).
So the document is worth a skim through for that reason alone. But what is it actually saying?
Firstly, stop looking at governance and development through the OECD lens. This distorts understandings of local behaviour and culture, and drives misaligned policy outcomes.
Second, get beyond the typical Western-donor-Southern-recipient model. OECD countries are facing economic uncertainty, and the rise of Chinese, Russian and Indian interest in Africa is marked.
So far so contextual (as they say). The real insight of the work is around the blurred boundary between formal and informal institutions and relationships. Good governance is almost entirely conceived through the lens of formal politics and administration – with informal networks (i.e. outside of the formal economy, through lines of political patronage, through human networks and private lives) usually cast as a malign influence on this formal world.
My reading is that the report advocates a kind of ‘get real’ perspective. In many parts of the world, informal networks and economies are the glue that holds societies together, or the grease that oils the machinery of states. So its better to stop ignoring these dynamics, and start being more inclusive and more understanding of how they work.