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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Power - the elephant in the room

My field of endeavour over the past half century has been “development” – but not of the international sort. I started with “community development”, moved through different types of urban and regional development to a type of organizational development; then left Britain’s shores and found myself dealing more with what is now called “institutional development” and, latterly, “capacity development”……
I have to report that the development world is…..full of funding bodies, Think Tanks and prolific writers – and that you have to crawl through a lot of shit to find any pearls of wisdom.

Robert Chambers (as the link shows) is one of the few guys worth listening to on the subject. For 40 plus years he has worked with rural people in the world’s poorest areas and shamed the “powers that be” to let ordinary people speak and take their own initiatives.  
 What follows is a table from his great book - Ideas for Development (2005) which captures what professionals in the field feel they have learned in those 40-odd years (and, no, I do not think it is too cynical to think that perhaps the one they have learned is a bigger vocabulary!!)
Four approaches to development
1. Benevolent
2. Participatory
3. Rights-based
4. Obligation-based
Core concept
Doing good
Rights of “have-nots”
Obligations of “haves”
Dominant mode

Relationships of donors to recipients
Stakeholders seen as
Guides, teachers
Upward to aid agency
Upward with some downward
Bureaucratic conformity
More acceptance of diversity
Negotiated, evolutionary
Organizational drivers
Pressure to disburse
Balance between disbursement and results
Pressure for results
Expectations of responsible use of discretion

One of Chambers’ early books was titled, memorably, “Putting the Last First”. As you would expect from such a title, his approach is highly critical of external technical experts and of the way even “participatory” efforts are dominated by them.
The unease some of us have been increasingly feeling about administrative reform in transition countries is well explained in that table. The practice of technical assistance in reshaping state structures in transition countries is stuck at the first stage (eg the pressure to disburse in the EC Structural Funds programmes!!) – although the rhetoric of “local ownership” of the past decade or so has moved the thinking to the second column.

Mention of vocabulary prompts me to put a plug in for my Just Words - a glossary and bibliography for the fight against the pretensions and perversities of power. Also well worth looking at is -

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