Editorial (20.2)

Over the past two decades Development in Practice has published a great many articles on approaches to and methods of managing development assistance, including two complete issues dedicated to the topic, as well as several titles in our book series (in particular Eade et al. 2000; Roper et al. 2003; Eade 2003). While conventional aid-management tools such as log frames have consistently earned contributors' disapproval, in particular for their formulaic view of causality, this is not to imply that participatory 'bottom-up' methods have remained immune from criticism. On the contrary, the critiques of 'participation' are too numerous to cite - 350 at the last count - although Anacleti (1993), Craig and Porter (1997), Jackson (1997), Leal (2007), Mompati and Prinsen (2000), Ngunjiri (1998), Simon et al. (2003), and White (1996) are worthy of particular note.

For the most part, as one would expect, our contributors have focused on the practical implications flowing from the adoption of one or another orthodoxy or methodology. The current issue therefore represents something of a departure in focusing more on the theoretical frameworks and assumptions that underpin the ways in which 'aided development'1 is approached.

Sarah C. White examines the concept of wellbeing, which, she argues, is a social process that is both material and subjective, but is most importantly embedded in people's relationships with each other and with the state. This view implies that, rather than being a simple target or an 'outcome to be sought', wellbeing is both a means and an end; and that if wellbeing shapes and is shaped by the ways in which people engage with the world, then it follows that working for the wellbeing of people who are poor and excluded is indeed a transformational project. Alexandre Apsan Frediani looks at the influential work of Amartya K. Sen on human capabilities, and in particular his emphasis on multi-dimensionality, agency, and empowerment, but he argues that this as yet lacks comprehensive application beyond the field of development economics. Compared with other approaches, namely the Rights-Based Approach and the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, the Capability Approach does, however, have the potential to challenge existing paradigms and provide a grounded alternative to 'business as usual'. Adam Fforde also suggests that the 'one size fits all' orthodoxy has lost its authority, because the empirical failure of predictive policies - policy X will necessarily lead to outcome Y - has made their intellectual bankruptcy abundantly clear. At the same time, there is a need for development practice to understand inconsistency, to distinguish between the types and degrees of inconsistency that really matter, and by extension to organise itself around the insight that knowledges are socially constructed. Hans Peter Ulrich looks instead to Systems Thinking as a way to understand development as a kind of supra-system that both encompasses numerous layered sub-systems and is itself embedded in or affected by many dimensions that are outside what is conventionally considered to fall within the realm of development and international co-operation. He locates the shortcomings of the aid architecture in a lack of adequate mechanisms of control and accountability throughout the entire system.

Other contributors examine the place of formal and informal learning in development practice. Karim-Aly Kassam describes the transformation of a university course of development studies from a reliance on book learning, or 'knowing that', to engagement with the socio-cultural and ecological contexts, or 'knowing how'. The linking of education to the social consequences of that learning entails understanding 'the consequences of action', and the students therefore become ethically engaged 'citizen-scholars'. As the author concludes: 'This type of learning may not achieve knowing how in the sense of the “development expert”, but it articulates a process for students who aspire to excellence in professional engagement and civil life'. Edward R. Carr recounts his own experience in Ghana to illustrate the tendency of 'formal' development to discount informal local narratives, different ways of knowing what is needed and of interpreting the meaning of aid interventions; and a corresponding tendency to treat them as a source of 'local colour' to enliven stolid reports, or as anecdotes to liven up the classroom (and in so doing to assert the teacher's global experience). He argues that genuinely listening to and reflecting on such narratives is an essential step towards decentring the ways in which development is defined, articulated, and practised. Using precisely such a narrative, Linje Manyozo illustrates his claim that when theory emerges from and is embedded in practice - praxis - it can be affirming and liberating; but that when development experts come in with their own ideas about how things should be done, it is time to 'start writing an obituary for that development intervention'. Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole drives this point home in his article on the importance of drawing on a wide range of disciplines, not only in development studies but more importantly in shaping development practice. Yi-Lee Wong shows what can go wrong when well-intended donors and their operational partners attempt to import their own solutions to problems as they have defined them - in this case solutions from the West being applied to post-Soviet higher education systems - rather than taking the time to look, listen, and learn.

