By Julian Dierkes
iPolitics’ James Munson recently published an article that is critical of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI) in a number of important aspects: project selection, information about projects, and broader issues about Canadian development assistance, and links with economic interests.
Given my involvement in CIRDI’s IMAGinE Mongolia activities, I tried to offer some comments on these criticisms on the iPolitics website, but was rebuffed by commenting technology, so I reproduce these here:
Munson raises several important and interesting questions in this article, questions that come up repeatedly in conversations among academics such as myself, and staff who are involved in CIRDI programs.
In my case, I am involved in the Integrated Management and Governance in Extractives (IMAGinE) Mongolia project. Note that Mongolia is a country of focus for Global Affairs development assistance.
Our activities were approved as a CIRDI project late last year. After we had submitted a proposal for these activities, the proposal was reviewed (following CIRDI’s selection guidelines) and we received a lot of feedback on our proposal that looked very similar to the kind of feedback I would expect to receive on an academic paper, for example, anonymous reviewers who questioned various aspects of our proposal, from assumptions to methodology, and feasibility, etc., but also ultimately recommended approval.
While our Mongolia activities are still ramping up (I’m writing this comment from Ulaanbaatar in fact) our project team is eager to share information and lessons from our project, and to share these with beneficiaries in Mongolia and beyond, as well as with the Canadian public and academic colleagues. We want to communicate about the impact of our project activities in the same way that we’re eager to share and disseminate the results of our research as academics.
As I have long collaborated with graduate students in maintaining a blog focused on contemporary Mongolia, Mongolia Focus, we are adding some of our observations about our CIRDI activities to this blog as well, to complement the information that is provided on the CIRDI webpage. Note that we’re intent on “thinking out loud” in these posts (as is appropriate to a blog, I think), not to provide definitive answers or conclusions. As we are expanding our IMAGinE activities, we are continuously looking for indicators of the impact that these activities are having. We will also continue to share aspects of this impact measurement in blog posts as this is an area of direct interest overlap between academic research and development interventions.
I believe that the involvement of several Mongolian graduate students strengthens our project significantly in terms of an appreciation for the Mongolian context we’re operating in, but also in terms of conducting activities that meet requests by and needs of Mongolians. Of course, we have also solicited input from Mongolians more broadly on the specifics of our activities through needs assessments. Mongolians are able to make their own decisions about resource-led and other economic and social development, and we aim to provide them with more and better information to analyze the choices that they have in making policy. Ultimately, in a democracy like Mongolia, better information will allow citizens and policy-makers to make more robust decisions which will allow them to address poverty and inequality through development that they deem appropriate and want.
Beyond the immediate aims and activities of CIRDI and my involvement in these, Munson and some of the critics he includes in his article raise questions that are important to ask about Canadian development assistance more broadly. I find the lack of access that Canadians have to information about publicly-funded development projects surprising, to say the least. Yes, broad outlines of projects can be found, but information about specific activities is generally not made available by development organizations. Maybe Canada’s leadership in the International Aid Transparency Initiative will bring some change in this regard.
Global Affairs’ reporting requirements could do with significantly less bureaucracy and be reconfigured toward greater openness about process and impact that would be of interest to at least some Canadians, I think. More open policy-making is something that the Liberal government aspires to, and it seems to me that development assistance is an area where that openness could improve policy-making significantly, including by deepening the conversation about criteria for selection of target countries or target sectors as well as a discussion of specifically Canadian contributions to global poverty alleviation and, now, the Sustainable Development Goals.
iPolitics reported that a development policy review is imminent, so I hope that many of these discussions will be raised in that context. I certainly am eager to contribute to such discussion.