Jun 01 2009

A broad framework

by at 3:35 pm under Uncategorized

I have argued strongly in previous posts that no one-size-fits-all development project exists because terms must be tailored to individual populations. Yet there is a broad framework that all development practitioners should abide by; doing so helps appropriately tailor projects without prescribing, for instances, steps that would work in Uzbekistan but not Uganda. Three guidelines for approaching development are: respecting the notion of incremental change; recognizing the integrative nature of development that does not ignore the reality of networks; and creating adaptive development projects that respond to changing needs of the population.

According to North, change – whether in formal or informal institutions – comes incrementally, and he is correct. Laws can be changed overnight, while attitudes, values and actions take much longer. Consider South Africa, which has broad protections guaranteed in its constitution; it is one of the few countries that specifically protects gays and lesbians. Yet homosexuals continue to come under attack, specifically targeted for their sexual orientation.

The South Africa example lends credence to North’s arguments about incremental change. Development practitioners must remember this truth about change and work with it, not against it. A project that tries to radically veer from the accepted norms of a population likely will be met with resistance, unpopularity and questions about legitimacy. Instead, development should be viewed as progress toward an end goal. For instance, the steps in obtaining education for girls in Pakistan do not immediately jump to coed schools taught by teachers of both genders; instead, girls are educated separately and by females. This model respects the culture of Pakistan, as well as the incremental change in attitudes toward educating girls.

Second, development practitioners must take into account network realities. As North argues, government action helps shape the economy and institutions. This can prove tricky in developing countries whose governments are in disarray. But development projects need not kowtow to individuals who are looking out for their best interests. Rather, practitioners should approach development with the realization of this reality. How projects will respond depends entirely on local conditions, but development practitioners should keep the “prisoner’s dilemma” in mind – action is much more likely to occur over time, with multiple interactions and therefore trust. Development very rarely, if ever, involves only one institution, agency or sector and is most effective when practitioners recognize the network for what it is and use it to their advantage to accomplish development.

Third, while change may be incremental, it does occur. Development projects must be adaptive both to changing local needs and institutions. North is a big believer in looking at history to predict the future, but his approach can be problematic because it is on a global scale. The current technology revolution makes using history to predict the future harder still because it adds layers to globalization, transparency and network complexity.

Still, change is occurring and development practitioners must be able to adapt. While there are no certain guidelines for what changes may occur, development practitioners can be sure that institutions in developing countries, some with very new post-colonial governments, will change. Establishing a strong presence in communities, gaining trust and strengthening network connections are vital for successful development. Doing so will clue in development practitioners when change is occurring and help them not to fall behind the times.

These are only three broad guidelines in designing effective development policy, but without them, projects will fail to meet local needs – and therefore fail altogether. The guidelines purposefully are general because I believe they are too often overlooked when designing development projects; competing interests get in the way and local populations are not given enough of a voice. But this framework can help design better, more efficient and more responsive development that works with, not against, reality, while leaving room to tailor projects specific to the population targeted.

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