New programme launched with debate on Millennium Development Goals

18 October 2013


A panel of experts from the University of Oxford, Harvard, and the World Bank sounded a cautious note about the prospects for achieving the Post-2015 International Development Agenda, at a panel discussion convened by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society this week.


The event was held at Wolfson College to inaugurate a new FLJS programme in Development and the Implications for Law, Justice and Society, and to assess the report of the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda published earlier this year. The report called for a renewed focus on governance and development goals relating to access to justice, corruption, legal identity, and judicial accountability.


Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University, opened the debate with a note of cautious optimism, arguing that, “as aspirational statements for the international community to strive to fulfil over the period 2000-2015, and as a way of trying to educate the world as a whole as to the aims of the development community, they have been a broad success”.


However, he stressed the need for more investment in data collection to track progress at a global level, and to make sense of this, a coherent theory of change. Arguing that evidence doesn’t provide a basis for policy, he said that "the twelve indicators in the Post-2015 Agenda cannot in and of themselves provide the basis for action” – and whilst they may be partially successful for assessing immunization programmes, for instance, they cannot be used to construct the rule of law.

the twelve indicators in the Post-2015 Agenda cannot in and of themselves provide the basis for action


Referring to the current debate, he concluded that “any serious high-level discussion about justice and governance is in itself progress”, and identified an emerging consensus that there is a moral and strategic imperative to act, especially in fragile states such as South Sudan.


Masooda Bano from the University of Oxford Department for International Development followed with a more detailed look at the existing aid architecture, arguing that strategies for delivering aid must adapt to the changing environment. Charting the shifts in onus from state to non-state actors in aid delivery over recent decades, she emphasized the importance of long-term projects that are fully embedded within the local community. She drew upon her research in Pakistan and elsewhere to show that community-based organizations were often more effective than donor-funded NGOs, which would shift from one project to another.



Dr Bano went on to voice concern at the cycle of dependency that too heavy an emphasis on aid can foster, arguing that “aid breaks the relationship between the government and the tax-paying citizen”, and governments can become wasteful as a result. Moreover, she found that voluntary participatory development work is often driven by religious motivation, and that, since donor money brings material incentives, this can lead to a ‘crowding out effect’, whereby actors attracted by such incentives drive out those with more altruistic motives.

aid breaks the relationship between the government and the tax-paying citizen


The final presentation came from Samuel Clark, a DPhil Student at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and consultant to the World Bank, who presented his research into corruption and law enforcement in Indonesia as a case study through which to test whether an MDG approach is appropriate in tackling such issues.


He showed how Indonesia has made a concerted effort to tackle corruption in the past decade, but warned that the Post-2015 development indicators can be an imprecise way for capturing the performance of an institution, the way it works, or the best means for successful collaboration with local partner institutions. Moreover, his research revealed that the focus on quantitative data left the indicators open to abuse, as local law enforcement agencies can be incentivized to actively look for easy cases to meet quotas, thereby undermining the community process.


The discussion was then opened up to the audience, who questioned the panel on such issues as the democratizing process of social media as seen during the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East. While the panellists acknowledge a reconfiguration of the citizen–state relationship in the twenty-first century, the consensus was that the jury is still out as to how effective this new form of participatory democracy will prove to be.


The new development programme launched by the debate will examine the interaction between law and socio-economic development, democracy, and human rights in post-Communist countries, in Africa, in Arab nations, and in Latin America. The next event in the programme will be a film screening of Hotel Rwanda and talk by Dr Phil Clark, Reader in Comparative & International Politics at SOAS and author of The Gacaca Courts and Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda.


A full report of the debate and podcasts from the speakers will be available on our Podcasts and Publications pages in the coming weeks.