Lobbying: an opaque activity of dubious integrity?

Lobbyists vol 3On receiving my copy of Lobbyists, Governments and Public Trust, Volume 3, I rushed straight to Chapter 15, History of Slovenian lobbying regulations at a glance (and who wouldn’t?). Given that an OECD glance can be nearly 600 pages long, making you wonder how many forests would die to print an in-depth look, I was deeply disappointed to see that the Slovenian regulators only got a few paragraphs. It’s not that they don’t care. Former foreign minister Zoran Thaler had to resign from the European Parliament and got a prison sentence after admitting he’d accepted an offer from Sunday Times reporters of cash in exchange for proposing amendments that would damage consumer protection.

Slovenia seems to be an exception. An OECD survey in 2013 on lobbying misconduct concluded that “governments either have no sanctions in place or don’t apply them”. A look at the timeline for when lobbying regulation was introduced in various countries allows you to see at a (real) glance how things have evolved. The US was a pioneer, introducing rules in 1946. Then came Germany five years later, quickly followed by, well, practically nobody for the next forty years. As the new report points out, more countries have introduced regulation in the past five years than in the previous sixty.

In his foreword to Lobbyists, Governments and Public Trust, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria says that “lobbying is often perceived as an opaque activity of dubious integrity”. (People can be so cruel.) In general, regulation has only been brought in because of a public outcry. This is bothering a growing number of lawmakers, like US Senator Michael Bennet, who told Politico magazine that: “Something needs to change, and it shouldn’t take another scandal. The incredibly frustrating dysfunction should be motivation enough for us to make significant changes.”.

The aims and many of the tactics of lobbying haven’t changed much since lobbyists used to wait for the Senators of Ancient Rome in the lobby, but the integrity framework does need to be updated, to close revolving doors for instance. This is the name given to the practice of politicians and others leaving public service then going to work for the very people they were overseeing, or the hiring of lobbyists for government posts. The people shoving the revolving doors can be quite brazen about it. One of them boasts on the website of his employers about his experience working as a legal adviser to the European Commission and how he regularly collaborates now with colleagues in their Brussels office. Advisory groups are another worry: “Although members of advisory groups have direct access to decision makers and are therefore able to lobby from the inside, such groups are not generally required to ensure a balanced representation of interests in their make-up.”

The OECD has defined 10 Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying. Number 4 may come as a surprise: “Countries should clearly define the terms ‘lobbying’ and ‘lobbyist’ when they consider or develop rules and guidelines on lobbying.” The lack of clarity around the question is made worse by a lack of education. A 2013 survey by Burson-Marsteller found that 15% of politicians and senior officials from 20 EU countries did not know if lobbying was regulated or not and only 20% of OECD member countries with lobbying rules and guidelines in place surveyed for the OECD report organised workshops for lobbyists and 30% online training courses for public officials in the legislative branch.

Things are changing, partly you might say through self-interest. Opinion polls across the world show that public trust in government is declining and politicians are regularly down there among the car salesmen and real estate agents in lists like this Australian one of the least trusted professions. (Could any of our readers tell us why Aussies also have so little faith in ministers of religion? Is it the word “minister”?)

These same polls suggest that people tend to trust businesses, and that it’s when the two professions get together that things start to go wrong. Even though both sides of the opaque activity are to blame, the report argues that “the main responsibility for safeguarding the public interest and rejecting undue influence lies with those who are lobbied, and therefore a sound public-sector integrity framework is essential.”

If I understand it correctly, we have to stop politics corrupting money.

Useful links

Lobbyists, Governments and Public Trust, Volume 2

Lobbyists, Governments and Public Trust, Volume 1

Government at a Glance 2013

OECD work on trust in government


Yes, they do know it’s Christmas, but it’s Ebola they’re worried about

I hope he'll be OK
I hope he’ll be OK

Would you like to smell like Zinedine Zidane? A few years ago, a French perfume maker thought many of us would, and paid the football star to sell its manly mixture. Apparently many of us wouldn’t, and the ads soon disappeared. If you get the right person sending the right message though, stars can be very useful. On Monday, I moderated a panel discussion here at the OECD on “communicating in a crisis”, and one of the panellists described a successful campaign in Côte d’Ivoire using another football hero, Didier Drogba, to convince people to wash their hands and take other elementary precautions to stop the Ebola virus spreading. This worked because Drogba is a local boy and clearly knows and cares about the cause he was promoting. When he was criticised by some media for not going to the national squad’s match, he said he thought fighting Ebola was more important than a football game.

Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t have any Ebola cases, but its neighbours do, so it makes sense to be careful. Does it make sense to announce you’re stopping flights to Nairobi, because of Ebola? Or to cancel filming in Morocco in case Superman and Batman catch the disease? Both of these places are half a continent away from the affected areas, as far as Los Angeles from Guatemala. As one panellist pointed out, it’s as if you closed Paris airports because of fighting in the Ukraine.

The panel discussion was part of the annual meeting of the DevCom network, organised by the OECD Development Centre. The meeting gives the heads of communication of government ministries and others working on development the chance to share their experiences. The discussions covered broad issues such as communicating on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the new set of goals that will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015; and day-to-day questions like how much to spend on social media and should you pay vloggers (yes).

For an outsider like me, the jargon can be an obstacle to understanding, but since these were experts talking to each other, it’s probably not an issue in this kind of meeting. Even so, when one speaker introduced herself as coming from NORAD, I initially thought she was from the North American Aeorospace Defense Command, whose job is to combat intercontinental ballistic missile attacks and track Santa.

The speaker was doing neither, but she did tell us about the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation’s efforts to combat stereotyping. They helped fund a charity single and video featuring singers cooing about the less fortunate. In this case Africans urging their citizens to help cold, miserable Norway. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The video is hilarious, but it makes a serious point about how a certain perspective dominates the media. Most people here don’t know much about what’s happening in developing countries (or practically any other country either) except for a few sensational stories or something that might affect them directly. The same is true in the developing countries too, but given the mistrust of the authorities and national media, stories reported by foreigners can have a disproportionate impact. When, for example, local officials are saying not to ostracise Ebola victims but the radio reports that in the US a person cured of the disease was forced to stay at home for weeks, or that in Spain they shot the dog of a nurse who was also cured, you have to start trying to convince people all over again.

Some actions cost little or nothing, changing an Ebola-linked programme’s name from “Dead body disposal” to “Safe and dignified burial” for instance, but around the room, everybody agreed that in times of budget cuts, one of the hardest arguments for development communication was convincing the taxpayer that they should be spending money abroad rather than at home. Britain’s Daily Mail ran this headline the other day: “As Somerset faces new floods, we’re set to pay £600m for Third World flood defences… Tory MPs’ fury at new aid giveaway”. And yet, support for development aid does not seem to have been damaged as much as you might expect by the crisis, even though it has declined in some countries. In Ireland for instance, one of the countries hardest hit by the 2007 financial meltdown, a poll in August this year showed that 75% of respondents agree that “people in Ireland have an obligation to invest in overseas aid, even in times of economic recession”; and that 77% of people feel that “it is important for Ireland’s reputation that we keep the promise that 0.7% of national income should be invested in Overseas Aid”, an increase of 4% from 2013 results.

The Irish survey, and similar ones in other countries, also show that most people don’t know how much they’re actually spending on aid. On average, the Irish thought the government was spending 20 times more than it actually does. But even among experts, what you know and what you think is important can vary significantly. One DevCom member told us that some foundations and other philanthropic institutions who are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in development projects don’t pay much attention to the SDGs mentioned above.

One of the aims of the DevCom annual meeting was for members to decide on what they want to do over the next year or so and what resources they will provide to do this. I hope they reach a satisfactory agreement, so they can succeed in their main purpose, helping “strengthen public engagement and communication about development”. Especially when you see that among the alternatives are the likes of Sinead O’Connor telling people who don’t agree with her about the Do they know it’s Christmas charity single to “Shut the f*** up”, and presumably do what the pop stars and other loud mouths tell them.

