Wednesday, 22 January 2014

New Deal: Trough or Plateau?

I recently came across a new conceptual framework called “Hype Cycle”, which was originally conceived by business analysts Garner to explain the trajectory of tech ideas in business. It aims to explain the phenomenon by which new ideas generate huge hype; way in excess of what is actually possible, followed by a slide from inflated expectations into what is called a “trough of disappointment”. From that point the framework posits that the idea climbs a “slope of enlightenment” to a “plateau of productivity” whereby the idea is honed and becomes a useful addition to productivity as a new way of doing things, or else it fails.

We can all think of tech ideas that evolved along this continuum, but others have applied this framework to ideas and approaches in international development, notably the indomitable Ian Thorpe who places the MDGs and “aid effectiveness” firmly in the trough of disillusionment. Dave Algoso has gone further and refined the cycle to include two more possible outcomes to the trough - "swamp of continued use", and "trash heap of failures" - and it is his framework I adopt here.

Brendan Halloran of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative points out on Dave Algoso’s blog that nobody seems to have plotted where power and political analysis sits on this graph. So I thought I would start by using the New Deal, which is something I have been meaning to say something about for some time. Again

The New Deal goes to the heart of redefining the relationship between the State and Citizen, leading in theory to greater legitimacy in political leadership and participatory politics that adequately fit the local political economy, enabling states where governance is either contested or has broken down due to violent conflict to make a journey towards sustainable human progress, addressing structural issues and avoiding a relapse into violence which remains statistically more likely. It realigns the relationship between donors and recipient States, placing local context first instead of top-down paradigms. It undoubtedly featured at the top of the hype cycle, occupying a place at the “peak of inflated expectations” when it was unveiled to much fanfare at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. Here’s Hilary Clinton at the time:
"The New Deal for Fragile States, which [the g7+] have developed from the very beginning, is an exciting and fresh approach that has the chance to deliver real results."
And here is Ban Ki Moon :
"[The New Deal is a]...significant – and welcome – contribution to a more equitable and productive partnership between fragile states and their development partners"
I was privileged to see some of this work in Liberia, a pilot country, where extremely difficult conversations were being had, but in an atmosphere of genuine optimism for the future. Yet the New Deal has been on a steady slide since as this rescue meeting illustrated and, I would argue, now sits at the bottom of the trough of disillusionment. Governments of pilot countries did not in many cases live up to their pledges to adequately involve civil society in conducting fragility assessments, indicators of progress or even their ultimate compacts. Donors, I am told by people who were there, sent increasingly junior people to what were supposedly high level meetings, sending signals about their own level of support. Ultimately the process for the Somalia compact, for example, was truncated in order to meet a last minute deadline to unveil it at a glitzy conference in Brussels, creating high levels of cynicism and disenfranchisement among many in Somali civil society. Hardly living up to the ideals of Busan and prompting one analyst, Professor Weinstein of Purdue University, Chicago, to scathingly depict “the political poisoning of Somalia by Belgian waffles”.

The New Deal

So where next. My take is that those supporting the New Deal, such as the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding & Statebuilding, have got to climb the “slope of enlightenment”, but that climb will be reminiscent of a salmon leaping upstream, dodging the bears and fighting the current. The downward flow of water is provided by the pushback from some Governments of the G77, who started their pushback against anything resembling good governance being part of a post 2015 settlement at last Septembers UNGA. But several of the bears, which needn't be there, are entirely within the power of civil society. 

One is the duplication and division currently in play between those groups who talk about governance, and those who talk about peacebuilding & statebuilding. As I make my own transition from the peacebuilding tribe into that of open governance I am astounded at the level of duplication that there is. Both are talking about essentially the same things for much of the time, yet use different terminology and draw from different literature and experiences. The New Deal is a case in point; despite going to the heart of governance challenges you rarely hear it referred to in governance debates, at least not those I have been engaged in thus far. 

In addition much of the debate from civil society seems to have fallen into the trap of being overly technocratic, focussed on minutiae of indicators when a wider political argument needs to be made and re-made.

One last thought. Algoso's revised framework predicts one of three outcomes – the trash heap, a swamp of continued use or a plateau of productivity. I would suggest that only two of those outcomes are possible for the New Deal – plateau or trash. If civil society, their progressive allies in Governments North and South and multilateral institutions can get their acts collectively together then I see no reason why the learning, insights and experiences of the New Deal cannot reach a point where it becomes a mainstream way of contributing to good and effective governance – for fragile and non-fragile alike. North and South. But if that case is not made coherently, then I am afraid it will be washed away by a larger post2015 settlement with little scope for governance or peace, rendering it redundant.

Let’s hope the salmon make it.

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