Editorial (21.7)

At whatever level we are working, or researching, it is probably a truism that development is a slow business. Recently a UN official said to me that there is no appetite for longer term solutions to the socio-political structural issues which maintain poverty; and that people have been coming to the same conclusion for at least 30 years. Similarly we are often poor at researching longer term trends, not least because the current trend is for short-term ‘results’ from development aid, and evidence to back it up. Meanwhile we see several processes in parallel which signify attempts to reform the business of aid, if not of development, some of which are holding discussions despite the fact that decisions have already been made. Despite the lack of appetite for the long term, most aid agencies are very slow to change their course, so data being collected now for a review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is extremely unlikely to affect any expenditure on MDG-related programmes before the 2015 target date.

There seem to be few enlightened research programmes which take the longer term view, and rather too much focus on what the government minister wants to hear this year. It means that many international fora meet in the absence of useful data, either for short-term refinement of their programmes or longer term evaluation. As I write people are talking about the ‘road to Busan’ and the next high level review of the Paris Declaration, but most decisions around these have already been made. Some of these decisions are clearly for domestic political reasons, and certain bilateral donors will go directly against the original aims of the Paris Declaration. In many ways this mirrors the Millennium Development Goals summit last year which is unlikely, according to the donors I have spoken to, to lead to any major (or even minor) changes in donor policy before 2013 or even 2015. There seems to be a gap between the practitioner level where people share experiences, both positive and negative (as we hope is often illustrated in Development in Practice) and political decisions about international aid which sometimes seems to be based only marginally on ‘evidence’, despite the continuous claims to the contrary.

A couple of themes emerge from the articles in this issue. One theme considers the people who work in development as professionals, either in humanitarian work or as volunteers. These primarily focus on the use of international staff and volunteers. Thus Simon Darnell looks at the experiences of international Canadian volunteers linked to sport for development, and explores whether the interns/volunteers saw the experience as developmental primarily for the hosts or for themselves. On the other hand, Natasha Tassell and Ross Flett explore a psychological-based, self-determination approach to understand the motivation of humanitarian health workers and why they are willing to work in often difficult and dangerous assignments. Linked to this is Chuck Thiessen's analysis of NGO work in post-conflict community development in Afghanistan. He looks at the tensions for NGO staff working alongside armed peace keepers, concluding that we need to think again about the post-Cold war role of NGOs in such circumstances. Finally there is a poignant Viewpoint by Aarthi Rao on her experience as a volunteer, where she reviews some of the wider literature on volunteering but concludes with her own frustration at being unable to fully impact on the education of a young girl in India. Together, these articles remind us that, whilst we may theorise about the use of staff and volunteers, there are human stories behind each person's experience and motivations.

A second set of articles converge around the actual processes of international aid, which are timely given the succession of reviews and debates around the Paris Declaration and the MDGs at the present time. Jeet Bahadur Sapkota reviews Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) in Asia against an index of globalisation, noting how trade and foreign investment come higher up the priorities of most PRSPs than say aid (equal to tourism), and labour migration is barely mentioned. The article concludes that the more autocratic regimes in the region show less openness to globalisation than the more democratic governments. Masumi Owa looks at the slow progress of the Paris Declaration and compares the progress made by two major bilateral donors, the UK and Japan. The conclusion appears to be that the Paris Declaration does more to reduce donor transaction costs than those of recipients, but there is also the growing influence of non-OECD/DAC donors in undermining the Paris Declaration. However, David Ojakaa et al. take a more positive view of the Paris Declaration processes in the context of improved coordination around HIV/AIDS work in Africa, as seen through the work of AMREF.

Ruud Bronkhorst looks at the local purchase of goods for food aid in Burkina Faso and argues against the orthodoxy that opposes such purchases because they might drive up prices. The article notes that distress sales and imported food means that local prices are already imperfect, and that at least the higher prices paid to poor local farmers will improve their incomes. Kenta Goto meanwhile looks at issues around globalised value chains in textile production in Asia, and asks whether these merely lead to ‘a race to the bottom’ as countries compete to provide the lowest wages and worst labour conditions. They conclude that there are winners and losers in this commerce and hint at a change to the degree that growth based on cheap labour may only be a short-term gain.

To access the pdf version of the article, please follow this link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09614524.2011.599111