Speak Truth to Power

What IDG Stands For and How We Work

From David Snelbecker, our CEO

IDG’s values and our approach to our international development work can be summed up by the commitment to “Speak Truth to Power.” We use economics, analytics, and empiricism to try to identify development truths: which development solutions work and which do not. We then communicate these truths, evidence, and facts to our clients and counterparts so they can improve development outcomes.

In implementing economic development projects, this means bringing proven best practices for public financial management, trade, regulation of the economy, private-sector development, etc., to our counterparts. It means providing training to counterparts in cost-benefit analysis or other analytical methods, so counterparts have the skills for evidence-based policymaking. Often this work requires understanding a country’s political economy and trying to build understanding and political consensus for adopting better policies in place of policies that serve certain vested interests to the detriment of society as a whole.

In conducting monitoring and evaluation, we endeavor to use rigorous methodologies, from qualitative key informant interviews to complex quantitative methodologies of quasi-experimental design or randomized controlled trials, to generate evidence that shows which development programs work and which do not. Then our teams communicate results to counterparts and clients to inform learning and adaptive management, even when the results show that programs are failing to achieve results.

We apply these same principles to the management of our projects. We carefully monitor and manage our own project implementation performance, and any problems identified we promptly report to our clients so we can jointly fix them.

“Speak truth to power” is a principle rooted, first, in the basic Enlightenment ideas of truth, facts, science, and empiricism, and second, in a political philosophy that governance yields the best results when policies result from a free, open, and spirited exchange of ideas and conclusions drawn from evidence. This is the political philosophy behind the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; this is John Stuart Mill’s idea that liberty and freedom of speech allow for an exchange of ideas that is essential for social progress; and this is the essence of Karl Popper’s Open Society—a view that societies that pursue truth and speak it freely best achieve both peace and prosperity. By advocating speaking truth to power in our work, we not only seek to promote good development solutions, but we also aim to improve governance in the countries where we work by helping them to embrace an open exchange of ideas and evidence-based policymaking.

These are fundamental challenges for any society—for the developing countries where we work, and for the United States, where our company is based and where these ideas in recent years have increasingly been under threat.

In valuing speaking truth to power, we do not intend to suggest that development truths are something that internationals bring into developing countries and present to developing country citizens. On the contrary, particularly as we aim to promote the “decolonization of development,” it is important to acknowledge that development truths can be uncovered anywhere—in developing countries or in developed countries. And they can be uncovered by anyone looking for them—by national experts in a developing country, or by international experts from other developed or developing countries, or by non-experts learning through experience. The more diverse a team of individuals working on development challenges, the broader their perspectives and the more likely they will discover development truths and formulate development solutions.

IDG field teams and the home office apply these basic principles to how we formulate our advice, how we implement our projects, how we engage with our clients and counterparts, and how we run our organization. These principles guide our work and drive the results we achieve.