I am exploring a hunch and will find arguments both for and against it to see if I can claim to prove or disprove my hunch. The hunch is: there is politics of results not just evidence but results. This is evident when we try and establish a goal: whose goals? who will decide what results can be produced? The importance of establishing and pursing specific goals is clear to everyone however what result we seek and measure is a political decision. Whose politics you ask? The politics of those who seek to measure it, the politics of those who fund it, the politics of those who are the subjects of the intervention.

An insightful paper by Charles Kenny and Andy Sumner highlights that increased aid from developed nations to developing countries was not directly linked to performance and results, and it is much more difficult to know whether it had the desired impact overall. The paper also makes  a very strong case for any new MDG-like agenda needing “targets that are set realistically and directly link aid flows to social policy change and to results”. So this question of politics of results in my opinion is extremely important to discuss.

Whose results get tracked and how is highly political. If one were to just look at the most recent progress chart prepared by UNDP (the agency charged with reporting on progress toward achieving the MDGs) what gets measured under goal 8 is internet users (!!). There is no numerical target for financial aid or any other aspect of developed/rich countries’ assistance being tracked under that goal, in contrast to the highly specific poverty-related targets set for developing countries. Of course it is not to say that poverty reduction is not the primary goal for every country (rich or poor), however what gets tracked and hence reported are clearly political.

If we use the rights based approach to development then shouldn’t the same apply to determining and measuring results, if so can this approach in some way overcome the politics of results? Recently, I was listening to Diane Elson and Radhika talk about economic policy today geared towards achieving economic growth, underwritten by assumptions about the virtues of the market. Efficiency rather than ethics has been the focus of concern. Yet, the means adopted to achieve economic growth have been responsible for undermining goals in the domain of human rights. It is time to assess economic policy using the ethical lens of the human rights standards that all governments have agreed upon. Their work shows how we can rethink macroeconomic strategies from a human rights perspective, with a focus on economic and social rights, which is also the topic of their recent book Economic Policy and Human Rights: Holding Governments to Accounts.

So we if use the rights based approach to determining economic policy, shouldn’t the rights based approach be applied to what we measure and how we measure it? Do we not consider differences of context when we choose the indicators and results to measure?

End of last year I watched the early screening of ‘The land of Blood and Honey‘. This is not a review of the movie you can read the reviews, criticism and more.

What stood out for me though in the movie and more recently in my new role is the question: Where do you stand international community?

We often argue that empowerment will free us from fear and want, which is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However when we engage with governments do we really make the provisions that would enable countries to free its citizens from fear and want? Or is it rather fixated on growth, on markets, on investments? A recent statement from Indian Union Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Krishna Tirath,

“Government is mulling over to bring a law under which husband would have to legally pay a definite amount to her wife from his salary and Ministry has started preparing a draft in this regard.”

This highlights the problem with the economic lens we are using in development work. If we resort to economic benefits of development as our primary argument for empowering communities, we pay increasingly little attention to equality, to civil, political, economic and social rights.

Rather, we need to focus on the degrees to which strategies and interventions satisfy the legitimate demands of the people for freedom from fear and want, for a voice in their own societies in a manner they deem fit, and for a life of dignity as opposed to that of an instrumentalist in economic growth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’ t propose we not focus on economics but rather as international development actors we balance it and hopefully tip the scales towards true progress for all.