Entries tagged with “hope”.


Tom over at A View from the Cave has a really interesting observation at the end of his post on the Mortensen scandal the other day:

I have been conducting interviews with the Knowledge Management team with UNICEF and the one today go to discussing the access of information. I was struck when the gentleman I was interviewing said, “There are hundreds of offices and thousands of people in UNICEF. Any idea that I come with has likely been already done by 50 people and better than what I had imagined.” We need to access this information and share it with each other so that a story like this will not go the same route.

I know that this is not a new observation – hell, it is practically the mantra of the ICT for development crowd – but I want to point out something that gets lost in its common repetition: optimism.  The interviewee above was not disparaging the idea of access to information, but instead showing tremendous humility in the face of a vast, talented organization.  Tom’s point was to move from this humble observation to (quite rightly) point out that while great ideas may exist within the organization, until they are accessed or shared they are just potential energy.

This is the same thing I tried to leave readers with as one of the takeaways from Delivering Development.  As I argue:

We probably overlook significant problems every day, as our measurements fail to capture them, and we are likely mismeasuring many of those we can see. However, this is not failure; this is hope. If we acknowledge that these are, indeed, significant problems that must be addressed if we wish to build a sustainable future, then we can abandon the baggage of decades of failure. We can open ourselves up to innovation that might be unimaginable from within the echo chamber of contemporary globalization and development . . .

This uncertainty, for me, is hope. There are more than 6.5 billion people on this planet. Surely at least several of them have innovative and exciting ideas about how to address the challenges facing their lives, ideas that might be applicable in other places or be philosophically innovative. We will not know unless we ask, unless we actively go looking for these ideas and empower those who have them to express them to the world.

In short, Tom’s interviewee sees 50,000 people as a hopeful resource.  I see the nearly 7 billion people on this planet in the same way.  I am optimistic about the “potential energy” for addressing global challenges that exists out there in the world.  That said, it will be nothing but potential until we empower people to convert it into kinetic actions.  Delivering Development provides only the loosest schematic of one way of thinking about doing this (there is a much, much more detailed project/workplan behind that loose schematic) that was presented to raise a political challenge the the status quo focus on experts and “developed country” institutions in development – if we know that people living in the Global South have good ideas, and we can empower these people to share their ideas and solutions, why don’t we?

Sometimes optimism requires a lead blocker.  I’m happy to play that role . . . hopefully someone is following me through the line.

Either drawing directly on Delivering Development, or working in parallel to it, people seem to be circling around the idea of development as an echo chamber from which we have great difficulty escaping to see the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

A View from The Cave approaches this issue through a discussion of skepticism in aid:

For some people, aid and development endeavors seem as simple as serving up a spoonful of sugar that is brimming with kindness, energy, compassion and good intentions. Simply add sugar to the prescribed medicine and we can save the world!

Unfortunately, we know that it is not so simple. Communicating this is even harder. Telling a women that her favorite clothing distribution organization could be preventing growth and contributing to the poverty cycle is not received well. Speaking with a gentleman about orphanages being filled with children who have been orphaned not due to the death of parents, but voluntarily after an orphanage has been established, will make you seem cold-hearted and uncaring.

This, of course, extends past outreach to the general public – the research and policy worlds are full of this sort of problem.  Marc Bellemare has a post up that addresses this through the idea of confirmation bias, which he eloquently defines as the phenomena in which “people tend to give much more importance than is warranted to whatever evidence confirms their beliefs, and they tend to discard whatever evidence contradicts their beliefs”.   He then extends this to the policy world:

Over the last decade, development economists have developed a number of methods aimed at establishing the validity of causal statements. But what good are those methods when policymakers have their own ideas about what works and what does not?

As an economist in a policy school, this is one of those things I don’t really like to think about. I nevertheless think social scientists in general — and economists in particular — should carefully think about how to engage with people who suffer from confirmation bias, as it is no longer sufficient to just put our findings out there for policy makers to use.

Too right! This is exactly my point from one of the panels I sat on at this year’s Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Seattle – our responsibility as researchers does not end with publication.  It starts with publication, as that evidence is treated as nothing more than another viewpoint in the policy world, and can/will be used and abused to all sorts of ends if left undefended.

Finally, H-5inc. has drawn directly on Delivering Development in a recent post, arguing that a passage in the book “rather nicely sums up what I think is really at the root of our struggles to make productive and appropriate use of data” (that is a very nice thing to say, honestly):

We expect the world to work in a certain manner. Therefore, we gather data to measure the expected workings of the world and analyze those data through frameworks founded on the very understandings of the world they are meant either to affirm or to challenge. In addition, by our choice of data, and our means of analysis, we end up affirming that the world does indeed work the way we thought it did.

Lots of voices circling around the same subject, lots of different ways to intervene and start to tear down the echo chamber that limits us so severely in our efforts to productively engage the world.  I choose to interpret this as evidence in support of my hopelessly realistic optimism about development and the world in general.