Useful links

Engaging with the Public: Twelve Lessons from DAC Peer Reviews

Venture philanthropy in development from netFWD, the OECD-hosted Global Network of Foundations Working for Development.

Information on Ebola from SWAC, the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club

The first clinical tests on an Ebola treatment will be starting in Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without bordes) projects in December. MSF can pay for two beds in their treatment centres for 150 euros.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Ebola response

Beyond GDP indicators: To what end?

Today’s post is by Lucas Chancel, researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and lecturer at L’Institut d’études politiques, Paris and Damien Demailly, programme co-ordinator at IDDRI.

When a French MP recently decided to draft a law for the adoption of Beyond GDP (BGDP) indicators in France, she was told that such a law wasn’t necessary because BGDP indicators already existed and were published annually in the country. The MP replied that nobody in Parliament or government was aware of it. The reason was simple: the new set of indicators was published in the annex of a very technical administrative report – in a place where nobody would even bother look at them. This example sheds light on an important dimension of the BGDP indicator debate: measuring and publishing indicators is not sufficient, it is essential to reflect on how they can be used practically in policy making processes.

Today, several countries have already officially adopted dashboards of BGDP indicators. These pioneers are interesting cases to look at in order to see how BGDP indicators are used in practice: are they left in technical annexes of government reports, used as communication tools or mobilised effectively in the making of public policies?

Australia set up Beyond-GDP indicators as early as 2002, developed and supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and its statistician in chief. The dashboard comprises 26 dimensions grouped around four headline themes: society, economy, environment and governance. The dashboard has been published frequently and holds particular interest for the media and the general public. Indicators were initially designed to help citizens consider progress in a more integrated way, and not to evaluate government actions – however, the dashboard is regularly used by political staff in their media interventions.

Belgium ratified a law, early 2014, aimed at developing indicators to complement GDP. These indicators are currently being developed by the Belgian Federal Planning Agency and could include some of the indicators already adopted at the regional level by Wallonia: six indicators, including GDP, on three dimensions: environment, society and the economy. Interestingly, a review of BGDP indicators progress is planned to be included in the annual report of the Banque nationale de Belgique and the indicators’ progress will be debated in parliament each year. Contrary to what was initially planned in Australia, indicators are to play a very political role in Belgium.

The United Kingdom has produced a comprehensive dashboard of Beyond-GDP indicators since 2011 under a national programme for measuring well-being which was supported by Prime Minister David Cameron. The dashboard of indicators in the UK contains more than thirty indicators. Some are objective (e.g. income level) and others are subjective (e.g. percentage of anxious people in the population). The British would like to use their dashboard to measure the before and after impacts of public policies. This is not yet done systematically, but monthly reports are published to comment on how the country is performing on different dimensions of well-being and some indicators have been used to inform decision-making.

These case studies provide three interesting lessons.

First, in terms of methodology, it stands out clearly that “replacing” GDP is not an option any more in the countries which adopted new indicators. The choice that was made was to complement GDP rather than replace it. This choice can be understood by the fact that it is difficult to simply get rid of an indicator as emblematic as GDP but also because, despite its many limitations, GDP retains several powerful features (i.e. standardisation, part of a wide system of national accounts, etc.). In addition, GDP is not complemented with a single indicator but a dashboard of indicators – seen as a better way to represent different dimensions of well-being which cannot be merged into one single metric.

Second, initiatives to complement GDP were supported at the highest level. The executive power supported the Well Being Programme in the UK, the legislative power in Belgium and the administrative in Australia. In addition, indicators are not supported by one political party or sensibility: all sides of the political spectrum support beyond-GDP indicators. In the UK, it is the Conservative government, in Belgium, the Greens-Socialist majority. However, all political parties do not support similar sets of indicators. It may be anecdotic, but the UK does not have an objective measure of income inequality in its dense dashboard of indicators, while Belgium will very likely have one.

