The purpose is to actually help people, but not overnight
In response to the provocative question, here are some equally provocative answers. The short answer is that there is a big problem, at least in my field of agriculture.
What do you think are the most important practices and competencies of a social change/development practitioner?
The ability to ask questions and LEARN from the answers. Too many development specialists have a fixed agenda, fixed ideas about what works and an inability to adapt to the real situation. It often seems that for many, implementing their preconceived ideas is more important than actually doing what is needed. As a result, they go through the motions of consultation but are unwilling or unable to take on board the information they get from those they are “consulting”. Two decades ago I defined the way the term “consultation” was applied by many development specialists as “getting people to agree to do what you have already decided they should do” and I see no reason to change my mind.
What is your image of an “ideal” social change/development practitioner?
One who has a degree of cynicism or, at least, a lack of naivety. The motives of people in the countries where we work are often far from pure. Corruption is widespread. While corruption cannot be entirely avoided, the proposals put forward by development specialists often make it easier, not more difficult. In my field of agricultural marketing, well-meaning recommendations to introduce new rules and regulations often just increase the potential for bribes to be solicited. For example, I recall one writer noting that the only beneficiaries of regulations on street food safety in Calcutta were the police.
Someone who recognises the limitations of what can be achieved. Development practitioners have been working in developing countries for several generations, often without conspicuous success. So a reasonable assumption is that they are not going to change the world overnight. A contributory factor to failure is that they often want to do too much. They see much that needs to be done and then try to address all of it. As a result, what they propose becomes impractical and unworkable as the implementation capacity of the government and potential for sustainability is just not there.
What challenges does such an “ideal” social change/development practitioner face in trying to live up to that ideal in the real world?
Donors have to stop implementing projects for a fixed term with all activities clearly specified from the outset. In part, that encourages the problems I identify above. Developments have to be on a trial and error basis, which is more how the private sector works. If an approach fails, throw it away and start again. Don’t throw more money at it to try to make it work because that is what it says in the project document. If something works on a small scale then expand it as required. Don’t try to do something on a large scale from Day 1.
I AM AN INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT ON VALUE CHAIN AND AGRIBUSINESS TOPICS AND HAVE BEEN WORKING IN THIS FIELD SINCE 1978. FROM 2011 TO MID-2014 I WAS WORKING WITH THE TECHNICAL CENTRE FOR AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL COOPERATION, EU-ACP (CTA) AS A VALUE CHAINS ADVISOR. BETWEEN 1985 AND 2011 I WAS WITH FAO AND, PRIOR TO RETIREMENT, WAS LEADER OF FAO’S MARKET LINKAGES AND VALUE CHAINS GROUP. MY FOCUS IS ON DEVELOPMENT THROUGH THE PRIVATE SECTOR. I HAVE PUBLISHED PAPERS ON TOPICS SUCH AS CONTRACT FARMING, LINKING FARMERS TO MARKETS, INVENTORY CREDIT, POST-HARVEST MANAGEMENT, AND COMMODITY ASSOCIATIONS, AS WELL AS A RANGE OF GUIDES ON AGRICULTURAL MARKETING FOR EXTENSION OFFICERS.
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