Editorial (21.8)

As we come to an end of 2011, will the year mark a historical turning point for international development as we know it, or will this corner not be reached for a couple of years yet? The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) international summit was held at the end of 2010, yet in reviewing this summit it is not clear that much has really changed. Many donors are still keen to support the MDGs through to target point of 2015, but most are following plans already laid out in their existing budgets. The truth is that the final results of the effort to attain the MDGs by 2015 are already known, or at least the dye is cast. The figures for the next review in 2013 are those of today, and the trajectories are set to continue for the next four years in terms of funding and the larger programmes. What is not yet known is what will follow 2015.

Meanwhile there is a change in the geopolitical balance of economic power, with recession and financial instability concerns within many countries of the ‘developed world’, and high unemployment and low levels of economic growth in many others. Recession in the west has led to a decrease in popular support for development assistance, and this is reflected in the policies of the political leaders. The implications of this loss of public support over the next four years are still to be seen, but we can surmise that further reductions in development assistance will be on the agenda.

In contrast, we still see remarkable growth rates in many ‘emerging’, or should that be emerged, economies. The articles in Development in Practice illustrate there is a great deal of innovative, solid practical development experience across the globe. Increasingly, where countries are growing economically, national governments will have to decide how much they will accept financial and legal responsibility for this work. The challenge is whether they take the easy route in accepting work which tries to just ameliorate the symptoms of poverty, or will they confront the causes of poverty within their own nation state? We encourage authors to submit articles that reflect the balance between the empirical practice of development and the political and theoretical overviews of what causes poverty.

The other side of this debate is what the role of the NGOs will be in the future, as international aid leaves many countries and in others governments do take over responsibility for a wider range of services. And where does this lead local civil society – from grassroots informal associations, professional groups, to membership organisations – which have not always been best served by international cooperation but may also not find national governments any more supportive in situations where local social tensions emerge as a result of the success of their growth strategies? There are many questions and experiences we expect to be exploring through the contributions to Development in Practice in the future, alongside our continued commitment to giving practitioners the space to share their experiences.

In this issue, continuing our interest in capacity building, Jenny Pearson looks at attempts to strengthen capacity in a situation of entrenched organisational and cultural constraints in Cambodia. In particular, she draws out experiences from a programme using an organisational learning approach over several years. The apparent success of this longer-term programme raises questions for policy makers as to how the programme, which went through several changes, would have fared if judged by some of the current short-term approaches to results-based evaluation.

Norma-Jo Baker describes the processes of introducing western liberal arts approaches into a post-Soviet university sector; an introduction which was supported by many external groups on the assumption that it would strengthen liberal democracy. She is, however, concerned that in many cases she reviews, this process did the opposite and reinforced authoritarian practices.

Roger Drew et al. describe their attempt to use social network analysis in evaluating organisational networks, in their case those involving sexual health and rights. They conclude that the method could well provide a positive contribution to future evaluations.

The participation theme is picked up by Christian Iyiani et al. with their study of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, and a review of community-based work which suggests that despite the support from INGOs for ‘community participation’, there is still a tension between top–down single solution approaches, and those which stress community-based work strengthening social capital. It concludes that financial support from INGOs and technical support from local NGOs is important to work effectively with community-based programmes.

Celina Del Felice and Lillian Solheim explore youth organisations and their learning processes, describing how they adapt adult-based organisational tools in their desire to learn and develop within their own perceived priorities and ways of working. They conclude that any capacity building must also be geared to what works for young people rather than assume that business and adult models will automatically be appropriate.

We have two articles on microcredit, as the debate continues about its efficacy in different contexts. The first, by ATM Jahiruddin et al ., revisits microcredit in a district of Bangladesh. It concludes that often for a significant proportion of the poorest of the poor microcredit can exacerbate rather than relieve their poverty, especially where the recipients lack other resources to complement the loan or to fall back on if their businesses or families get into difficulty.

In contrast Daraka Chhay, writing about a large microcredit programme in Cambodia, concludes that overall it was successful, although she also notes some of the failures for some poor women. Chhay concludes that care needs to be taken as ‘micro-finance is not a miracle solution to the economic situation of women’.

Abebe Shiferaw et al . discuss an empirical study based on six years' experience of the development of forage in southern Ethiopia and provide examples of best practice.

A study by A.K.M. Ahsan Ullah looks at the use of remittances to Bangladesh from Malaysia and Hong Kong. Great importance is placed on such remittances by the World Bank and others, indeed it is argued that they account for 6 per cent of Bangladesh's GDP. However, the study argues that very little of this flow leads to productive investment or even indirect investments such as in education. Despite the wishes of those remitting the funds a large proportion goes on consumption, and repaying the loans taken to fund the travel. The question remains open as to whether remittances are as positive as some would claim for the wider economy.

Finally, the practical note by K.S. Mohindra, D. Narayana, and Slim Haddad opens an important subject around the ethics of participatory research and describes their attempt to draw up ethical guidelines using participatory research with marginalised, often illiterate, populations – where challenges around issues such as informed consent are difficult to establish.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the very many authors and referees who we have worked with over 2011, along with our committed readership, who together make the journal what it is today.