Finally, these examples showed three possible types of use of indicators. They can play a symbolic role, as initially planned in Australia: the indicators are supposed to represent progress in a different way but are not developed to measure government’s performance. Indicators can also play a political role, like in Belgium where they are developed precisely to assess government’s performance via an annual debate in Parliament. And new indicators can also be developed in order to play an instrumental role: when they are used to measure the impacts of specific public policies. Clearly, BGDP indicators are rarely used in this way currently, partly because of a lack of statistics and theory to understand how they are impacted by different types of public policies.

However, it should be reminded that, just like BGDP indicators, GDP did not always exist and has not always been used in an instrumental way. It took several years and decades, with developments in economic theory and statistical methods, as well changing socio-economic expectations, to make of GDP a symbolic, political and instrumental indicator. BGDP indicators are following this path even though it will undeniably take time and – indeed- political will.

Useful links

OECD Better Life Initiative: Measuring Well-Being and Progress

Institutions, Interconnectedness, and Inclusiveness: Three “I”s for better lives in Eurasia

Photo courtesy of H.E. Ms. Ingrid BROCKOVA , Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the OECD
Photo courtesy of H.E. Ms. Ingrid BROCKOVA , Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the OECD

Today’s post is by Marcos Bonturi, Director of the OECD Global Relations Secretariat

The world has had its eyes riveted on the tensions in Ukraine. The rest of the Eurasia region in particular is facing important economic and political challenges as a result of these tensions.

The region, at a crossroads between Russia, China, India and Europe, has had some success in the past couple of decades in transitioning from a planned to a market economy. Countries have enacted sweeping reforms to diversify their economies, improve the business climate and attract foreign direct investment. As a result, from 1995 to 2013, regional gross output more than doubled from USD 144 billion to almost USD 360 billion[1]. International investors have flocked to the region – between 1997 and 2013, net inflows of foreign direct investment increased more than six-fold, at an annual average rate of 12.4%[2]. During the financial crisis the region managed to maintain a strong GDP growth rate, which in 2013 was as high as 4.5%[3]. This upward growth trend has brought the majority of Eurasia countries into the middle income country bracket[4] and lifted about 32 million people out of poverty over the past decade[5] . Growth has been buttressed in many countries by access to vast natural resources – the Eurasia region holds mineral supplies of gold and bauxite, more than 125 years of gas reserves[6], 35 years of oil reserves[7] and 10% of the world’s agricultural land[8].

Yet international experience has shown that strong economic growth and generous resource endowments alone are not enough to guarantee social peace and prosperity, especially in a region as diverse as Eurasia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic development of the region has been underpinned by rising commodity prices which have attracted investment in resource-rich countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This trend has made economies of the region highly susceptible to fluctuations in commodity prices and increased their dependence on the export of natural resources. It has also led to disparities in income per capita between resource-rich countries and resource-poor countries. While some resource-poor countries such as Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have acquired middle-income status thanks to the industrial legacy of the ex-Soviet Union, others such as Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are unable to exit the lower income brackets despite growing trade with their resource-rich neighbours.

To unlock sustainable peace and prosperity in the region, countries will need to widen their approach to economic reform and tackle three underlying obstacles to their development: institutions, interconnectedness and inclusiveness.

First, Eurasian countries need to strengthen their institutions and improve governance, both in the public and private sectors. Burdensome administrative processes, insufficient transparency and broad-based corruption – especially in the resource-rich economies –undermine public trust in institutions and stifle economic growth across the region. While for the low-income countries, building basic institutions and helping firms access financing is the most urgent priority, the middle-income economies of the region need to improve their regulatory frameworks to cut red tape and increase efficiencies. Innovation policies that heighten productivity will help the resource-rich countries diversify their economies and build a less commodity-dependent growth model.

Second, countries of the region need to boost their interconnectedness to regional and global markets.

Strengthening trade links, keeping markets open, investing in infrastructure, and integrating into global value chains are priorities across the region. For the resource-poor countries, this is especially critical as stronger linkages to global value chains will bring access to new markets, technologies and know-how, and drive job creation at home. Greater connectedness will also help the resource-rich countries diversify their economies and attract investment to the non-extractive sectors. Establishing mutually beneficial trade linkages with regional “heavyweights” can also help solidify relationships with powerful neighbours.

