Thursday, December 6, 2007

The new aid giants (4)

And George Kent replied

Friends, I greatly appreciate Peter Burgess's reactions to my comments about the need for good planning, especially at the global level. I think we agree about fundamentals, but maybe not. Let's explore this further.

Peter said that global planning and state planning do not work very well. I agree that most past experience confirms that. I would say that bad planning needs to be replaced with good planning. I think it is more useful to say it this way than to say that planning as such is bad. We should not say or suggest that there should be no planning.

Peter said that in his experience:

"a good plan was far less important than a team of good implementers with good motives. Good implementers actually plan on the fly and improve even the best of plans. In fact, truth be told, most plans are a terrible sub-optimization of what is possible because there are few planners that know very much beyond planning methodologies."

There is always a need to plan some sort of framework in which "good implementers" can do their work. For example, if we want to sharply reduce the incidence of malaria worldwide, there is a need to create a suitable context in which "good implementers" can do their thing. Planning should not be equated with top-down directive planning. That is just one type of planning, often a bad type. Maybe we can find a different term to label the good approach. It cannot be described simply as no planning.

Peter emphasizes what he calls "community centric sustainable development." I used to write about this in terms of community-based planning. However, I came to appreciate that it would be a mistake to simply replace overly centralized planning with overly localized planning. Instead we need what I now call multi-level, multi-party planning. Centralized and localized planning both have important things to contribute, both have important advantages, and both have important liabilities. We need to figure out how to draw on the best features of both. Part of the role of the central planning effort is to find ways to facilitate the best possible localized planning.

One of the fundamental operating principles should be subsidiarity. This means that in general, issues should be handled locally to the extent feasible. However, there are some issues that absolutely require some sort of global planning efforts. Global warming is one example. Hunger in the world is another. This is the basis of a book I edited on Global Obligations for the Right to Food that is due out in early 2008. We need to acknowledge that while a child may be born into a poor country, that child is not born into a poor world. We all have some measure of responsibility for that child. We have not taken that responsibility seriously.

In the Millennium Development Project, for example, we are not witnessing the failure of a strategy, but the complete absence of a serious strategy at the global level. I hope this absence is not what Peter is advocating.

I support Peter's concluding paragraph:

There is hope when development is done right and planning is used to get development going in the right direction ... planning that is not a control mechanism but a guide. Control comes from accounting and accountability ... and the community are the judges of what is delivering value.

Community-centric development is good, but we should not exaggerate its potentials. Too often, those who advocate the decentralization of authority are really just finding ways to maintain inequities.

Perhaps we can all work together to write out the principles of sound planning at every level? I don't think we should be--or appear to be-- advocates of not planning.

Aloha, George