restore the capacity for effective and responsible action in a world we no
longer understand and cannot control”
That’s how IFF expressed its mission statement all of 20 years ago when it held its first three-day session – remembered here.
Coincidentally, a whole world away in Uzbekistan, I was at that very moment completing a short paper exploring 5 questions –
· why I was pessimistic about the future and so unhappy with the activities of the programmes and organisations with whom I dealt – and with what the French have called La Pensee Unique, the post 1989 “Washington consensus”
· who were the people I admired
· what they were achieving - and what not
· how these gaps could be reduced
· how with my resources I could help that process
That paper was called “Window of opportunity for ordinary people” which morphed after a few years into the 30-odd page “A Draft Guide for the Perplexed” (2013) - incorporating a friend’s feedback and further thoughts and notes. Since then the thought-piece has got out of hand – with a slimmed-down version being available here
Needless to say, I am no closer to answering particularly the last of the five questions! I still don’t know where to put what time, energy and resources I have left remaining to me…..Whereas a body such as the International Futures Forum (IFF) has used that time to develop very strongly – as you will see from their rich website. There’s a lesson in there somewhere..
I was able this morning to take part in a zoom meeting to which IFF had kindly invited me – my first ever such zoom meeting.
I must confess I froze a bit when we were invited to share something about ourselves and our expectations….What we say in such moments is generally so meaningless – a combination of self-promotion, buzzwords and flattery
I naturally mentioned the capacity development work I had been doing since 1990 in about 10 countries - but failed to mention the path-breaking strategic work I had been doing since 1975. Nor did I share just how important my writing is – the various efforts I’ve made to make sense of the reform of the State….or of the breakdown of our current economic system (the “Dispatches” doc in the list of E-books in the top-right corner)
IFF are in the business of helping organisations face up to the challenges of the future – which raises several fundamental questions viz –
- How can this be most honestly done?
- What are the pitfalls to avoid?
- Where has this most clearly been written about?
As you might expect, I can answer the last question most easily. Two books spring immediately to mind – Can we Know Better? Reflections for development by Robert Chambers (2017) one of the best writers in the development field; and The Collected Papers of Roger Harrison, a rare organisational consultant willing to share his concerns.
Organisational consultants don’t have a good reputation – too many charlatans have spoiled their pitch as spelled out in at least two highly critical studies “Management Gurus” by Andrzej Huczynszki (1993); and “The Witch Doctors” by Micklewait and Woolridge (1996) which suggest a world of senior executives subject to fads and fashions and given to imposing their will on the work force in an autocratic way. This is even more likely to happen in public bureaucracies which have the additional problem of a political layer on top.
Development writers emerge as the most thoughtful of the bunch – with the OECD publishing a couple of interesting guides to the field a few years ago
Supporting small steps – a rough guide for developmental professionals (Nick Manning; OECD 2015)
A Governance Practitioner’s Notebook – alternative ideas and approaches (Whaites et al OECD 2015)