The whole idea of searching is that you never quite know if you are getting it right. You need constant feedback from the intended targets of your efforts, to keep adjusting and re-adjusting. This is my motivation for criticizing aid, to try to induce it to change in response to criticism on things that are clearly wrong. And this is why I myself need to listen to my own critics. The blogosphere has recently been a bit hot about my approach in this blog. Commentators on a previous critique strongly endorsed the critique of Aid Watch or strongly opposed it and supported Aid Watch. Another critique from a blog by Siena Antsis:
Perhaps Aid Watch was meant as an outlet for shallow satire among the occasional interesting link and comment. ...Whatever the reason, I personally (along with others and others) find this approach to critiquing the aid industry (which sometimes seems lazy) not terribly helpful and rather discouraging.
Alanna Sheikh offers her very welcome and judicious thoughts in a post "Is Bill Easterly useless?",
I see both sides. I think that Prof. Easterly is too quick to blame aid agencies and NGOs for problems that are systemic. He blames individual actors for doing things that are incentivized by the development industry. I would like him to write and think more about fixing the system than attacking the individual organizations. And I agree that his tone can be snarky to a degree that stops being funny and makes you tune the post out.
On the other hand, the system needs someone who will speak truth to power (or, in this case, development money.) And I know from my own experience that the blunter and snarkier you are when writing about development, the more people listen.
I'm listening. First, while I believe a critic should use a variety of tools in a critique -- reason, logic, evidence, Economics 101, anger, humor, satire, snark, compassion, evaluation of individual projects and organizations, and systemic analysis -- it's also important to get the mix right. The feedback I hear is that I have recently gone too far in the satire/snark dimension and am not using enough the other dimensions, and I need to adjust.
Second, I need to make much more clear that I have enormous respect for aid workers in the field who do very hard work in very hard places. I agree with Alanna that dysfunctional aid is mainly the result of bureacracies with bad political incentives, and not the personal failings of individuals. Although I don't have rigorous evidence for this, years of casual observation suggest that field workers are more likely themselves to be Searchers, while it's the HQ executives who play politics and become ineffective Planners.
Keep the feedback coming, the search will continue...