A Pragmatic Holist: Herbert Simon, Economics and “The Architecture of Complexity”

Vela Velupillai, Madras School of Economics

“Herb had it all put together at least 40 years ago – and I’ve known him only for 35.” Alan Newell, 1989.

And so it was, with Hierarchy in 1950, Near-Decomposability from about 1949, and Causality, underpinning the reasonably rapid evolution of dynamical systems into a series of stable complex structures. Almost all of these pioneering articles are reprinted in Simon’s 1977 collection and, moreover, the hierarchy and near-decomposability classics appear in section 4 with the heading “Complexity”. The cybernetic vision became the fully-fledged digital computer basis of boundedly rational human problem solvers implementing heuristic search procedures to prove, for example, axiomatic mathematical theorems (in the monumental Principia Mathematica of Russell & Whitehead) substantiating Alan Newell’s entirely reasonable claim quoted above.

In defining the notion of complexity in The Architecture of Complexity (AoC), Simon eschews formalisms and relies on a rough, working, concept of complex systems that would help identify examples of observable structures – predominantly in the behavioural sciences – that could lead to theories and, hence, theorems, of evolving dynamical systems that exhibit properties that are amenable to design and prediction with the help of hierarchy, near-decomposability and causality. Thus, the almost informal definition is (italics added): “Roughly, by a complex system I mean one made up of a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way. In such systems, the whole is more than the sum of the parts … in the … pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole. In the face of complexity, an in-principle reductionist may be at the same time a pragmatic holist.”

Simon was always a pragmatic holist, even while attempting the reduction of the behaviour of complex entities to parsimonious processes that would exhibit the properties of  “wholes”, based on nonsimply interacting “parts”, that may themselves be simple. He summarised the way this approach could apply to economics in a letter to Professor Axel Leijonhufvud and me after reading my book Computable Economics. (You can see the letter here.) Simon argued that:

“Finally, we get to the empirical boundary … of the level of complexity that humans actually can handle, with and without their computers, and – perhaps more important – what they actually do to solve problems that lie beyond this strict boundary even though they are within some of the broader limits.

The latter is an important point for economics, because we humans spend most of our lives making decisions that are far beyond any of the levels of complexity we can handle exactly; and this is where satisficing, floating aspiration levels, recognition and heuristic search, and similar devices for arriving at good-enough decisions take over. [The term ‘satisfice’, which appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as a Northumbrian synonym for ‘satisfy’, was borrowed by Simon (1956) in ‘Rational Choice and the Structure of the Environment’ to describe a strategy for reaching a decision the decider finds adequate, even if it’s not optimal in theory.] A parsimonious economic theory, and an empirically verifiable one, shows how human beings, using very simple procedures, reach decisions that lie far beyond their capacity for finding exact solutions by the usual maximizing criteria.”

In many ways, AoC summarised Simon’s evolving (sic!) visions of a quantitative behavioural science, which provided the foundations of administering complex, hierarchically structured, causal organisations, by boundedly rational agents implanting – with the help of digital computers – procedures that were, in turn, reflections of human problem solving processes. But it also presaged the increasing precision of predictable reality – not amounting to non-pragmatic, non-empirical phenomena – requiring an operational description of complex systems that were the observable in nature, resulting from the evolutionary dynamics of hierarchical structures. Thus, the final – fourth – section of AoC “examines the relation between complex systems and their descriptions” – for which Simon returned to Solomonoff’s pioneering definition of algorithmic information theory.

AoC was equally expository on the many issues with which we have come to associate Simon’s boundedly rational agents (and Institutions) satisficing – instead of optimising, again for pragmatic, historically observable, realistic reasons – using heuristic search processes in Human Problem Solving contexts of behavioural decisions. The famous distinction between substantive and procedural rationality arose from the dichotomy of a state vs process description of a world “as sensed and … as acted upon”.