Third, governments must take action to ensure that rising national wealth is not highly concentrated in the hands of few, but is shared more equitably among all citizens. With inequalities and youth unemployment on the rise across the region, a first step to foster inclusive growth will be to reform Eurasia’s education and training systems, which often date from the Soviet era. Governments will also need to encourage a more transparent and open dialogue between the public and private sectors and reduce barriers to small- and medium-sized enterprise development, drivers of job creation and innovation.

The OECD stands ready to support countries in Eurasia to design and implement reforms that will enhance their transparency, inclusiveness and integration in the global economy, and ultimately pave the way for a peaceful and prosperous future for all of the region’s citizens.

The OECD’s Eurasia Competitiveness Programme was established in 2008 to help the Eurasia region overcome these transition challenges, develop more vibrant and competitive markets, and uncover its vast potential. High-level representatives from Eurasia and OECD countries will meet at OECD Headquarters in Paris from 24-27 November 2014 for the first Eurasia Week, to exchange perspectives on “Enhancing Competitiveness in Eurasia”, assess progress made, and agree on a roadmap for the region’s future reforms.


[1] OECD calculations based on World Bank data, 2014

[2] OECD calculations based on World Bank data, 2014

[3] OECD calculations based on World Bank data, 2014

[4] For the current 2015 fiscal year, middle-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of more than $1,045 but less than $12,746 (World Bank).

[5] OECD Calculations based on World Bank (2014) “Diversified Development: Making the most of natural resources in Eurasia”, Washington D.C. and World Bank World Development database.

[6] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014

[7] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014

[8] OECD calculations based on World Bank data, 2014

Engaging people: 12 lessons for communicating about development

12-lessonsToday’s post is from Erik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, Chair of the Governing Board of the OECD Development Centre.

The financial commitment to development co-operation has never been higher. In 2013, the global total reached USD 135 billion. For the first time ever, the United Kingdom reached the target of 0.7% of national income, and this happened in times of great economic austerity. Turkey – a middle-income country – increased its official development assistance more than any other European country and is now above the OECD average. And Ireland continued its commitment to fighting global hunger — even with a severe economic crisis at home — founded on a strong public and political consensus regarding the importance of helping the world’s poorest people.

These extraordinary achievements would not have been possible without leadership and strong public support. People support development co-operation out of solidarity with people who have less. Development co-operation must therefore inspire – and be able to withstand – critical assessment from the public.

This means we must be better at telling people what an enormous success story global development has been. Extreme poverty has been halved in a few decades, bringing more than 600 million people out of poverty in China alone. The mortality rate for children under the age of five has been almost halved, saving 17,000 children every day. Life expectancy will soon pass 70 years.

Success is inspiring. It leads to support. But development partners must also be better at explaining their failures. Why did the international community fail to react at an early stage to the political crisis in South Sudan, which eventually led to ethnic warfare and a humanitarian crisis? Why did we fail to contain Ebola in its early phases in the three most affected West African countries? Public debate should be informed by facts. Criticism is a good thing when it brings the world forward.

Countries also provide official development assistance out of enlightened national interest. It is in everyone’s interest to have a planet that is not wrecked by climate change, deforestation and the pollution of our rivers and oceans. Peace and prosperity in one part of the world increase trade and reduce the risk of drug trafficking, conflict and terrorism in others. The effects are felt by developed and developing countries alike. Development co-operation is an opportunity to exert leadership in the world. It should be an integral part of foreign affairs and national strategy.

Leadership is essential. It inspires others and encourages people to take control of the future they want. President Obama’s Power Africa initiative brings US companies together to provide clean energy to Sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of the population is without electricity. Norway is working with Brazil, Indonesia and other rainforest countries to reduce deforestation under the UN-REDD initiative. President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo broke ground by announcing a tax-per-barrel on oil to fight childhood malnutrition across the world as part of French-initiated Unitaid financing scheme!

