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Showing posts with the label reflective practice

‘The field’ is where inequality persists–a reply to ‘Send them to the field!’

Alison Rabe wrote a thought-provoking piece on WhyDev.org last week about the virtues of exposing oneself to the rural realities of developing countries to better understand how aid works, in short: Send them to the field!.
J, the blogger formerly known as Tales from the Hood, posted a more practical reflection on why he thinks ‘the field’ is often overrated and he also reminded us what hands-on skills matter in the industry.

From ‘putting the last first’ to putting ourselves into the picture of aid work in the 21st century
Alison makes a compelling case and I do not disagree with her per se. But as a development anthropologist I feel a bit uneasy about the construction of ‘the field’ as the rural reality compared to ‘the rest’ of aid worker’s geography, attitudes and mindsets. Alison argues along the line of the, shall we say, Chambersian School of Development: Putting the rural last first, field trips by bike rather than Landcruiser and immersing yourself in the realities of ‘the poor…

Resiliency, Risk, and a Good Compass: Are Joi Ito’s ‘Tools for the Coming Chaos’ relevant for development?

I recently came across an interview in Wired magazine from mid-2012 with MIT Media Lab ‘guru’ Joi Ito onResiliency, Risk, and a Good Compass: Tools for the Coming Chaos.
He concluded the interview with his ‘9 or so’ principles to ‘survive in this chaotic, unpredictable system where planning is almost impossible’ (which sounds a lot like some of the current day complex or ‘wicked’ development scenarios that are discussed):
Resilience instead of strength, which means you want to yield and allow failure and you bounce back instead of trying to resist failure.You pull instead of push. That means you pull the resources from the network as you need them, as opposed to centrally stocking them and controlling them.You want to take risk instead of focusing on safety.You want to focus on the system instead of objects.You want to have good compasses not maps.You want to work on practice instead of theory. Because sometimes you don’t why it works, but what is important is that it is working, not t…

IDS/VSO action research PhD opportunities on 'Valuing Volunteering'

My colleague Joanna Wheeler from IDS sent me a message this morning about a fascinating action research-based project that the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change Team and VSO-UK are going to implement jointly as a series of PhD projects. There are more details below and an even more detailed research design outline is included as well.
But before you get too excited, let me stress that this project does *not*, I repeat: NOT!, come with a scholarship to undertake a PhD at IDS/University of Sussex.
VSO will cover the fieldwork under a normal volunteer contract but every candidate will have to secure funding for her/his PhD fees (approximately £3,500 for EU citizens and £9,000 per year for everybody else). If you are still interested I suggest that you get in touch with Joanna directly, ideally including your CV and a statement why you would be a good candidate for the project. But please read the complete information first:
Valuing Volunteering
Valuing Volunteering will use syste…

The London riots – a development review

Don’t worry, this is not another post about what has been happening in London and other parts of the UK over these past few days. Well, in some ways it is, because among many, many, many other things the riots and the immediate political reactions offer some interesting, humbling lessons for those who try to make sense of development and its challenges. Especially for those who may not be involved in development debates on a routine basis this could be a good opportunity to reflect on some broader issues. It could also be a great opportunity for those high-level policy-makers and strategists to question some well-known assumptions about development dynamics. For the sake of brevity, I will limit my comment to three areas: Complexity, uncertainty and democracy.

Complexity: Believe it or not, there is no single story that can explain social problems
As more and more commentators step forward, a highly complex picture emerges that includes historical, economic, social and cultural proble…

Development evaluators, make blogging part of your workstyle!

My contribution to “The Nexus of Aid Work & Islamic Extremism” conversation

I read Shawn Ahmed’s post ‘The Nexus of Aid Work and Islamic extremism’ as well as Dave Algoso’s reply and Tom Murphy’s shorter reply with great interest.
They have covered many interesting points, but mainly because of my own selfish reasons (i.e. my academic research), I would like to comment on three particular points that I find have been missing from the debate so far. 
1. Looking beyond NGOs: The state, international aid organisations and discourses of development

First, in Shawn’s post there is no mentioning of ‘the state’ or any other form of ‘aid’ other than the one provided through NGOs. As understandable as this may be for the contents of the post, it fosters a view that many commentators in the blogosphere seem to have, namely that of incredibly wealthy, powerful and influential NGOs. True, they are often the organisations that are visible ‘on the ground’, many interesting stories about aid are shared by those who work in NGOs (maybe adding an interesting layer of ‘groupth…

Adventures in Voluntourism-they have become part of tourism mainstream

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A friend of mine recently spent a few nights in a hotel owned by an international chain and sent me an article on 'Adventures in voluntourism' afterwards that he had found in their official in-room travel magazine. I saw the picture of a smiling woman in hot-pants balancing wood on her head and thought that this may be the beginning of a whole new genre of erotic photography, a new type of locker-room pictures for aidworkers or something similarly inappropriate:

Photo: A happy voluntourist (viatora fortunata nivea), unknown location with permanent summer
However, the actual article was slightly more balanced, yet for obvious reasons focussed on the marketability of the experience. It started with examples from the US and introduced a project that the Global Citizens Network runs in connection with the Quileute Nation peoples in Washington state. It sounds like a decent project, the historic Quileute Shaker Church gets refurbished in the process and in the end 'the voluntour…

Who is 'the development industry'?

The short answer: Most of the time 'we' are the development industry - not just 'them' (those with Landcruisers and daily allowances)...

Mina, a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders in Ghana shared some interesting reflections on how he perceives 'the industry' in the country. And he posted a few pictures to prove it: Fancy cars, fancy offices, fancy daily allowances – an often shared impression of how people (including local NGOs with cars, offices and allowances) perceive one of the key ills of development: It has become an 'industry', a market-place for transnational professional, knowledge and their 'wares' from dubious consultancy reports to endless workshops.
But I also think that this analysis is short-sighted and ignores some of the essential global dynamics behind said industry. I usually don't turn my posts into heavily academic contemplations, but please allow me two short quotes to illustrate my point theoretically. First, t…

Is development a city, a corporation or something completely different?

The headline may sound a bit strange, but after Ran Prieur’s reflections on a longer conversation and essay by Geoffrey West it turns out to be a legitimate question after all. I came across Ran’s summary first before reading Geoffrey’s essay:
West is a physicist who tried to find universal laws for biology, and he discovered that a bunch of things scale exponentially with size, and the exponent is less than one, which means as an organism gets bigger, certain things get smaller in ways that you can mathematically predict. [...] Then he started looking at human social systems, and he discovered that cities scale with an exponent greater than one, which means a city of a million people will have more production and innovation than ten cities of a hundred thousand. Also it will have more crime and disease, and people will walk faster! [...] Then West looks at corporations, and finds that they operate like individual organisms, not like cities. So a billion dollar company will have lower…

Celebrating the work of Robert Chambers

The IDS Alumni Association celebrated the work of Robert Chambers last week with a special event and the launch of the book 'Revolutionising Development: Reflecting Forwards'.
I did not attend and just want to take this opportunity to share and collect some impressions and follow-up comments from the event. 

First, it is always fantastic to see Robert 'in action' and this flickr album is a fantastic proof that Robert and well and active! I hope that they will add more reflections such as Kamal Singh's who shares his insights at the end in this 9-minute video. Kamal is the CEO of Khanya-acidd, the African Institute for Community-Driven Development.

IDS director Lawrence Haddad shares some reflections in his latest blog post:
I have only worked in the same place as him for 7 years. He is inspirational, visionary, full of energy and directs his ego into his work and not into his own position. In a room full of gurus at IDS today, he was the guru's guru (although …