Editorial (22.1)

The world is standing at a major point in its history as I write, with European politicians still deliberating as to how a deepening of the international economic crisis will be averted or at least mitigated. The longer term implications for developing and emerging economies cannot yet be known. At one level we may see a major change in the emphasis of development aid, as well as priorities within developing countries as the demand-led consumer boom falters, but new opportunities arise in those countries still maintaining their economic growth. Will such momentous factors affect the practice of development? As European leaders step down (Greece and Italy already at the time of writing), changes in economic balances of power between countries take place, downwards readjustment of the standards of living in ‘developed countries’ become the norm, and new powers emerge, it is inevitable that these will change the way we think about development in the future. Many of the articles in this issue have drilled down into the daily lives of people, looking at some very empirically based experiences of lived reality. Such experiences can continue to inform practice, but we must be aware that many key factors in development may change and indeed are already changing.

Craig Thorburn provides an appraisal of the ‘farmer field schools’ and how they have evolved since the 1980s in Indonesia, and going on to be adapted in 70 countries. Developments in the model are explored using recent examples of watershed management in Indonesia. Jan Servaes et al outline a model for testing the sustainability of development programmes in light of continuing concerns over their lack of sustainability. The sustainability model was piloted through a sample of communications programmes. Sustainability should be given far more priority in light of shrinking resources and the need to learn from programmes, rather than the obsession with value for money which tends to focus only on the short term.

Marcela Gonzalez Rivas asks why indigenous communities in Mexico have worse water supplies than other groups. She notes the lower levels of capital investment in these communities, which links to a long-term concern that state services often end up subsidising middle-class communities rather than the poorest.

Rebecca Tiessen and Barbara Heron look at issues around volunteering. At a time when many official volunteering programmes are being closed down elsewhere, volunteering seems to be alive and well in Canada. The article looks at the continuing demand from would-be volunteers and their perspectives of their experiences. It notes some of the returnees' reservations about the value of volunteering for the host community rather than for the volunteers themselves. Volunteering appears to be moving back away from an expert-based technical transfer model to one of providing young people with experience of another country. The debate is clearly going to continue whether volunteering can still be justified in developmental terms or should be regarded as a system for increasing global understanding across cultures through exposure visits.

Shai Dixon and Cassandra Bergstrom review the unintended consequences of development interventions through the example of a millennium village and the contribution of some of these programmes to increased diarrheal diseases. It concludes that simplistic views of what is possible hide a complexity of technical, behavioural and practical issues which may lead to very different results than those envisaged. Soumyadip Chattopadhyay's article focuses on the attempts to decentralise the delivery of urban services in West Bengal. A process of collating citizen feedback on the services provided illustrated the very different results being obtained in the decentralised service delivery.

The issue's Viewpoint is a review by Nombasa Williams of the history of child welfare/protection offered by UNHCR and notes areas of continuing concern. Glen Wright's review essay tackles a difficult and controversial area of NGOs and their roles by reflecting on the ‘western hegemony’ over the way they have developed, as portrayed in the literature on NGOs over the past decade. The essay leaves us with several key questions as to the future roles of NGOs and whether they are still valid in a changing environment.

We also have several interesting Practical Notes. Michael Rimmer et al review an experience around cooperation regarding rehabilitation of aqua culture in Aceh. Given consistent criticism of the lack of coordination in such humanitarian contexts, it is useful to see how this case managed to avoid some of the usual problems by bringing together a considerable number of disparate agencies working on aqua cultural programmes in the post-Tsunami rehabilitation.

A second note by Victor Asiedu looks at community approaches to the reintegration of ex-combatants in Sierra Leone. This provides us with some of the detailed approaches used to ensure a community rather than combatant-focussed reintegration programme. Finally, Ronnie Vernooy describes an inspirational use of new mobile technology with participation from herders to monitor and inform of changing weather conditions in the extreme environment of the Mongolian Gobi desert.

Later this year we will focus on two major topics which we feel have not received the exposure they deserve. The first issue is a major review of approaches to child protection. Childhood has long been a neglected field of research given the demographic weighting in so many developing countries towards children and young people. A set of critical and often controversial issues will be aired in this guest-edited issue. The second is the roles and experience of religion in development, with a special guest-edited issue which will contribute to a lively and sometimes contested debate about religious groups and their contribution to development globally.

As an editorial team always open to carrying special issues on particular topics. We are now planning for 2013 and would welcome suggestions and proposals for other special thematically based issues. The topic should fit our overall mandate of being academically rigorous, presenting a subject which is wide enough to be of interest to our international readership, and have a value for policymakers and practitioners.

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