Development co-operation can also be risky. Most people understand this. It is obviously safer to provide loans for hydropower development in China or Brazil than it is to support the government of the Central African Republic in providing basic services. Yet donors have committed to supporting fragile states, following the priorities of recipient governments and using country systems. Providers of development co-operation should not be afraid of explaining risk and helping people understand why it is important to work in difficult places. Working together also reduces risk. It is easier for a minister or an aid agency to explain why development co-operation is supporting the judicial system in Somalia when people know that this is what the Somali government has requested and that the European Union, the United States and Turkey support the same thing.

We welcome and endorse these 12 Lessons for Engaging with the Public, published today:

  1. Public engagement builds support and makes development policies more effective.
  2. Improving communication increases transparency.
  3. Understand your audience.
  4. Have a clear, strategic vision.
  5. Develop and deliver a coherent narrative.
  6. Communicate results – good and bad.
  7. Leverage partnerships to achieve objectives.
  8. Make room for creativity and innovation.
  9. Ensure branding is appropriate.
  10. Promote communication and co-ordination institutionally.
  11. Match resources and expertise with ambition.
  12. Evaluate and learn from experience.

The lessons are based on evidence and experience from Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer reviews and from the Network of DAC Development Communicators, which the OECD Development Centre hosts and co-ordinates. The 12 Lessons offer policy makers a timely and important reminder that public support for development co-operation can never be taken for granted. They tell us that we need to be more humble when we engage with citizens and taxpayers to ensure that our efforts speak to what people think and know.

As accountable policy makers, we need to share information in a meaningful, timely and accessible way. We need to ensure that development co-operation ministries and agencies enable success by acknowledging the strategic importance of communication, awareness-raising and development education, and that they invest time, money and capacity in these activities.

Public debate around development co-operation needs to be broader and more open to better reflect the new world we live in. At the same time, we must learn to be more positive and engaging. No one has heard of a successful company advertising that the world is going under, their customers are worse off than ever, and that their products often fail!

Let’s take a cue from these 12 Lessons and use them to communicate about the positive, life-saving results of development co-operation.

Useful links

OECD work on development

OECD Development Centre work on communication and development

From aid to development (OECD Insights)

An innovative public sector?

Click for details of the forum on public sector innovation

Today’s post is by Hannah Kitchen, Policy Analyst in the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI), of the OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate.

Last week over three hundred people from the public, private and civil society sectors descended on the OECD in Paris. Why? To discuss an innovative public sector. For some of you that might sound like an oxymoron, but over two days stereotypes were left at the door as participants shared stories and learnt about innovation in the public sector.

The conference on Innovating the Public Sector: from Ideas to Impact showcased the public sector at its best. Innovators from around the world stood on stage to give short, dynamic talks about what they were doing at home. There were talks about evidence and innovation in the United States; about police using social media in Iceland; and one about reducing visa applications in Turkey to three minutes online.

Participants also rolled up their sleeves to experiment with innovative approaches for policy making. They tried out design for public services, by mapping their own journey to the OECD and considering how it could be improved. They heard from policy makers from Chile to the United Kingdom, who shared their stories about how they are using innovation labs to build experimental, practical spaces to trial new ways of working and share what works.

Despite all this enthusiasm, the overwhelming consensus was that innovation in the public sector is still no easy feat. It’s difficult to get support from above, it’s difficult to have the time and space to come up with innovative solutions, it’s difficult to find the resources for unproven approaches, and it’s difficult rally others.

Over the past couple of years the OECD has been working with countries to develop the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, to help them make the most of innovation. The Observatory puts the experiences of innovators from across the world at everyone’s finger tips. Want to know how the Icelandic police actually made social media work for them; or a Finnish hospital used service design to develop a better, more user friendly hospital? The Observatory contains hundreds of examples from across the OECD about how public services are developing more effective, innovative services.

It shows how countries are innovating across the whole policy making process. They are opening up policy making, so that a broader range of actors can shape policies. One way that they are doing this is by making the most of technological developments. Austria for example, is designing new strategies by crowdsourcing comments, advice and ideas from the public demonstrating how governments can involve a wider range of perspectives to source innovative ideas.

The Observatory also demonstrates that innovation is as much about the journey as the results at the end. That means rethinking how to design new services and embracing experimental approaches, prototyping, and trial and error. Public organisations need more agility, more testing and more experimenting on a small scale before investing large sums to roll out a new policy or service. In the United Kingdom for example, the use of randomised control trials is providing real evidence on the results of policy interventions on a small scale, providing a clear evidence base for action. In Australia, the Concept Lab allows the government to trial and fully evaluate potential improvements to services for families, the unemployed, care givers and parents under actual workplace conditions prior to wider roll-out.

Perhaps most importantly, the Observatory also highlights how innovation is resulting in better solutions for citizens, by responding to citizens’ needs, moving the services to them. In France, unoccupied rooms in housing are being used so that the elderly can share flats with others, at once reducing their social isolation and making use of existing underexploited resources. In Sweden, parents can now access information about their child benefits directly from their phone through an app, which also includes up-to-date information for all citizens on their old age pensions.

The Observatory is also an innovation in itself. It was built with an agile, staged approach. Users in countries were involved throughout, testing and retesting prototypes to ensure that it delivers on user needs and to enhance the user experience. More importantly it is a direct interface with innovators themselves – from local schools and hospitals to central government offices – anyone working in the public sector with a story to tell about innovation can use the Observatory to reach an international audience. Through its interactive features users can make their views heard by voting in regular polls, discuss with other users to learn about their experiences, ask questions, and even create their own groups for collaborative projects.

It is just at the beginning of its story. Over the coming months and years we hope that many more people across the public service and beyond will use the Observatory to interact with others and share their examples of innovation.

Have a glimpse of Observatory by watching this video:

The Ripple Effect: Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Click to find out more about the Global Forum on Environment
Click to find out more about the Global Forum on Environment

Today’s post is by Naazia Ebrahim of the OECD Environment Directorate

In Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity, Timothy Mitchell tells how in 1942, an epidemic of gambiae malaria in Egypt was caused by a perfect storm of interactions between rivers, dams, fertilisers, food webs, and the influences of World War II. It began with the building of the Aswan Dam and its storage reservoirs around the Nile, which provided the anopheles mosquito with new breeding spots. Thanks to the dams, basin irrigation was replaced by perennial irrigation, encouraging a denser population of humans who no longer needed to disperse to avoid flooding. Government protectionism on behalf of the sugarcane industry then helped it expand at the expense of food-growing lands, while new irrigation techniques led to reduced soil fertility. When ammonia was diverted from fertilizer to explosives manufacturing for World War II, the resulting malnourishment and closely populated settlements created an easy target for this particularly social mosquito.

Splitting technological, agricultural, epidemiological, and geopolitical considerations into separate boxes led at least in part to the epidemic. The engineers building the dam could never have imagined the ripple effects their work created. But today, we know better (well, somewhat at least: it’s worth noting that deforestation has been strongly linked to the Ebola epidemic). And, with studies estimating that the global demand for water, energy, and food will increase by 55%, 80%, and 60% respectively by 2050, those ripple effects are going to be all the more critical – especially between these three areas .

Risks in one sector often correlate with risks in the others – but equally often, decreasing the risk in one sector causes it to increase dramatically in others. Figuring out how to provide enough water for wheat farming, hydropower generation, and maintaining local ecosystems, while still decreasing carbon emissions, is not an easy task.

The world is facing unprecedented stresses, and we are going to need an unprecedented response. We’re doing our best to help create that response at the OECD. Next week we’re hosting a forum on the nexus between water, energy and food. We’re looking forward to discussing (with senior private sector leaders, policy experts and government officials) ways to manage these trade-offs, co-ordinate planning across sectors, anticipate unexpected developments, engage business, and minimise risks across all three sectors. If we get it right, there’s potential for huge collaborative gains.

During all this work, it’s worth remembering that the malaria epidemic was often framed as one of intelligence versus nature. But intelligence and technological advancement were not created through externally imposed “solutions”. Rather, they were developed iteratively by engaging and interacting with the challenges. We have no doubt that the same will be true here.

Useful links

OECD work on Biodiversity, water and natural resource management