Perhaps lost in the shadow of the debate over whether President Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize were the implications for international development policy and strategy of the thinking and work by one of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Economic Science.

In recent times - particularly in Europe but maybe also growing in the USA - there appears to have been a significant emphasis on prioritising the creation of strong, sustainable governments and States as the corner stone required for effective development action across a range of issues. This was the focus of the recent "Government Rules" blog post.


The rationale for this has sometimes been described as a reaction against the perceived failings of a civil society-focused strategy - though I am not sure that any such strategy or investment priority actually existed, in reality.


The learned sage for this (return) to a focus on governments is Paul Collier with his extremely popular book - The Bottom Billion. In essence, Collier argues for three things to make significant progress to dramatically reduce the numbers of people living in poverty: i) military interventions in very serious conflict situations; ii) improved governance of countries and parts of those countries through mechanisms such as new laws, statutes, and charters for improved democracy and stable states; and iii) trade policy reforms related to the opportunities for poorest countries to trade their goods and services.


Inherent in the Collier approach is a belief in markets and regulations. An effective State needs improved laws and the enforcement of those laws. In essence, these will provide a more stable and consistent base for the markets to operate in those countries. From that stable base the required economic action will flow. This economic action will produce the revenue and capital required for substantive and sustainable impacts on poverty. A reform of the global trade rules to, at best, give the economically poorest countries a "fair go", and, hopefully, to give them some advantages, will provide another set of regulations that will help. There is an undercurrent of private economic activity that runs through the Collier analysis and prescription. In many ways it is a very conventional approach.


And then along comes the Nobel Prize for Economics committee, which gives its 2009 Prize to an economist - Dr Elinor Ostrom - whose views were summarised in the leading Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, in this way:


"Dr. Ostrom's research, and her celebrated publication, Governing the Commons, challenged the prevailing wisdom that the best way to manage something is to privatize it or regulate it...By the late 1950s, as a graduate student, she became fascinated by an emerging problem in California - the water supply. But what grabbed her attention wasn't the supply itself, but the group of citizens who rallied together and went to court to ensure that salt water wasn't infiltrating the city's water basin...She took her observations on collectives and applied them to all sorts of problems: how lobster fisherman came together to manage stocks, and how groups - not governments or companies - oversaw forests, lakes and fish."


Much of the work for which she received the Nobel Prize for Economic Science related to Nepal and the effective, efficient, and productive collective and communal management of water resources by local communities.


This is a very different strategy to that outlined by Collier or related agencies such as the World Bank. There is an emphasis here on people getting organised, not rules and regulations and governments. Inherent in the Ostrom analysis is the need for strategies that support people to organise themselves related to their own communal interest, rather than an exclusive focus on creating better conditions in which markets can operate. Good governance is seen not just as the establishment of a single, universally applied political process, with common rules, etc., but as support for local communities to gather and organise relative to their context, issues, and requirements. Rules and regulations should emerge from those experiences, not arrive externally to shape them.


From a media and development communication perspective the difference in approach is very significant. The Collier and Ostrom approaches require very different strategies.


Collier probably demands a process that is focused on holding accountable elected representatives and government officials and giving prominence to the "experts" who know how things can work better and can inform and convince populations to follow and implement their views.


The Ostrom approach probably requires a communication and media development strategy that supports people and communities to organise related to their requirements and to have their voices and ideas given prominence and priority.


Sadly, I have not seen much debate in development circles on these important issues. Maybe they are not - as I have tried to show - conflicting approaches; perhaps they are complementary? It would be good to hear that case.


What do you think?