Essentially AoC is suffused with pragmatic definitions and human procedures of realistic implementations, even in the utilising of digital computers. Computability theory assumes the Church-Turing Thesis in defining algorithms. The notion of computational complexity is predicated upon the assumption of the validity of the Church-Turing Thesis. Simon’s algorithms for human problem solvers are heuristic search processes, where no such assumption is made. Hence the feeling that engulfed him in his later years is not surprising   (italics added):

“The field of computer science has been much occupied with questions of computational complexity, the obverse of computational simplicity. But in the literature of the field, ‘complexity’ usually means something quite different from my meaning of it in the present context. Largely for reasons of mathematical attainability, and at the expense of relevance, theorems of computational complexity have mainly addressed worst-case behaviour of computational algorithms as the size of the data set grows larger. In the limit, they have even focused on computability in the sense of Gödel, and Turing and the halting problem. I must confess that these concerns produce in me a great feeling of ennui.”

Useful links

A version of this article with added commentary and references is available here.

As mentioned above, Herbert Simon wrote to Professors Axel Leijonhufvud and Kumaraswamy Velupillai after reading Pr Velupillai’s Computable Economics. You can see the letter here.

The OECD organised a Workshop on Complexity and Policy, 29-30 September, OECD HQ, Paris, along with the European Commission and INET. Watch the webcast: 29/09 morning29/09 afternoon30/09 morning

The future of work: a world of new and changing skills

Digital native in natural surroundings

Glenda Quintini and Alastair Wood, OECD Directorate for Education, Employment and Social Affairs

What do you want to be when you grow up? As young girls and boys learn about space and the cosmos they may dream about being an astronaut. Building a beautiful Lego construction might lead them to declare their desire to be an architect. These days however, rather than catching a young boy or girl playing with Lego or a toy space rocket, they might be learning how to write computer code, aspiring to change the world through technology. Even 3-year-old children scroll through photos on an iPad with an ease and dexterity that stun many adults. That our children are so comfortable using new technologies is encouraging given where our societies are heading. The Internet of Things, Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies are expected to create new and different jobs, substantially change many existing jobs, and make others obsolete. Adapting to and benefiting from these profound changes requires new skills, now and in the future.

But how well are countries prepared for the digital economy? OECD evidence paints a disturbing picture. Today, 95% of workers in large businesses and 85% in medium-sized businesses have access to and use the Internet as part of their jobs (OECD, 2013).  Yet over half of the adult population (56%) have no ICT skills or can only fulfil the simplest set of tasks in a technology-rich environment. Even among young adults, those between 25 and 34, only 42% can complete tasks involving multiple steps and requiring the use of specific technology applications, such as downloading music files or looking for a job online (Level 2 or 3); among people aged 55-65, only 10% can do this. And not only the workplace is changing; interactions between citizens and governments, between businesses and clients, and within personal networks also rely more and more on digital, mobile or social-media tools (OECD, 2009, 2011). Obviously, workers who can code and develop applications are in high demand; but digitalisation also means that everyone needs to be quite proficient using ICT, even those in low-skilled jobs: today, a factory worker often has to interact with an entirely automated chain of production and a waiter might be taking orders on an iPad.

Being good at ICT pays off. Workers with strong ICT skills are paid almost 30% more, on average, than those who cannot do much more than type or use a mouse (i.e. with skills at or below Level 1). These pay gaps exceed 50% in England, Singapore and the United States. Like in other sectors, there are also gender gaps in ICT: ICT specialists account for 5.5% of all male workers but only for 1.4% of female workers (OECD, 2016a). And this gap is likely to persist in the future: more than twice as many boys currently expect to work in science and engineering jobs when compared to girls, as stated in the latest OECD PISA survey, despite the fact that ICT jobs are in high demand, well-paid and offer promising careers.

But while tech skills are crucial, more is needed to succeed in the new world of work. In addition to ICT skills, workers also need entrepreneurial and organisational knowhow and the right social skills to work collaboratively. Workers also need the flexibility to adapt as technologies evolve (Spitz-Oener, 2006; Bessen, 2015). As Einstein put it “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Our children will likely have a whole range of different jobs and even a range of careers over their lifetime – an exciting prospect but also a challenging one.

New OECD work on Skills for a Digital World calls on governments to ensure that digitalisation brings good quality jobs and that both employers and workers have the means to benefit from new opportunities that open up. Skills policies should strengthen initial learning; anticipate and respond better to changing skill needs; increase the use of workers’ competences; and improve incentives for further learning along with greater recognition of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and OERs (open educational resources). Our challenge today is that we have to educate people for jobs that don’t exist yet and the only way to do this is to be flexible and adapt education and training continuously. Then there is no reason to be worried if kids have no idea what they want to be later in life. Being open-minded and making sure that one remains open to learning and using new skills is likely the best attitude to adopt.

Useful links

Arntz, M., T. Gregory and U. Zierahn  (2016), “The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis“, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris

Autor, D. (2015), “Why Are there still so many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation”, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 7-30.

OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2016a), “Skills for a Digital World: 2016 Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy Background Report”, OECD Digital Economy Papers, No. 250, OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2015b), Adults, Computers and Problem Solving: What’s the Problem? OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Spitz-Oener, A. (2006), “Technical Change, Job Tasks, and Rising Educational Demands: Looking Outside the Wage Structure”, Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 235‑270.

West Africa’s diet transformation: Will the region capitalise on its changing food demand?

Ready-to-eat baby food and other processed food products. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

John Staatz, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University, and Frank Hollinger, Economist at the Investment Centre Division (TCIA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Demand for food in West Africa is changing dramatically, opening great opportunities to create new wealth and jobs. But will most of the wealth and jobs be created in West Africa or in the countries that export food to the region? The decisions made over the next few years by West Africans and their development partners will largely determine who benefits from this massive opportunity and its attendant challenges.

Rapidly evolving demand

Driven by strong population growth, urbanisation, rising incomes and changing consumer preferences, West Africans are not only eating more food each year but are also changing what they eat. As incomes rise and most consumers — including the nearly half of West Africans who now live in cities — become increasingly time-poor, people are demanding a more diverse diet that is easier to prepare and consume. Amongst the rising middle class — now a quarter of West Africa’s population — demand for perishable foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and animal-based products, is rising quickly. Safely and efficiently producing and delivering these to consumers entails tight co-ordination along all stages of the food system — from seed to the consumer’s table — requiring upgraded “hard” and “soft” infrastructure, such as reliable cold chains and improved product grades and standards. The good news is that if such improvements can be made, the production, processing and marketing of these products are much more labour-intensive than those of cereals, offering the opportunity to create many new jobs for West Africa’s burgeoning labour market.

Diet diversification is not just limited to perishables and the middle class, however. Across all income classes and geographic areas, West Africans are consuming a wider range of starchy staples (cereals, roots and tubers) than in the past, including more convenient “fast foods” derived from them, such as garb and attack. Demand for convenience – foods that are quick and easy to prepare and consume – is an overarching trend cutting across all countries and income groups. Increasingly pressed for time, consumers are willing to pay for others in the food system (processors, street-food vendors) to carry out some or all of the food processing and preparation for them, leading to rapidly growing demand for post-harvest activities.

The food system’s response

The response from the different levels of West Africa’s food system – farm-level production, food processing, retailing and policy – to these changes in demand has been mixed. Since 2008, when world prices of cereals spiked to record levels and most West African governments launched special food production initiatives, the ECOWAS region’s output of rice, maize and cassava has increased at between 6.5% and 7.9% per year — a remarkable achievement.  But production of perishables, particularly animal-based products like meat and milk, either stagnated or fell. Public-sector expenditures on agriculture have grown rapidly, but most of the increased spending has focused on farm-level production, with a heavy emphasis on fertiliser and seed subsidies. Relatively few funds have gone to the R&D and extension needed to boost long-term farm productivity, or to improving critical post-harvest activities such as product aggregation, wholesaling, processing, packaging and retailing. As a result, many larger-scale food processors in West Africa face difficulties obtaining locally the raw agricultural products in the quantities and qualities they need to operate their plants near capacity; hence, they often turn to imports. At the same time, small and medium-scale processors frequently have problems meeting the quality and packaging demands of the growing middle class, who then also turn to imports.

What’s needed to capture the new opportunities?

Much of the recent agricultural policy focus has been on understanding farmers’ constraints and helping overcome them. Yet in increasingly buyer-driven agricultural value chains, consumers are the ultimate financiers of the food system. Therefore, an improved understanding of their evolving preferences in terms of quality, convenience, safety and other food attributes is a prerequisite for producers to respond better to demand trends and successfully compete with imports.

At the same time, price still matters a lot to the three-fourths of West African consumers who subsist on less than USD 2 per day. Raising the price of food through higher import barriers designed to protect local farmers undermines these consumers’ real incomes and is probably a political non-starter. The only sustainable way to strengthen their food security while maintaining production incentives is to improve efficiency throughout the food system by improving “hard” and “soft” infrastructure.

Policy needs to focus on six areas to help West Africans capture the opportunities offered by the region’s evolving food demand:

  1. Improve the quality of public investment. More attention should focus on improving the performance of the off-farm elements of the food system (such as marketing, processing, packaging and logistics), which are increasingly under stress. At the farm level, public expenditures need to emphasise investments in infrastructure, technology development and farmer support services, rather than just input subsidies, to boost long-term productivity.
  2. Improve rural-urban linkages and intraregional trade. The strongest growth in demand for food will continue to come from urban areas, especially in coastal countries. Investments in transport, marketing infrastructure and regulatory reforms to improve market access, reduce post-harvest losses and expand input markets and support services in the rural hinterland will be critical in allowing West African farmers to capture a large share of this growing demand.
  3. Deepen regional integration. Free movement of goods and services reduces price volatility and allows the development of cross-border value chains. Moreover, to be competitive in a wide range of products with large global actors such as Brazil, China and India, West African agriculture needs to capture some of the scale economies those countries enjoy in agricultural research, input markets and technology development, among others.
  4. Build the skills base for West Africa’s food system in the 21st century. Transforming West Africa’s food system into a modern driver of economic growth will require a profoundly different set of skills than currently exist in most ECOWAS countries. Needed actions include strengthening basic literacy; linking curricula in primary and secondary schools to applications in farming and agro-industry; expanding vocational education programmes in the large range of technical skills needed by workers in a modern food system; attracting more girls to the sciences, given the important role that women play in West African agriculture; and broadening undergraduate university education in agricultural faculties to include fields such as food science, packaging and logistics.
  5. Improve policy co-ordination. Due to the growing importance of the off-farm segments of the food system and the environmental, nutritional and health implications of agricultural growth, food system policy-making needs to move beyond the traditional confines of agricultural ministries. Addressing many of the key constraints to more rapid and inclusive food system growth requires improved policy co-ordination and harmonisation between sectors, actors and along different levels of government, from supra-national to local levels.
  6. Improve policy implementation. Improving policy implementation means producing better data and a stronger evidence base for policies, investing in the capacities of key agencies and organisations charged with implementation, as well as ensuring the overall coherence of policies and programmes. The existence of robust national and regional private sector and civil-society stakeholder groups and a free press act as counterweights to inefficient policy implementation and rent seeking.

Useful links

Staatz, J. and F. Hollinger (2016), “West African Food Systems and Changing Consumer Demands”, West African Papers, No. 04, OECD Publishing, Paris

Agricultural growth in West Africa: Market and policy drivers. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and African Development Bank. French version: Croissance agricole en Afrique de l’Ouest: Facteurs déterminants de marché et de politique

The main sector of economic activity in West Africa consists of feeding its population  Laurent Bossard, Director, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat



Are Zero Road Deaths Possible?

Hans Michael Kloth, International Transport Forum (ITF). Today’s post is also being published on the ITF’s Transport Policy Matters blog.

Every year around the globe, 1.25 million people are killed in traffic – about the population of a city like Munich, Stockholm or Dallas. Up to 50 million are seriously injured. Road crashes kill more people than malaria or tuberculosis and are steadily working their way up the top ten causes of death worldwide, forecast to rise from currently ninth place to fifth by 2030. Among 15 to 29-year olds, they are already the most common cause of death. The human tragedies behind these stark figures are as dramatic as the economic impacts: Road fatalities and serious injuries cost many countries an estimated 2 to 5% of their GDP.

Clearly, this situation is unsustainable. The United Nations’ “Decade of Action for Road Safety”, launched in 2011 with the aim of stabilising the number of road fatalities and then beginning to bring them down by 2020, was an important step to acknowledging that action is required at a global level to stop the daily carnage on the world’s roads. Then, last year, the UN upped the ante by including an even more ambitious road safety target in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 3.6 calls on the international community to halve the number of road deaths and injuries by 2020.

But in order to meet this target, more than 400 road deaths would have to be prevented every single day for the next four years, not to speak of injuries. Yet with the number of cars growing rapidly in many emerging economies, so is the death toll there: Powerful, vehicles on inadequate roads, drivers with little training, inadequate rules and weak enforcement form a deadly mix that is not going to disappear easily.

A reboot for road safety policies

In developed economies, meanwhile, the downward trend that marked the past three decades (and saw the death toll in the UK, for instance, fall in 2015 to almost 20% of the 1966 peak) seems to be coming to an end: Fatality rates in many of the best-performing countries are levelling out and in some cases rising again, notably among vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists or seniors.  A reboot for road safety policy is thus urgently needed, as the approaches that brought success in the past no longer deliver the returns they once did, or are overwhelmed by an avalanche of cars.

Inspiration comes from a group of countries that have broken with the traditional paradigm in road safety, which is to fix crash hotspots and try to make road users behave more responsibly with a lot of stick and a few carrots. Nations like Sweden or the Netherlands, but also metropolises like New York City have made it their official policy to try to eradicate road deaths. This approach, known as “Vision Zero”, starts from the premise that the loss of human life as the price for mobility is unacceptable – and that the mobility system should thus function in a way that poses as few deadly risks as possible.

This approach has been followed for decades in areas like occupational safety, where machinery has long been designed in a “forgiving” way, so that if operators make a mistake it will not kill or maim them – think of a circular saw that stops automatically if a limb gets too close for comfort. This “Safe System” approach is not new to transport, either transport – aviation and rail operations would be unthinkable without it, as we would not want a single person’s mistake make a plane crash or trains collide.

Where humans err

Road traffic has yet to embrace the Safe System. Media stories regularly remind us that “human error” was the involved in this or that horror crash. Subtext: While all systems functioned, unfortunately the human didn’t, so there was nothing that could be done. Based on this view, governments spend billions on enforcement and the education of road users. But what is the price tag to get every single citizen to behave correctly all the time?  Achieving 100% compliance is of course impossible. Humans make mistakes even if they are well-trained, willing to follow rules and capable of doing so. All of us who have turned our head while at the wheel to see what the kids are doing on the back seat know this is true.

The Safe System approach that underpins “Vision Zero” accepts that humans will fail. From that principle, the challenge becomes to organise the traffic ecosystem in such a way that human mistakes do not cause serious harm. Here a second principle of the Safe System comes into play: The human body can only absorb a certain amount of kinetic energy before serious injuries occur. Again, a simple truth, too often disregarded. Taken seriously, it has wide implications for speed management, mixing traffic or designing infrastructure.

The third principle of the Safe System is shared responsibility. If the aim is to avoid serious harm, it’s just not good enough to blame the driver who hit a tree, or the elderly lady who stepped on the pedestrian crossing without looking. In a Safe System, the agency managing forestation understands that its actions can have an impact on road safety, as does the urban planner who will foresee speed bumps that force cars to slow down at crosswalks.

Will self-driving cars solve the road safety problem?

The fourth and final guiding principle for traffic as a Safe System is as straightforward: You cannot address road safety piecemeal. All parts of the system need to interlock to reinforce each other, so that when one part fails to break the chain of events leading to a serious incident, the others will still protect humans from injury or worse.

Technology will go a long way to making road traffic safer. Alco locks, automatic braking, intelligent speed assistance, electronic stability control and the like will make lethal errors less likely no doubt. Self-driving cars, many hope, will solve the road safety problem by making error-prone human drivers superfluous. But autonomous driving is not a silver bullet. Forecasts put sales of self-driving vehicles at 11.8 million or about 2.7% of the global car fleet in 2035. And the vast majority will be sold in developed world, while fully 90% of road fatalities occur in low- and middle income countries. The impact of self-driving cars on road safety will hardly be noticeable for another generation or more.

There are other misconceptions about how Vision Zero works. It does not mean, for instance, that there will be no more crashes. There might even be more, because the Safe System is focused on avoiding serious injuries, not necessarily accidents. Take roundabouts: It is not rare that there are more collisions at roundabouts than at standard intersections. But because they rarely involve impacts at a 90-degree angle and occur at lower speeds, far fewer severe injuries result.

Ultimately, can there really ever be zero road deaths? On a global level, probably not. But looking at individual segments it is already happening: There are at least three European cities with more than 250 000 inhabitants that have not had a single road fatality in over a year, according to German safety specialist Dekra. In Sweden, not a single child was killed in a bicycle accident in 2008. On this level, zero road deaths as a target is not utopian – and then: if it can be done for one group or region or make of car, it can probably also be done for others as well. If governments take the political lead and bring all those together who can and should make it happen, it can work.

Let’s give the Safe System a chance to save lives.

Useful links

Click to download the citation

Today, the ITF is being awarded a Prince Michael of Kent International Road Safety Award for “Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System” and its global road safety work. The report reviews the experiences of countries that have adopted Vision Zero and the Safe System and provides guidance for leaders who seek to drastically reduce road deaths in their communities.

Towards a Better Understanding of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR)

By Jennifer Sheahan, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC)

The time could not be more opportune to promote a better understanding of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) than now, during the 2016 Sahel and West Africa Week taking place from 12-16 December in Abuja, Nigeria. This is the single most important gathering of stakeholders to discuss food and nutrition security in the region. The week provides a fitting backdrop to review and discuss resilience action.

Between October and December 2016, 10.4 million people were identified as requiring food and nutrition assistance in the Sahel and West Africa. This situation is due to a combination of multiple, interconnected factors, including a lack of food availability, limited access to food and basic social services, and the effects of health and security issues. Over a number of decades, a proliferation of initiatives, projects and programmes of a development and humanitarian nature have emerged in the region to address food and nutrition insecurity. These initiatives, often implemented in an isolated, uncoordinated manner, outside of any overarching framework, have led to a duplication of efforts, a less than optimal use of resources and a source of competition between organisations.

Unifying Framework

The objective of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by building resilience among vulnerable populations. Recognising that no single stakeholder or sector alone can adequately address the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, AGIR promotes a collective and co-ordinated response from a range of stakeholders (inter-governmental organisations, government ministries, local governments, agricultural professional organisations, civil society and private sector actors, and technical and financial partners) across multiple sectors (agriculture, environment, health, education). AGIR brings all these stakeholders together, under a single, unifying framework, with a common objective and common terms of implementation, for greater, more effective impact. AGIR’s distinct unifying characteristic is underpinned by the political and technical leadership of the three regional organisations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS).  It is also supported by the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA), an international network for co-operation and co-ordination in the fight against food and nutrition insecurity. This solid institutional anchoring in the region, supported by the Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat at the OECD, is essential for the buy-in of all stakeholders.

AGIR’s unifying function is further consolidated by a shared definition of resilience. This avoids stakeholders conceptualising resilience in their own way, at an individual project or programme level, without taking into account what needs to be collectively achieved for lasting results: “the capacity of vulnerable households, families, communities and systems to face uncertainty and the risk of shocks, to withstand and respond effectively to shocks, as well as to recover and adapt in a sustainable manner.”

It is important to emphasise that AGIR is not another initiative, project or programme.  It is not a financial mechanism. Rather, it is a unifying framework to which all actors striving for food and nutrition security in the region may adhere.

Regional Roadmap

To translate commitment into action, AGIR sets out its terms of implementation in a Regional Roadmap based on four pillars: improving social protection, strengthening nutrition, improving food production and income levels, and strengthening governance in food and nutrition security.

Across all four pillars, AGIR focuses stakeholder efforts on a common target: vulnerable populations, identified as lacking the most basic resources to protect their lives and livelihoods. These are poor and marginalised agricultural households, agro-pastoralists, artisan fishermen and poor urban and rural households in the informal economy.

Participatory Process

AGIR seeks to ensure that resilience is at the heart of national food and nutrition security policies; this is done through a “National Inclusive Dialogue” process bringing together stakeholders from different sectors to formulate “National Resilience Priorities”. This process involves a series of steps:

Step 1: review and identify existing policies and programmes that contribute to resilience and therefore the objectives of AGIR in terms of target populations and expected results;

Step 2: identify national priorities contributing to resilience and the assessment of the different stages of their implementation; and

Step 3: identify any gaps, such as in policies that need to be developed or strengthened to contribute to the resilience priorities previously identified, including the funding required to fill these gaps in terms of amounts and sources.

National Resilience Priorities are drawn from existing policies; it is this fundamental part of the process that is often misunderstood. Governments are not required to re-invent the wheel nor are they required to create parallel structures. The process is supported by existing policies, frameworks and network arrangements in different countries (e.g. Scaling Up Nutrition [SUN], Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition [REACH], National Agricultural Investment Plans [NAIPs]).

For AGIR to be successful, however, countries must take full national ownership of the process. This requires identifying and implementing National Resilience Priorities that are tailored to national needs. Countries must build consensus on the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity, the specific populations targeted and the expected results. Countries also must agree on concrete, operational arrangements with regard to funding, implementation and collectively monitoring and evaluating the National Resilience Priorities, at national and local levels. AGIR provides these operational frameworks to support national governments. It also facilitates dialogue between stakeholders to encourage more effective, collective action on resilience.

Progress in formulating and implementing National Resilience Priorities is reviewed twice a year by the AGIR Senior Experts’ Group. The Group also discusses opportunities for stakeholders to strengthen co-ordination. This unified approach to channelling stakeholder action under a single framework to address food and nutrition insecurity is the foundation upon which AGIR is built.

Paving the Way Forward

The progress made by AGIR to date is encouraging; eight out of the region’s 17 countries have validated their National Resilience Priorities. Three others are pending validation, and the six remaining countries are in the start-up stage of the process. Despite the progress made in policy-making, a lack of co-ordination persists on the ground. Without a clear view and understanding by all stakeholders of what exactly is being implemented, the lack of co-ordination will prevail.

In tackling this challenge, one of the crucial next steps for AGIR is to carry out a detailed inventory of food and nutrition security and resilience interventions in the region. The inventory will be made available to stakeholders via an online mapping tool, paving the way for better, more effective co-ordination. It will allow for clear lines of ownership and responsibilities to be identified and established, thereby reducing duplication. This next step will bolster AGIR as a unifying framework, furthering the common objective of stakeholders to build resilience to a far greater extent than any single programme or project can achieve by working in isolation.

Useful links

More from SWAC on OECD Insights

PISA quiz: How much do you know about what we know about science education?

pisa-2015Knowledge is already one of the main drivers of today’s economic system. In the future those nations, regions, and even local areas that succeed best will be those capable of capturing the benefits of scientific and technical innovations and transforming them into marketable goods and services in the face of global competition.  But an understanding of science and technology is necessary not only for those whose livelihood depends on it directly, but also for any citizen who wishes to make informed choices about issues ranging from stem cell research to global warming to genetically modified organisms to teaching the theory of evolution in schools. And new issues are bound to emerge in the years to come. The education system is vital to this, training the scientists, engineers and technicians who constitute the “human capital” of an increasingly fast changing, knowledge-intensive economy, and teaching students how to think about science.

Science literacy is the focus of the latest PISA round, based on data collected in 2015 from around 540,000 students in 74 countries and economies. PISA defines science literacy as “the ability to engage with science-related issues, and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen. A scientifically literate person is willing to engage in reasoned discourse about science and technology, which requires the competencies to explain phenomena scientifically, evaluate and design scientific enquiry, and interpret data and evidence scientifically”.

How much has changed since the last science-focused round in 2006 and how much do you know about what we know about science in schools? Take the quiz and find out. You can find some of the answers on the interactive infographic below.



The Economy of Influence: Integrity for Inclusive Growth

Rolf Alter, Director of the OECD Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate @raltergov. Today is UN Anti-Corruption Day

Integrity can significantly boost inclusive growth and sustainable development, by assuring fair and efficient resource allocation, stimulating competition and investment, and fostering innovation. Curbing bribery of public officials and promoting responsible business conduct is important to create a level playing field for companies and to create equitable market conditions and an investment climate that provides fertile ground for business development, competition and innovation. For the public interest to prevail in policy making, accountability and integrity in revenue collection, public finance management and service delivery are crucial and encourage equality and prosperity of societies.

International Anti-corruption Day provides an occasion to zoom in on one factor within this debate that remains particularly unexplored: corruption and the capture of public policies by special interest groups. There is increasing evidence that voters feel disillusioned about political integrity and the intertwinement of elite networks across sectors in society. Indeed, less visible but equally or more harmful than corruption scandals is the influence of narrow interests on public decision making for their own profit. Lobbyists walk a thin line between sharing information, agenda setting and undue influence. Special interest groups inform, influence and sometimes tweak laws, policies and regulations through formal advisory boards and informal networks. Rules for the financing of political parties and electoral campaigns can be stretched and bent, which contributes to the erosion of the already alarming low trust levels in government and public institutions. Similarly, leaks on offshore tax evasion or former public officials taking up lucrative posts and board memberships in banks and multinationals have dented the reputation of elected politicians, established firms and respected countries.

The public sentiment runs deep. Over half of the citizens in developed countries distrust their government and a yawning trust gap is emerging between the elite and mass populations. Among the key factors cited by citizens to explain the prevailing distrust are “wrong incentives driving policies” and “corruption/fraud”. While levels of trust in government are low, trust in political parties is even lower. In addition, over half of the global population share the belief that their country’s government is either largely or entirely run by a few big entities acting in their own best interests.

Undue influence of narrow interest dogs public investments and infrastructure, public procurement, governance of state-owned enterprises and even trade policy. Economic growth is at stake and the toll on society is already significant. The close ties between the government, financial regulators and the financial sector, exemplified by “job carrousels”, have been widely linked to the 2008 financial and economic crisis. Moreover, ill-inspired filibustering unnecessarily delays policy reforms on tax, trade or market liberalisation. Biased policy decisions may greatly affect trade restrictions that modify the outlook of an entire sector or industry, and can hinder the diffusion of new technologies or the chances of new industry players. Corruption also leads directly to the misallocation of resources in government spending. Crossing the line towards favouritism and bribery in public procurement creates unequal access to information and government contracts, which distorts competition and market access.

Building on two decades of OECD experience in these risk areas, the new Recommendation on Public Integrity is particularly timely, as it presents a holistic approach to boost integrity in government and in society. The Recommendation promotes a risk-based approach with emphasis in promoting a cultural change. So what does this mean in practice?

It means creating a public integrity system that is built on 3 pillars. The first pillar is the system: creating a coherent and interconnected set of integrity policies and anti-corruption tools that are coordinated and avoid overlaps and gaps. Second, this integrity system needs to rely on effective accountability, building on risk based controls and real responsibility for integrity violations. This also implies transparency, open government, as was highlighted during the OECD Global Forum on Public Governance, and active participation by civil society in the public decision-making process. The third pillar of an integrity system provides for cultivating a culture of integrity. Here we refer to the recruitment, training and promotion of values of the individuals in an organisation. The intention is to appeal to the intrinsic motivation of individuals. One way of doing this is through awareness raising and educational campaigns aimed at changing values.

The 2017 OECD Global Anti-Corruption & Integrity Forum, to be held on 30 -31 March will debate and shape strategies to shield policy making from undue influence and corruption and help secure sustainable inclusive growth. It is a truly global multi-stakeholder event, involving the public and private sectors, civil society, and academia. Sectoral case studies and good practice examples from countries worldwide will further enrich the debates. The Forum will provide a platform to present new evidence and insights, to advance policies and programmes, and to strengthen commitments and partnerships for integrity-based politics and decision making.

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