How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?

(From the Law and Development blog)

Michael Woolcock, World Bank - Development Research Group, Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government, Simon Szreter, World Bank and Vijayendra Rao, World Bank have an interesting new paper that ask How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?

ABSTRACT: The consensus among scholars and policymakers that"institutions matter"for development has led inexorably to a conclusion that"history matters,"since institutions clearly form and evolve over time. Unfortunately, however, the next logical step has not yet been taken, which is to recognize that historians (and not only economic historians) might also have useful and distinctive insights to offer. This paper endeavors to open and sustain a constructive dialogue between history -- understood as both"the past"and"the discipline"-- and development policy by (a) clarifying what the craft of historical scholarship entails, especially as it pertains to understanding causal mechanisms, contexts, and complex processes of institutional change; (b) providing examples of historical research that support, qualify, or challenge the most influential research (by economists and economic historians) in contemporary development policy; and (c) offering some general principles and specific implications that historians, on the basis of the distinctive content and method of their research, bring to development policy debates.

berkman Series: Becoming a Networked Nonprofit

Tuesday, October 5, 12:30 pm

Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor
Many nonprofit organizations have dipped their toes into the set-me-free world powered by social media, but too many still have trepidations about turning their organizations inside out to take full advantage of the new tools. The Networked Nonprofit, a new bestselling book by leading bloggers and thinkers, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, enables organizations to overcome their fears of losing control and evolve to meet the informational and cultural needs of today's donors and volunteers. In their research, Allison and Beth discovered that the organizations that are immersed in social media — whether they are created that way or are becoming so — look and act more like social organizations than traditional organizations. They will discuss the myths and realities that make organizations leery of opening themselves up, and they’ll share specific stories of how other organizations have been successful in doing so. 

Legal Institutions and Economic Development

Thorsten Beck (Tilburg - Economics) has a new paper on Legal Institutions and Economic Development.

ABSTRACT: Legal institutions are critical for the development of market-based economies. This paper defines legal institutions and discusses different indicators to measure their quality and efficiency. It surveys a large historical and empirical literature showing the importance of legal institutions in explaining cross-country variation in economic development. Finally, it presents and discusses three different views of why we can observe the large cross-country variation in legal institutions, the social conflict, the legal origin and the culture and religion hypotheses.

Berkman Event: I'm in the Database, but Nobody Knows

Tuesday, September 28, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floorRSVP required for those attending in person (

This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.
Co-hosted by Harvard's Center for Research on Computation and Society

A statistical database provides statistical information about a population, while maintaining the privacy of individuals in the database. A popular interpretation of this statement, due to Dalenius, says that "anything learnable about an individual, given access to the database, can be learned without access to the database." In non-technical terms, we will discuss why any such definition is problematic, and suggest an alternate notion of privacy for statistical databases, differential privacy, that arises naturally from an observation about the impossibility argument.

A thriving research effort has produced high-quality differentially private solutions for a wide range of data analysis tasks. We will try to give a feel for the broad spectrum of things that can be done by accessing information through a privacy-preserving programming interface. Finally, we will touch on some privacy problems arising in the context of behavioral targeting that are not addressed by this approach, and pose some questions about mitigation.

Attended USIP's Awesome Rule of Law Course

I recently attended the USIP's Rule of Law Course in Washington DC this past month and it was an excellent overview about the confusing and overlapping (and sometime contentious) field of 'Rule of Law', which we also know as 'Law and Development'. Piloted just this year, and highly recommended, for the curriculum, the networking opportunities and the wonderful staff at USIP (like Vivienne O'Connor)

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP), (from it's official literature) is "an independent, nonpartisan organization, created and funded by Congress to prevent and resolve violent international conflicts. USIP’s mission is to increase the United States’ capacity to manage international conflict—to think, act, teach, and train. It uses its convening power to bring together diverse communities to devise practical approaches to peacebuilding"

Three Important Nonprofit Operations Manuals

Heather Carpenter, a colleague and my personal guru for nonprofit operations (ie intentional operations) in the US, has a very useful blog called Nonprofit Leadership 601. As I slowly set up operations here, I am reminded to adopt and adapt best practices. Her following post, which you can also find on her blog here, lists three important manuals with templates and samples. As I apply them to the work at hand, I will blog more about what I can adapt here and what might be too operationally or culturally different to use here.

Three VERY IMPORTANT Manuals for Nonprofit Organizations

Many times I've blogged about the importance of nonprofit operations. Ever so often accounting, human resources, and technology practices get pushed aside in a nonprofit organization because program work is prioritized as being more important. This is fine and dandy until a crisis occurs, like someone embezzles money from the organization or a disgruntled employee sues the organization. These types of things happen more often than not. That is why it is important to put the proper operations policies and procedures in place ahead of time to prevent these horrible things from happening.

Whether you run a new nonprofit or your nonprofit has been around for years, I recommend that EVERY nonprofit implement and actively use these three manuals in their organizations:

Accounting manual
Employment manual
General operations manual