Looking back at 2019

It is the last day of the year and the temperature is dropping fast here in Hyväsalmi, in Eastern Finland. The ice on the lake had started to melt during the last couple of days but is now getting thicker again. I went down to the lake earlier on to take this photo of the last sunset of the year and of the decade.

The last sunset of the year, Hyväsalmi (Finland)

I could hear sounds coming from the water trapped under the ice. Strange sounds. Deep bubbling and ice cracking and moving. Some sounds were close to where I was standing. Some came from far away, transmitted with an echo along the ice and across the forest.

The end of the year is few hours away and it is almost inevitable not to think about the last 12 months. The things I have learned from the colleagues I have worked with. The ideas we have had, some of which we will continue to develop in the new year.

A discussion paper on the Fourth Industrial Revolution


The year begun with the publication of this working paper which I co-wrote with Maria Malho (Demos Helsinki), Vanesa Weyrauch (Politics & Ideas), Fred Carden (Using Evidence) and with the assistance and support from Helvetas and in collaboration with Southern Voice and UNESCO Uruguay. The paper suggests some of the questions that we think underpin the changes that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, through automation, AI, big data, Internet of Thing, etc., will bring (and is already bringing) to policy making processes and governance systems. While a lot of research has gone into how automation will change industries and production capabilities, little research has been carried about the changes in policy and governance and the how countries (high income, middle income, low income) should prepare to adapt their policy making and administrative capabilities to the new digital technologies and, at the same time, tackle the three main problems of our times: inequality, climate change, and the impact of automation on jobs. I plan to continue investigate these issues in the new year.

The sub-national governance reform and climate resilience in Nepal

I was back in Nepal for two projects: one with The Asia Foundation (Strategic Partnership on Sub-national Governance Program) and one with ODI and Itad (BRACED). The governance reform that began after the promulgation of the new Constitution in September 2015 has been defined as a ‘radical experiment’, which followed 10 years of Maoist insurgency between 1996 and 2006. This was a difficult period, which included progressive restructuring of State institutions, the abolition of the monarchy, and a massive earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April 2015. The new Constitution mandates the transition of Nepal from a centralised unitary state to a federal country with three tiers of government: a federal government at the centre, seven provincial governments, and local governments. The passing of the Constitution was an important milestone that raised enormous expectations, among citizens, for a rapid transition to federalism. There have been important successes over the last four years in implementing the mandates of the Constitution, in particular the definition of the 753 new local government units and the first local elections since 1997 which took place May and September 2017 electing 35,041 local government representatives. Some of the main challenges that law makers and policy makers tackled which contribute to the slow progress of federalism relate to the need to revise hundreds of laws, policies and procedures. Another area where there continues to be considerable uncertainty is the delegation, from national level, of significant decision-making power as well as autonomy over raising and spending revenue to sub-national ministries.

The knowledge system in Cambodia

Photo by Thavry Em on Unsplash

I was back in Cambodia working on a study on the knowledge system for public policy for The Asia Foundation. I lived in Cambodia from 2001-2005. My PhD is on the decentralisation of the education sector in Cambodia. I had not been back since 2010. I found Phnom Penh very different from how I remember it. More traffic. High rising buildings. Construction sites in several part of the city. Other cities are also being transformed by the influx of foreign capital. At the same time, I wondered whether life has changed much for the people who live in the villages in the most remote districts. This time I stayed only few days and only in Phnom Penh but it would be interesting to explore what changes have occurred in the provinces and in the province where I lived, Kampong Thom. How and what types of knowledge inform the decisions of the commune councils which were elected for the first time in 2001 when I had just arrived in Cambodia.

Universities and the higher education system in Somalia

Somalia National University

I have led a study for the Swedish International Development Agency on the higher education sector in Somalia. I collaborated with a team of colleagues based in London and in Somalia. The study was completed in the end of the year and we are in the process of producing the report layout. The report will be presented in the beginning of the 2020. Higher education is usually the part of the education system that takes most to recover from a conflict. This is because the government and international development partners tend, with good reasons, to support the recovery of the basic education systems first. Somalia and its education system were new for me. However, when working on the data collection, analysis, and then the report writing it reminded me in some ways to my PhD research on the education system in Cambodia. The destruction of all the education infrastructure throughout the the civil war, the Khmer Rouge regime, and the warfare that followed the 10 years occupation by Vietnamese forces. I remember a quote I used in my PhD which said that when the Vietnamese backed government (the People\’s Republic of Kampuchea) was established following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, there were just 300 people with some level of education who survived the Khmer Rouge regime to begin rebuild the state institutions. Just 300 people. Somalia has a very different history, politics, context, but the struggle to rebuild the human capital to manage and develop the higher education system and the state institutions have some similarities for me.

The political economy of the use of evidence in public policy in Pakistan

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad (My photo)

I was in Pakistan twice this year. I am involved with three local organisations (SDPI, Tabadlab, and Sparc) in a very interesting political economy study of the demand and use of knowledge in three sectors: economic policy and planning, education and employment, and child labour. The study will continue until the end of March 2020. What is really interesting in this project is the opportunity that we have to apply a problem-driven approach to understand why things are the way they are in terms of using research, data, analysis, etc. to inform policy decisions. The political economy lens helps us keep a focus on the politics, think first about problems, and avoid starting from pre-determined solutions.

In September, the company we have set up here in Finland, Capability, became one year old.

During this year I have continued my work and collaboration as Associate Editor with the journal Evidence and Policy. I continue as a member of the EduKnow research group at Tampere University, but the dates of meeting and my travelling schedule did not fit well. I will try to make the dates to work better in the new year. I have taught in the spring and autumn two classes at the Master\’s Degree Programme in Education and Globalisation at the University of Oulu where i discussed with the students some of the main theories of economic development (below).


There was of course more I could have written. It was great to discuss projects, ideas, share findings, and learn from colleagues at ODI, INASP, Itad, Helvetas, Demos Helsinki, Politics & Ideas, The Asia Foundation, SIDA, DFID, OPM, Global Development Network, etc. Thank you to you all. A special thank to all of you who made time to be interviewed for this blog. Click to the blogposts to read and listen to the interviews that I have published during the year.

It is getting late and I need to start preparing the wood and fetch the water from the lake for the sauna. I will post this tomorrow with the photo from the first day of the new year, a year where I want to continue to learn as I did this year, publish interviews, and explore the changes that digital technologies and policy innovations are bringing to governance systems around the world.

Happy new year!

First of January, Hyväsalmi (Finland)

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