Bejoy K. Thomas likens the emergence of the Free and Open Source Software movement, including developments such as wikis and Open Access, to participation 'at the top', as distinct from the development nostrums of bottom-up participation. A synthesis between the two could point to new ways to conceptualise development in the Knowledge Society. Claire Heffernan and Jun Yu introduce the example of a software programme designed to enable policy makers and researchers to envisage the specific impacts of particular interventions on poor farmers - vaccination against common livestock diseases, for instance. User-generated content means that information can be shared and therefore acted upon almost as soon as it is available. Simon Starling describes efforts to monitor and evaluate NGO advocacy in campaigning organisations that tend not to reward learning and reflection, concluding that to be useful these activities need to mirror the iterative and adaptive processes of the campaign, rather than being seen as rigid plans. All three of these contributors thus point to the need to see knowledges as emergent 'where people have seized upon spaces where things are not well defined, or where things can happen when someone else is not looking' (Craig and Porter 1997: 236).


1. Anacleti, Odhiambo (1993) Research into local culture: implications for participatory development. Development in Practice 3:1 , pp. 44-48. [informaworld]
2. Craig, David andPorter, Doug (1997) Framing participation: development projects, professionals, and organisations. Development in Practice 7:3 , pp. 229-236.
3. Eade, Deborah Eade, Deborah (ed) (2003) Development Methods and Approaches: Critical Reflections Oxfam GB , Oxford
4. Eade, Deborah , Hewitt, Tom andJohnson, Hazel Eade, Deborah , Hewitt, Tom andJohnson, Hazel (eds) (2000) Development and Management: Experiences in Value-based Conflict Oxfam GB, in association with The Open University , Oxford
5. Ellerman, David (2005) Helping People Help Themselves: From the World Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance University of Michigan Press , Ann Arbor, MI
6. Fernando Udan (2009) Review of Alan Fowler and Kees Biekart (2008) Civic Driven Change: Citizens' Imagination in Action, The Hague: Institute of Social Studies, Development and Change 40 (4): 804-6.
7. Jackson, Cecile (1997) Sustainable development at the sharp end: field-worker agency in a participatory project. Development in Practice 7:3 , pp. 237-247. [informaworld]
8. Kaplan, Allan (1996) The Development Practitioners' Handbook Pluto Press , London
9. Leal, Pablo Alejandro (2007) Participation: the ascendancy of a buzzword in the neo-liberal era. Development in Practice 17:4&5 , pp. 539-548. [informaworld]
10. Mompati, Tlamelo andPrinsen, Gerard (2000) Ethnicity and participatory methods in Botswana: some participants are to be seen and not heard. Development in Practice 10:5 , pp. 625-637. [informaworld]
11. Ngunjiri, Eliud (1998) Participatory methodologies: double-edged swords. Development in Practice 8:4 , pp. 466-470. [informaworld]
12. Roper, Laura , Pettit, Jethro andEade, Deborah Roper, Laura , Pettit, Jethro andEade, Deborah (eds) (2003) Development and the Learning Organisation Oxfam GB, in association with the Institute of Development Sudies and Oxfam America , Oxford
13. Simon, David , McGregor, Duncan F. M. , Nsiah-Gyabaah, Kwasi andThompson, Donald A. (2003) Poverty elimination, North-South research collaboration, and the politics of participatory development. Development in Practice 13:1 , pp. 40-56. [informaworld]
14. White, Sarah C. (1996) Depoliticising development: the uses and abuses of participation. Development in Practice 6:1 , pp. 6-15. [informaworld]


I thank Udan Fernando (2009) for this useful term, which highlights the fact that, despite the dominant discourse, development (and indeed humanitarian assistance) is not defined by the aid industry. Indeed it has been argued, by commentators from grassroots practitioners to former World Bank political economists, that sustainable development takes place despite rather than thanks to external intervention (see for example Kaplan 1996; Ellerman 2005).