What is the future of UK development policy?

May 27, 2010

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May 27, 2010

Who's better at preparing tomorrow's campaigners: LSE or Harvard?

May 27, 2010
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Enough about aid, let’s talk about campaigning. By pure coincidence, I’ve been spending time with a bunch of Master in Public Adminstration (MPA) students recently – fascinating, not least because of the different approaches taken by their courses. Last week, the winning team from this year’s crop at the London School of Economics came in to pitch us their idea for a campaign on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. CAP reform is an old chestnut (I know people who have been working on it for 40 years – long before this CAP reformlot were born), but they had some smart new angles. Their powerpoint is here, but the basic elements were:

1. Reform don’t scrap the CAP: move subsidies away from market support – and market-distorting – measures (so-called “Pillar 1”, which pushes up prices for European consumers and leads to dumping elsewhere) towards rural development (“Pillar 2”) measures, which focusses on making the European countryside more prosperous and environmentally sound.

2. Potential new economic drivers of change to the CAP include the fiscal crisis in member states, the EU’s eastward expansion (lots more farmers, which makes the current CAP far more expensive) and energy insecurity (which makes growing biofuels a lot more attractive)

3. Add to that an important institutional change: the Lisbon Treaty includes a provision for a ‘European Citizens’ Initiative’ (ECI) – anyone that can get a million signatures from at least 9 member states on a call for new legislation will be considered for inclusion in the European Parliament’s legislative timetable. The initiative should be up and running by December and the first successful ECI should have a particularly good chance of winning, since it will be seen as a test of increased democracy and the relevance of EU institutions. 

4. Finally, the timetable for CAP reform includes a major review in 2013, with involvement of both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The students had done their analysis of member states’ likely positions on such a reform, noting that France is moving from net CAP recipient to net contributor (surprise surprise, net recipients are usually much more pro-CAP), and Germany is big on green energy and fiscal austerity, so both may be more supportive of CAP reform than in the past.

What I liked about this was the students’ analysis of the politics of change – what we call ‘power analysis’ in Oxfam, which I explored in HCHthe How Change Happens section of From Poverty to Power. The book argues that to understand change, and how to influence it, you need to think about

a) Context: in this case, fiscal crisis, energy insecurity
b) Institutions: Eastward expansion; the introduction of the ECI
c) Agents: environmental movement, Oxfam as potential leader, shifting interests in member states
d) Events: the 2013 review

Our advice to the students was that the power analysis was great, but since the new drivers were domestic (energy security, fiscal crisis) they should look to the consumer or environmental movements to lead an ECI.

All this was quite a contrast with Harvard, where as far as I could tell on my recent visit, the MPA in International Development concentrates on technical (economic and administrative) excellence, but includes very little on power, influencing, lobby strategies etc. I suspect the equivalent presentation from their students would be a detailed economic analysis of the evils of the CAP, followed by a general demand for reform and political will. When I raised this with Lant Pritchett, who runs the programme, he said it’s because they can’t find any decent political scientists. In Harvard?! Maybe somebody could help him out. (Note that the LSE’s full name is the London School of Economics and Political Science.)

If you’re a would-be CAP campaigner who wants to know more about the LSE proposal, contact Joe Wales at j.wales@lse.ac.uk or Luis Suarez-Isaza at l.suarez-isaza@lse.ac.uk. The other members of the team were Brian Fuller, Daria Kuznetsova and Sarah Hauser.

And if you have a view on the rival merits of LSE and Harvard, (or on the dangers of elitism) I imagine I’m going to hear from you……..

Update: Make sure you read the comments, especially those from Lant, who sets out in some detail why my first impressions are completely wrong. I fear he’s probably right……. I was also struck by Chelsea Brass’ comment that you are much more likely to pick up influencing skills out there in the real world than picking up rigorous economic analysis, so best to concentrate on the latter while you’re a student. But I don’t agree with those who reckon campaigning can’t be taught – I’ve seen Catherine Barber’s Greenpeace guy teaching a bunch of civil servants at the Uk Foreign Office and it was truly impressive (and a little scary). Last word? Maybe the distinction is not between studying politics or not, but between taking a theoretical or a practical approach – one seeks to understand, the other seeks to actually influence. They require different skills and approaches. (But I’m sure Harvard has loads of both, OK?)


