Editorial (23.1)

As we enter 2013 many international development agencies will be thinking about their budgets, policies and projections for the period in two years' time when the MDG deadline is reached. Although some argue that we should not be thinking too much about post-2015 as there is still much to do in terms of meeting the existing goals, bureaucracies move slowly and many decisions will be made over the coming year (and indeed may already have been made at the more senior levels). Whatever the future of international financial assistance, many of the issues and challenges of development in practice will remain with us. Development has too often been confused and conflated with international financial assistance. The removal of foreign funding will lead to considerable challenges to some countries, and some sectors within those countries, not least those NGOs who have grown up assuming foreign funding will last for ever.

Regardless of the decisions about to be made, we do know that both technical and socio-political challenges to the development of people will remain. We expect, therefore, that Development in Practice will continue to play a role in providing space for the sharing of ideas, experiences, and opinions about development across all levels. Indeed, the withdrawal or reduction in foreign aid will add greater pressure on governments and civil society to rethink the best ways to tackle issues as wide as chronic poverty and as specific as delivery mechanisms to isolated social groups. One clear challenge will be to encourage greater volunteering and community participation as external resources shrink. Good development has always stressed these elements, but the dominance of paid professionals in NGOs has weakened our commitment to participation by communities. At the same time, recipient developing governments have seemed to be more accountable to their donors than to their citizens.

Interestingly, Anna Wetterberg and Gary Bland explore a relatively new move in Guatemala, a shift from philanthropy to corporate social responsibility, using the case study of Alianza and an empirical review. This acknowledges the difficulty of issues around CSR in this region, where many private firms had a history of being linked to previous authoritarian regimes, but where there is now a major change in approach towards supporting long-neglected public goods such as health and education. They note that, in part because of exposure to thinking in international firms, local companies are now more engaged than previously in supporting local issues and needs.

In “The discourse of ‘development’ and why the concept should be abandoned”, Aram Ziai outlines why we should drop the use of the concept of development as a catch-all phrase to refer to a range of often unrelated activities, in part because of “certain Eurocentric, depoliticising and authoritarian implications of the concept of 'development'.”

An article on a community development project in Kenya by Juliet Kariuki and Jemimah Njuki discusses a progression from PRA to participatory impact assessment and using participatory impact diagrams as a way of giving new life to the qualitative aspect of impact assessment – in contrast to the push by many donors towards purely quantative data. The study also shows the advantages of the method for improved gender desegregated information.

Francois Lenfant and Rens Rutten also describe an attempt by Dutch development agency Cordaid to experiment with participatory impact assessment using quasi-experimental designs, including control groups. This article shows how an attempt to use a certain type of evaluation methodology, being pushed by many donors, sadly had limited real value to the organisations involved, except perhaps as an important learning exercise for those interested in the utility of some of these approaches to NGOs. A further study of evaluation from the Netherlands comes from Piet de Lange, who summarises a series of studies of capacity development of both public sector and NGO programmes.

A critical review of community ‘participation’ can be found in “‘Spoiling the Situation’: Reflections on the development and research field” by Tanya Jakimow. Jakimow explores the concept of the ‘field’ as a place where development happens with local people; looking at the way villagers are treated by NGOs and local elites in the context of rural India.

Zakir Husain, Diganta Mukerjee, and Mousumi Dutta, also working in India, address the common issue of the degree to which women in self-help groups manage to control any income they produce, and seek to explore whether this is affected by the political party in control of the areas in which the women live.

Julian Walker, looking at the Kyrgyz Swiss Swedish Health Programme, explores the gender-sensitive concept of time poverty and how to assess it. He concludes that we need a more sophisticated approach than merely assessing time use quantitatively; a more nuanced assessment should also assess the quality of time use and control over time.

Dora Curry et al. provide an account of community-based surveillance of polio in Ethiopia and how volunteers at community level have been successful in identifying local cases as one means towards treatment, as well as isolating the spreads of the virus.

Ayesha Jamal and Farasat A. Siddiqui offer an empirical study of differing rates of fertility based on the occupation and income of husbands, which contributes to our understanding of how fertility rates are linked to employment, education, and income. Whilst this India-based example is context specific, it demonstrates an approach to getting beneath the broader numbers and assumptions often made about issues of fertility.

The first of our practical notes for this issue, by Alan Fowler, describes the World Vision-sponsored GATE approach to improved governance for NGOs, encompassing a common sense method to improve transparency, evaluation, and assessments of results and impact.

Finally, a second practical note from Gabrielle Appleford looks at the use of ‘strengths- based approaches’ in family planning programmes. Appleford notes the advantages of techniques such as appreciate enquiry and asset-based community development which stress the positive- over the negative-based assessments of needs and deficits.

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