TWP blast from the past: Birmingham, 2007

Lockdown ‘holiday’ activity includes all sorts of fun activities – baking banana-chocolate chip muffins, taking our usual family walk and cleaning out my computer folders. The latter can be a bit like career archaeology, and I found this beauty buried deep in a folder.

In January 2007, I organised a conference called ‘Making Politics Practical: Development Politics and the Changing Aid Environment’ at IDD in Birmingham, alongside colleagues with the Political Science Association‘s Development Politics specialist group. It was, at the time, pretty unique, with few workshops back then bringing together academics and policy makers to talk about the politics of development.

Standing room only at the Australasian Aid Conference’s first development politics panel in 2016.

This workshop was where I first met Adrian Leftwich, Sue Unsworth and Graham Teskey, all of whom (with Mark Robinson) would be key to the establishment of the Thinking & Working Politically Community of Practice. Indeed, it was here that I first got to know Adrian, and I’m sure it was one of the reasons why he asked me to take over as Director of the Developmental Leadership Program after he sadly died in 2013, a role I was proud to hold until handing over to David Hudson, DLP’s current director, in 2018.

The TWP Community of Practice was, at least in part, Adrian’s vision, even if he wasn’t able to see that vision come to fruition. Through Graham’s leadership, alongside Alina Rocha Menocal and many other TWP CoP members, the ideas we started talking about 13 years ago have moved from a niche event to the mainstream (if not quite the ‘orthodoxy’). It has been a privilege to be part of the journey so far, one that started for some – especially DFID staff leading on Drivers of Change – pre-2007, but which for me started on that cold January day in 2007.

Fellow TWP travellers (left to right): Neil McCulloch, Neringa Collier, me, Alina Rocha Menocal & Graham Teskey)

The 2007 conference programme

For over 20 years, political scientists have provided theoretical and empirical evidence that establishes the ‘primacy of politics’ for development, but they have often felt that the development community – and donors in particular – have not been listening. Widespread changes within the aid environment, brought about in no small part thanks to the emphasis on governance, mean that political scientists have a unique opportunity right now to engage with policy makers on the politics of development. From the scramble for workable tools to analyse politics in developing countries, to the unprecedented appointment of a political scientist to head the World Bank, to the move towards general budget support in the distribution of aid and the implications of this for national and local politics within countries, and so on, we are reminded everywhere we turn about how central ‘getting politics right’ is for ensuring developmental success.

These trends are likely to impact the environment in which we conduct research, the funding opportunities available and the way we understand or explore development, both in theory and in practice. It also means that we have a real opportunity to influence the way in which policy emerges in the field of development politics.

Within the development studies academic community, there has been a rigorous debate about the need for better engagement with policy makers. An entire Development Studies Association (DSA) conference in 2004 and a special issue of Development and Practice in 2006 were dedicated to this. Recent work by David Mosse, for example, and the development of the RAPID framework for analysis at ODI continues this debate, and the emphasis here is on constructive, if cautious, engagement with policy makers. Few political scientists have engaged in this debate, despite the centrality of politics in much of this work, and the field generally has a reputation – deserved or otherwise – for asking lots of questions, but hardly ever seeking solutions; for rarely moving beyond criticism into work that can actually help improve donor practice.

The conference explores the ‘(re)politicisation’ of development studies and the need for constructive, rather than merely critical, engagement with policy makers. As such, we welcome both academics and policy makers.

Panel 1: Political Concepts in Practice in Developing Countries

Chair: Dr Ben Thirkell-White (University of St Andrews)

Adrian Leftwich (University of York) – ‘From Drivers of Change to the Politics of Development’

Mark Robinson (Institute of Development Studies, Sussex) – ‘Reforming the State: The Politics of State Capacity Building’

Sue Unsworth (Institute of Development Studies, Sussex) – ‘Does Political Science Offer Problems, or Solutions?’

Panel 2: Donors ‘Doing Politics’: Emerging Issues in Development Practice

Chair: Dr Andrew Wyatt (University of Bristol)

Jennifer Romine (University of Illinois) – ‘Comparison of Aid Distribution from the World Bank and EBRD to the Postcommunist States’

Stephen Klingebiel (Institut Allemand de Developpement) – ‘Interfaces between Development and Security Policy: Donor Contributions to Strengthening the African Peace and Security Architecture’

Paolo de Renzio (Overseas Development Institute) – ‘Aid, Budgets and Accountability’

Panel 3: Donors and Political Re-engineering

Chair: Dr Philip Amis (University of Birmingham)

Katherine Rogers (University of Oxford/UNICEF) – ‘Exploring the Tensions Between Donor Harmonization and Country Ownership: The Case of the National Civic Education Programme in Kenya (2000-2002)’

Donald Curtis (University of Birmingham) – ‘Donors and Governance in Darfur’

Jean Grugel (University of Sheffield) – ‘Rights-in-Theory and Rights-in-Practice: Children and the Rights Agenda in Argentina’

Panel 4: Linking Researchers to Policy Makers: The Role of Online Resource Centres

Brian Lucas, Manager, Governance & Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC)

Paul Jackson, Director, Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR)

Panel 5: Is Better Engagement Between Policy Makers and Political Scientists on the Politics of Development Possible?

Martin Gainsborough (University of Bristol)

Graham Harrison (University of Sheffield)

Adrian Leftwich (University of York)

Heather Marquette (University of Birmingham – Chair)

Graham Teskey (Head of Governance & Social Development, Policy Division, DFID)


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