  1. I’m assuming Chris Blattman might have something to say about the Harvard MPA…

    In a very caricatured way, you could argue that (apparent) differences like this reflect the differences between researchers more interested in quantitative relationships (the ‘what’ is happening) and those delving in through qualitative means (to shed more light on the ‘how’ and ‘why’).

    While this is a bit simplistic, I like snappy reminders such as your ‘How Change Happens’ to get people to think more about this whatever their background.

  2. I was surprised to learn recently (while I was visiting a school in Oxford no less )that the LSE was the most over subscribed University in the UK in terms of applicants v places , I wonder if Harvard has that honour in the US?

  3. @StephenJones: I am currently an LSE student in the MPA programme, and can attest to the fact that neither qualitative nor quantitative methods are over or under emphasized. We really are given strong skills in both, with an understanding of the applications and where the two intersect.
    The LSE MPA is an excellent programme, as is the MPA programme at Sciences Po Paris.

  4. As an MPA/ID graduate I agree that the core programme at Harvard is heavily economics-based, perhaps too much so. Having said that, I spent my second year taking elective courses in history, management, gender theory, foreign policy and modern languages. At the time there wasn’t a course in the UK that allowed such flexibility.

    Incidentally I have spent the last two years running a climate campaign, so there are at least some political activists amongst us Harvard folk (although admittedly I had to learn many of those skills after I graduated from a former Greenpeace Campaigns Director!)

  5. I’m a student at LSE, and although I’m not in the MPA programme, I am in the Development Studies Institute, and I can tell you that LSE’s curriculum centres mainly around institutions and their impact on development. This may be a step forward from Harvard’s ahistorical quantitative approach, but it still leads itself to some fuzzy thinking and a tendency towards jargon about what exactly institutions are and what they can do. Perhaps Harvard is even less anchored in the reality of actual policy.

  6. The man who is largely credited with shaping the Obama campaign, Marshall Ganz, is a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School. I cannot speak for the rest of HKS, it is hard to connect with the statement that HKS concentrates on the technical aspects of this work if we have one of our country’s best campaign organizers teaching there. I attended one of his classes on organizing, and he has very powerful methods to share. I have utilized his teachings, and have found them to be extremely helpful with my organizing pursuits.

    Additionally, I am also inclined to wonder what the purpose or function graduate school serves. I have always thought that it seems problematic to teach someone to be an entrepreneur in business school, as opposed to learn by doing like starting a business. Also, it seems like one of those things that you are “born with”. In a similar way, one can argue that you are born with those qualities or temperament that would make one well-suited to be an organizer/campaigner. Additionally, like entrepreneurship, I think that there are plenty of opportunities everywhere to gain real-life experience with political organizing.

    One thing that is not plentiful outside of academia is economics – we just do not have enough incentive to motivate ourselves to study a subject like this on our own. So I would be hesitant to discount a program if you are only evaluating it in terms of a focus on the more quantitative aspects of this work as I would be hard-pressed to find a plentiful source of that education outside of academia.

  7. Duncan,

    You’ve got to be kidding. You are really going to post a blog comparing two development programs on the basis of what “you suspect” you might have seen had you happened to have actually seen any student presentations at one program compared to one presentation you actually saw from another program?

    What you would have seen is that political analysis is incorporated into all our student products. You would not have seen what you imagine you might have seen had you seen anything, which you did not, of “calls for reform” or “political will”–which we explicitly emphasize throughout our students training is not real policy or political analysis.

    And my comments are taken completely out of context and were not about why our students do not do political analysis in their work (which they do), or why they do not do a course in political analysis (which they do–in addition to a course about the role of institutions in development and a course called “getting things done”).

    I would encourage any prospective students to check out what the MPA/ID program actually does (http://www.hks.harvard.edu/degrees/masters/mpa-id)and not rely too terribly much on Duncan’s imagination of what he “suspects” we might do.


    Duncan: Thanks Lant, I stand corrected, (as I thought I would!), and in hindsight, it really wasn’t fair to quote a throwaway comment from you made in the middle of an end of conference social. But I would point out that my ‘suspicions’ also draw on some of the conversations with alumni over the course of a great couple of days and subsequently. Let’s see what others say in the (highly selective, unrepresentative etc) comments. And I did link to the MPA website in the original post…..

  8. I am an MPA/ID and want to first thank Duncan for speaking at the program’s recent 10th Anniversary. I agree that MPA/ID’s core curriculum is lacking training in “how to make change happen.” If you’d take a guess, how likely is a program called “MPA/ID” developed by people who have a career in campaigning.

    The good news is that the program chair recognizes the importance of training political entrepreneurs and indeed spoke about it at the recent reunion. @Duncan: not sure if you stayed until that session.

    In any case, I think a potentially more interesting question is who are positioned to prepare tomorrow’s campaigners in countries that are politically far less open than the US and Europe. I don’t know if LSE or Harvard will be the answer. Will certain (international) NGOs fit the bill?

  9. I think the answer is no. Do we really think for example that Marshall Ganz learned to be a campaigner at Harvard – or perhaps in his decade and a half unionizing farm workers?

    Most campaigners would never expect to learn how things change and/or how to be an effective campaigner in the classroom. Any classroom.

    The classroom is for other things — and in the case of elite universities its for access… meeting the right people and being connected, getting doors opened and getting into positions of influence more easily.

    This is not a criticism — a great campaigner knows how to work this for social justice ends and that’s what matters.

  10. Hi Duncan,

    I am not familiar with the LSE program, which from what you say sounds like a good program. And the presentation sounds a lot like the product of the policy analysis workshops that are run throughout the second year of the MPA/ID program.

    What I found to be good about the MPA/ID program was that it gave the tools (rather drilled it down), and may I say the disciplinary grounding, to analyse development dynamics. It helped practitioners/activists like me to understand the analytics (or lack thereof) behind most of the claims/theories/policies/proposals. Economics and quant were just one part of it.

    There is another part in which you are free to pick your preferred tracks building on the analytics and exploring the politics. I took the international security track which consisted of Human Rights (as political idolatory), Terrorism (and counter terrorism), Social Institutions etc in the Political Science (Gov)department a course on ‘Political Economy’

    Over the last 7 yrs since graduation they have been pretty handy in my work – which involves a lot of influencing!

    Yes, more emphasis on ‘understanding how change happens once we have our economic analysis’ would have been good, but the program I went to was not like the one you said you saw.


  11. Since I clearly confused Duncan I do what to be clear what question I thought he asked and the answer I thought I gave.

    The question was “Why is the MPA/ID required course in political analysis a menu of six choices rather than a single required course?” The answer was, we do not have a single course that is right for all students so we allow them to choose among an impressive array of courses. The choices are: Merilee Grindle, who does Latin American political reform, Pippa Norris, a leading scholar on democracy and citizen attitudes, Archon Fung a rising researcher on participatory democracy, Alex Keyssar a historian of democracy and the franchise, Tarek Masoud a historian of the Middle East, Tony Saich an expert on China. Clearly it is not a problem to find “a” political scientist at HKS, rather we have so many good ones we do not choose “the” course but let the students take the course that best fits their needs. Grindle, Norris, Fung, Keyssar, Masoud, Saich: that is an embarrassment of riches, not a weakness.

    And that is not all, the required “Institutions” course is taught by a new political scientist Ryan Sheely who works on collective action in Africa. And that is not all, HKS has just hired two new political scientists, Stephen Kosack and Candelaria Garay both of whom do developing country policy. And that does not even speak to the electives, which include fantastic courses on negotiation, leadership, organizing. And, that is not all, among the research our highly “technical” economists have been doing lately is on how to reduce caste driven voting in India (Pande), how community engagement improves targeting in Indonesia (Hanna), how information to parents changes decision making on (and of) schools in Pakistan (Khwaja).

    Just want to clear up any confusion that the Kennedy School of Government in general or the MPA/ID program in particular does not acknowledge and indeed emphasize the key role of political analysis in development and development policy.

  12. Duncan,

    I am surprised that you are comparing LSE and Harvard for what program is better in preparing International Development leaders. The best program for International Development in the U.S. is the SAIS one, not the HKS MPA/ID!

    Harvard’s program for the first year is so economics-focused and so irrelevant to many development problems that I am wondering what was going through Pritchett’s head when they were putting the courses together. If you want to have people study MWG/Romer in a fashion reminiscent of lower ranked Economics PhD program, great but don’t call this international development. It is the baby version of PhD topics in Development Economics (note, there is so much outside of economics in development than within it!)

    The program should really be called MPA in Development Economics (which essentially is what it is) and then you might want to compare them with the MSc in Economics at LSE but let’s not fool around anyone that it prepares graduates to study development issues broadly AND from various angles. There are plenty of areas of development related to energy, health, human rights, social aspects of development, environment that you literally know next to nothing about if you graduate from the MPA/ID program.

    That is certainly not the case if you actually graduate from SAIS, where you actually do study a lot of economics but you also study a lot of these areas within development that you should know if you are going to get a degree in International Development.

  13. In a way this is a futile debate, unfortunately, given the inextricability between the interests (professional and personal) of the person posting with the school they are defending. To wit, I am a first-year MPA-ID and have lots of problems with the program (who doesn’t have problems with their grad program?). But I also have a reason to defend the program vigorously from outside criticism, given that I may ostensibly be competing with LSE grads for jobs in the future, for instance. I also have less cynical but still self-interested/non-objective reasons for defending the MPA-ID: I like and respect my classmates and the professors. Whether at LSE or MPA-ID, these kinds of affinity ties will comprise a student’s respective networks and friends likely for the length of a professional career (and hopefully a mortal life). And as it is impossible to abstract these feelings (a classic endogenity problem in econometrics, as an MPA-ID mght say…) from objective analysis. Therefore, you can reject eveything forthcoming if you like…

    With that disclaimer out of the way, I will now defend the MPA-ID: owing a debt of grattitude to the post-structuralist school of thought, we can understand economics as a discourse, a language of power that can mobilize resources, create ‘political will’, and silence other kinds of critique, given its mathematical complexity. As an econ PhD student once told me, while drunk: “I decided to do econ becuase they are seen as the smartest…i can read every poly sci paper, but they can’t read mine.” This is a brutish form of domination, but it is one that can only be changed and challenged through a technique called immanent critique – only by being a part of the epistemic system can one point out its ideological bases (masked in the language of science) and its ridiculous assumptions. I have been surprised and heartened by how many other MPA-ID’s see the aspects of power that inhere in economics, and who are interested in the high level of technical training that the MPA-ID provides so that we can sit with the economists (who have dominated development, and screwed it up, for generations now…) and provide that immanent critique: to emphasize a need for a more nuanced view. I have been surprised as well by professors in MPA-ID – including Lant – who are willing to do this as well, and to admit when they don’t have the answers.

    Economics and ‘Development’ are at fragile moments right now: after the failures of the big push 60’s, the structural adjustment ’80s, the MDG 2000s, and combining this both with the threat of climate change ending the illusions of permanent growth, and with the financial industry’s collapse of 2008, one could counter by saying that economics and development are the wrong discourses to be engaging in at all. However, the IFIs are here to stay – they are well-funded and entrenched. A radcial and important way to help change them is by understanding their language and challenging it, to help change these forces to something that better leads to justice for everyone in the world. That is what the MPA-ID does on its best days. I know little about LSE and SAIS, and I hope their programs do the same.

