comments 3

Doing Development Differently, 30 years ago

I was sixteen when the excerpts I post below were published. For thirty-two years (and probably longer than that)  development practitioners, researchers, academics, experts, technocrats, civil servants, elected officials have tackled the uncertainty of development processes. The answer thirty-two years ago as well as today seems to be the same: embrace uncertainty, make the most out of it.

Does this mean that we, development practitioners and researchers, involved in the ongoing discussion about Doing Development Differently are reinventing the wheel? I do not think so but maybe we have not yet learned how to fully embrace the uncertainty that is part of development work. What do you think.

The paragraphs below have been written in 1983 by Dennis A. Rondinelli in his Development Projects as Policy Experiments. An Adaptive Approach to Development Administration. They sound like they have been written today.

‘Experience with development during he past quarter century has led to two fundamental discoveries. First, it became clear that many of the conventional theories of economic growth that have been applied in developing nations during the 1950s and 1960s did not achieve their intended goal. […] Second, it became clear that as strategies became more complex, the success of development programs and projects became less certain. Methods of planning and management associated with earlier strategies were found to be less useful in coping with the uncertainty and complexity of development problems.’

‘The experience of the past quarter century indicates that rapidly changing and disparate theories of economic development have been, and will continue to be, uncertain propositions that are shaped by complex processes of political interaction and social learning. But the administrative procedures that are used by international organisations and the governments of developing countries to apply development theories have never adequately reflected these underlying uncertainties. Nor have those who have applied them recognised explicitly that all development policies are really social experiments. