How is poverty research changing? Reflections from some clever people
Last year DFID convened some leading UK-based researchers to brainstorm on the lessons, challenges and frontiers for poverty research. The resulting is an interesting blogpost from the ODI’s Andrew Norton (right) and a paper, ‘Understanding Poverty and Wellbeing’.
In his post, Andy explains that ‘the key problem the paper addresses is the mismatch between the complex nature of poverty and the reductionist nature of measures used to track it’. He devotes his post to exploring ‘the significance of [three] big changes in the global context, and what they mean for poverty analysis and research.’
First ‘the shifting geographies of both growth and poverty. An increasing number of developing countries are comfortably outstripping the growth rates of the developed countries – and sustaining that performance over a substantial period of time. It’s no longer just about the dynamism of ‘BRICs’, ‘CIVETs’, Asian tigers or African ‘cheetahs’– there is a clear economic convergence happening on a global scale. If you take out countries with significant systemic problems, poor countries are growing faster than rich ones, and inter-country inequality is therefore declining. As a result of these changes, the bulk of the world’s poor are now in middle-income, rather than low-income countries. This means that poverty reduction increasingly requires progress on policies which reduce inequality within countries, and which turn growth into jobs.
Second, the impact of increasing levels of urbanisation on a global scale. Simple ‘money-metric’ measures of poverty struggle to cope with the difference between urban and rural contexts. Does water have to be paid for? Can rural families gather fuel? Do household members have to pay for transport? How does the differing environment affect health and the quality of life? Does living in a deprived community right next to a wealthy suburb bring stigma and discrimination?
A final shift in optics in the past decade concerns our increasing consciousness of risk, shocks and uncertainty and the importance of understanding the factors which give poor people and communities resilience in the face of growing risks from an increasingly volatile climate, from rapid changes in the prices of key commodities (particularly food), and from socio-political change.”
The paper, published by the group as a whole, concludes by proposing areas of focus for poverty research and analysis, namely thinking differently about the ‘what’ of poverty research and about the ‘how’.
First the what:
“Politics, including that of rising middle classes and their preferences for redistribution; the politics of high levels of inequality & related pathologies e.g. conflict; the consequences of elites detached from context for local, national or global social contracts. The securitisation or retreat of the State in many parts of the world and the power of private sector interests in preventing equalising policies. And the contrast with the politics of successful poverty reduction, including the role of democracy, social movements, new communication and information-sharing modalities, and threats to instability.
Poverty measurement, focusing on how the current interest in, and new methodologies for, measuring multidimensional poverty can be honed; how participatory processes can influence poverty measures; how to identify the multidimensional poverty traps that keep people in chronic poverty, and the sequences by which people move out of multidimensional poverty; the relationship between income and other dimensions of poverty; how multidimensional measures can assess the impact of growth on poor people.”
Then the How:
“Longitudinal quantitative and qualitative research is an important new basis for improved poverty diagnostics. This implies improved and extended availability of panel data sets to enable the quantitative tracking of households over time – which has proved invaluable for policy analysis. In combination with this – or separately – longitudinal ethnographic studies provide a rich source of understanding of the factors which reduce or exacerbate poverty over time. Longitudinal studies enable ‘natural experiments’ to emerge from data – where comparisons can be made both between groups and over time which indicate the importance of particular poverty reduction interventions. Much of the early work which indicated the poverty-reducing significance of social protection interventions was of this kind.
In-country capacity building: stronger in-country networks including not only research institutes but research users, research analysts, statistical offices and citizens are needed.”