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July 14, 2004

the Institute of Development Studies

Almost two weeks ago, I attended meetings at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (England). I'll write about the content of those meetings at some later point. For now, I'd simply like to draw attention to IDS as an institution--and what it represents. The Institute says that it employs "some 40 full-time Fellows [and] nearly 20 Research Officers and Research Assistants." It also enrolls more than 110 graduate students, almost all experienced, mid-career people from the developing world. That's an enormous number of mature and sophisticated people who have come together to study and conduct research on international development. Core funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) keeps the place afloat.

DFID's American counterpart, AID, makes no such investment in research. Should it? IDS alone has an annual budget of about $22 million. That's money that could otherwise directly assist poor people around the world. However, the bulk of development assistance since World War II has been counterproductive and sometimes even catastrophic. Some has been badly intentioned--designed to prop up dictators or to subsidize special interests in the donor country. But even the well-intentioned aid has often been very unwise. So it seems to me that research is essential; we need to know what works before we spend millions.

Of course, everything depends on whether the research is good. A center could spend $22 million a year on jargon and fads. Some of the foolish aid decisions of the past were bolstered by sophisticated-looking academic research. My impression of the current work at IDS is extremely favorable, partly because there's so much consultation with the poor themselves.

Posted by peterlevine at July 14, 2004 11:53 AM

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