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Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • One mestizo, one DNA test, and my origins



    Francisca Llao Pallali, A Mapuche traditional educator at Tranamán Intercultural School in Chile's La Araucanía region.

    CHILE | Francisca Llao Pallali, A Mapuche traditional educator at Tranamán Intercultural School in Chile’s La Araucanía region.

    According to Unicef there are 29 million indigenous people in Latin America.

    Indigenous peoples represent 6 per cent of the population of Latin America;  mestizos, afro-descendants, whites, and other races represent the other 94 per cent. The vast majority of us are mestizos, a mixed race of Spaniards and Indigenous.

    Indigenous people face a lot of difficulties. In countries like Guatemala, where 40 per cent of the total population is indigenous, high rates of poverty, illiteracy and low levels of schooling affect them. Ironically, as Mestizos, we don’t always know how to interact with indigenous populations. We know very little about their traditions and exoticize them as if they were characters from a fairy tale.  Sometimes we just discriminate against them.

    Read more…

    18 ways to fail




    Lately in my daily commute, I have been listening to audio books. This past couple of days it has been Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. The book is about how high frequency traders game the stock market exchanges – very complex systems – by front running purchase orders by a millionth of a millisecond.

    “Front running” is like tapping the right shoulder of the person in front of you at the line in the grocery shop when you are buying fish. In the nanosecond before she turns around, you sneak in front of her on the other side, buy her order for a pound of salmon, turn around and sell it to her for a profit, without her having a clue of what just happened. All in a nanosecond because this transaction takes place in cyberspace where the trading system is a complex web of millions of simultaneous orders.

    In the book there is an excellent discussion on how complex systems fail. One of the references it quotes is a short article (more of a geeky PowerPoint if you ask me) that lists 18 ways complex systems fail. I think they complement very well the discussions on complexity and development that Owen Barder has been having on his blog (I find numbers 7 and 8 particularly compelling):

    1. Complex systems are intrinsically hazardous systems.
    2. Complex systems are heavily and successfully defended against failure.
    3. Catastrophe requires multiple failures – single point failures are not enough..
    4. Complex systems contain changing mixtures of failures latent within them.
    5. Complex systems run in degraded mode.
    6. Catastrophe is always just around the corner. Read more…

    Innovation policy spillover effects: the unaccounted benefits


    By and

    alessandro stuchi innova

    Recently the development community has talked a lot about knowledge and innovation as a key priority for the years to come, maybe induced by the lesser relevance that financial support has for many emerging countries. Multilateral and bilateral agencies have suddenly become knowledge banks, global practices, ideas’ generators, developers of innovation ventures, etc. In the process, a great emphasis has been placed not only on the generation of knowledge, but also on the attraction of human resources that can add something new to the skill sets. To use some recent words of President Yong Kimthe (World) Bank is committed to keeping all its top performers. But […] the bank will open up positions to outsiders, because it’s good to bring in fresh eyes”, and, we add, new skills. Yes, although we are the era of virtual social networking, a big chunk of knowledge is still embedded in human brains and would be difficult to acquire without bringing in new people.

    This certainly has never been great news for those organizations investing in new ideas. People move. So why keep filling the brains of employees with new cutting-edge knowledge, when others may end up making the most of my investment by going after employees who gained new knowledge and experience at my expense?

    Public support to private innovation has been often justified precisely on this basis. Because knowledge flows (mostly because people move), investment in knowledge and learning has such high externalities that the private sector by itself would never invest enough in knowledge and innovation. For this reason, many governments have adopted a variety of policy instruments to foster private innovation, including fiscal incentives either in the form of matching grants, targeted credit line, or tax breaks for investment in innovation. Read more…

    Timely thoughts on impact evaluations



    blog arturo tardis

    Everyone has great ideas when it comes to designing development projects or policies.

    At the drawing board, and with a bit of ideological support, an abundance of ideas are born that could easily improve countless lives. However, these ideas, while sound in theory, don´t always work.  If only there was a time machine to take us to the future to verify the effectiveness of our projects and policies before implementation.

    In the British TV show “Doctor Who”, which has been running for over 50 years (talk about an effective intervention!), the main character travels through time and space in a device called the Tardis. With a Tardis, our projects would certainly reach 100% of their development goals and we would be the super champions of development effectiveness. Unfortunately, economists don’t have such a device. Instead we have economic theory and empirical methods to validate some of our theories and anticipate the results of our projects. Among them are impact evaluations.

    In a nutshell, impact evaluations measure the results of an intervention for a certain group of people.  The methodologies frequently used identify changes in any relevant dimension in the population that benefits from an intervention and compares them to a group of people (preferably identical) that did not receive it. This is a way to differentiate ideas that work from the ones that don’t. Read more…

    Do we learn more when we make mistakes?



    deo2013-cover-final-02-EN-sampleIn 2013 the Inter-American Development Bank financed 168 projects for a total of 14 billion dollars. Every day we ask ourselves if our projects are contributing to the well-being of the region; if they are improving quality of life for the girls, farmers, and retirees we had in mind when we planned the interventions; if we really know if the projects failed or succeeded; if information and methods with which we try to measure the gains or losses are rigorous and, of course, accurate.

    These are some of the questions we try to answer with our “Development Effectiveness Overview” report.

    The central theme of this year’s report is learning. The IDB seeks to and must learn from the good and the bad results of its work. In this context, this year’s report includes several articles on our learning in operational experience, the way in which we measure ourselves, and how we measure the effectiveness of our work. Just as with people, the lessons that can be learned from mistakes can be more powerful than those of our successes, and therefore improve our future projects and increase their development impact.

    In a novel way, we document a series of failures in six areas of our operational work and how we are learning from them. For example, we learned that the privatization of water service does not always produce positive results and that institutional, political and legal aspects can derail the best technical designs. These lessons help us to formulate better projects in the future. If we do not learn from failure, what can happen is what Coco Chanel once famously sentenced: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

    The report is a compendium of data that broadly reflects the results of the Bank’s work. But we want to go beyond that and show how the figures reflect projects that are under way every day in Latin America and the Caribbean. For this purpose we tell, in simple language, 45 stories ranging from the expansion of access to electricity in isolated communities in Guatemala, to the improvement of solid waste management in Belize, to a project that promotes ecotourism in Brazil, to another that seeks to support Caribbean countries efforts in mitigating the effects of climate change. We care very much about results, and we care a lot about measuring them rigorously. We also report on the results of ten impact evaluations on projects that had Bank funding.

    In this report we also showcase some of the millions of voices in our region. You will find interviews, videos, and stories of those who benefit from our projects and those who make it possible to bring them to fruition.

    Finally, to search for results and not repeat failures is at the heart of what we do. However, if we do not communicate this message clearly and in a way that is understood by all, our work is in vain. In today’s interconnected world, a report on paper alone is like an urgent message in a bottle that never arrives because it breaks against a cliff’s fierce and inhospitable rocks. This year we are introducing a dynamic DEO web site where you can navigate and dive into our successes and our errors. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.

    I hope you read it, enjoy it and tell us in the blog’s comment area what you like and what we could improve. We want to continue to learn.