    – Elliott Prasse-Freeman

  14. The last verbose and fastidious post would but sedate any policy-maker. Trying to overcompensate for the critique that the Kennedy MPA is highly technocratic with prolixity does little to defend its ‘power to influence.’

    In fact, I lost interest after reading the first paragraph. After all, in policy analysis, the succinct will dominate.

    In response to the debate, I have the utmost respect for my colleagues at the LSE MPA, as well as my good friends at the Kennedy School. After all, the success of a program rests more on its ability to attract the brightest students and professors. Under that benchmark, both schools can certainly be proud.

    MPP/MPA ’10

  15. I must agree with the last point of Luis, both schools have scholars beyond recognition and in their own approach each school forms top world quality professionals. Lets not forget that the kinds of jobs we are likely to seek upon graduation – and the impact of our future work – will depend on the synergy of our capabilities. It will be graduates from the Kennedy School together with graduates from LSE and many other schools that will form teams to lead development improvements around the world. This will not rest upon one person from one school or one approach.

    Now, this debate seems to have shifted the attention from the essence, which is the excellent proposal presented by the LSE team, for which they deserve great credit and our recognition. Congratulations to Daria, Brian, Joe, Luis, Sarah and their professors.

    It would be great to see feedback that concentrates on improving this initiative and furthering its realization.

    In the same manner, we should look to improve the networks of students in The Kennedy School and LSE MPA Programme, to exchange knowledge and learn from each other.

    It would be a bit ironic that we are all trying to solve collective action problems in world development, yet limited in our ability to collectively act at the academic institutional level.

    Have a nice day!!!

    MPA-PEP ’11

  16. Truth is that aid is given for 2 fundamental reasons (a) politics and (b) development. Unfortunately, the true pursuit of development for its own sake is actually a recent phenomenon…thus the divide in approaches.

    The MPAID does focus on economics as it’s linchpin but I suspect that’s because the people who hold sway [often determining the course of developing country policy for development sake] tend to be economists from The World Bank, IMF, IFC etc. Economics is a language that if you don’t learn to speak fluently and question, becomes hard to move to the next conversation – which is the real one you want to be a part of -> making the decision. Many developing countries unfortunately don’t have ‘economic hit men’ working for them to push against reforms such as The Washington Consensus which wreaked political havoc in many Latin American countries.

    That said, the fairly young program could benefit from further integration in the 2nd year with the politics focus of the rest of the Kennedy School encouraging students to take classes from Powers, Heifetz and Gergen – each EXCELLENT political strategists. In fact, most students do exactly this…negotiations, leadership, and other political and management courses in their second year.

    In the end, I’m not entirely convinced that politics (especially persuasion) can be taught as it seems to be more of an art than a science though political deconstruction is useful.

    Regardless, the great thing about the MPAID is it’s access to Harvard Business, Law & Economics programs, MIT Sloan & MIT poverty lab, and Fletcher school of diplomacy which provides a student who doesn’t know which angle they want to take with a huge menu of options for supplementing the degree.

  17. What about a conversation about CAP?!!

    What are the strategies to get 9 million people mobilised?

    Is 2013 the right moment? Is that feasable?

    Which organisations are likely to run with this? Friends of the Earth, ATTAC, Green Party’s?

    How much lobbying of France, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Spain etc. needs to be done?

    How much attention and lobbying should be done on farmer’s unions? They’ve certainly wielded power in the past.

    Can subsidies be delivered in a lump sum way so that the distributing and allocatory role is split? Would this be seen as unfair?

    What other socially beneficial things can we grow, what ways can we improve agriculture in the EU to combat other problems like energy insecurity(biofuels), climate chang, etc.

    I don’t really care which elitist institution is better at making change happen and I don’t really want it to come from Harvard or LSE but from the ground up, and although conditions can be drastically improved by powerful technocrats, real human emancipation comes through empowerment and participation of the masses.

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