Editorial (22.8)

In our final issue of the year, at least two of the articles raise issues beyond the immediate subject they deal with. Both touch on issues around the nature of development itself, and the roles of individuals and institutions engaged in development. The first, by Carolijn Terwindt and Chris van der Borgh, is a challenging article on the shrinking space for NGOs, based on case material from Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They explore a framework which takes into account local political characteristics, the mix of pressures on NGOs, as well as the style and objectives of the NGOs themselves.

We hope that some of these issues around shrinking space will be followed up in a special issue of Development in Practice being planned for 2013. Whilst some critics of NGOs have argued that advocacy and influencing have not produced the results promised in terms of real changes for poor people, it has to be noted that clearly in many countries local governments still see NGOs and civil society organisations more widely as a threat to their monopoly of power. Attempts to close the space for civil society by the state would indicate that they are indeed having a degree of success in sometimes difficult circumstances.

The second article, by Hannah Green, explores a spectrum from philanthropy to participation through the lens of development studies students and their motivation for engaging in development. Her study is timely, given the large numbers still enrolling on development studies courses. Whether the personal motivation of the students will be rewarded through the current architecture of international development agencies is a point left for further study! The orthodoxies of the main development agencies have in many ways slipped back from the participation model that Green posits as one end of the spectrum, and the one to which most students adhere.

We now witness a renewed focus by many aid agencies on very top-down, universalistic, service delivery approaches to development. We realise that politicians are less enamoured by talk of long-term development, transformational change, and capacity development sustainability. Instead we have the focus on short-term, concrete results. Given the attitudes of a broad range of development workers who accept the need for longer term engagement, and dealing with the causes and not just the symptoms of poverty, it would appear that there is an increasing disjuncture between those who delivery development assistance and those who pay for it.

The perennial need to balance the empirical and pragmatic against the broader overview of policies, approaches, and motivations in development needs to be regularly reframed. With changes in many developing countries it seems that we need to question some of the approaches to development currently being accepted as standard. This is not always easy given the increasing dependence of both states and NGOs alike on a small number of official donors. There is a tendency to crowd out different views and approaches in favour of an increasingly homogenous set of approaches; approaches which often seem to owe more to a political shift in donor countries than to any real shift in evidence bases. Therefore Development in Practice will continue to look for well thought-out and evidenced articles which challenge all of our assumptions, from whichever position we take them.

Peter Westoby and Rupert van Blerk review the training of community development workers in South Africa by a large and growing government initiative. They suggest improvements in the training, and compare existing practice in South Africa to other experiences and to 50 years' thinking and practice in this crucial area. The authors reinforce earlier conclusions that community development is only as good as the training of the staff involved.

Several papers look at the impact of different development interventions. Max Saunders and David Bromwich share an evaluation of a programme supporting modern cooperatives in Gansu, China, noting the positive social and economic outcomes for members and how they have resolved some of the problems with previous cooperative models in China. Franklin Obeng-Odoom questions the dominant view of access to water, showing that other issues such as affordability, quality, reliability, and distribution have now emerged. Based on experiences in Ghana, Obeng-Odoom aims to counter-balance the simplistic use of access as the only indicator of success in water programmes. William Mala et al. review the commercialisation of non-wood forest products in Cameroon, concluding that by selling as groups communities can increase their income by an average of 40 per cent compared to individual sellers. The study is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about value chains and whether individual or group approaches are the most effective.

Finally, as we come to the end of 2012, on behalf of the whole editorial team I would like to thank both all the authors and referees who we have worked with over the year, and our very many readers. Special thanks are also due to our contributing editors, our wider editorial advisory group, and our colleagues at Taylor and Francis, for their support throughout the year.

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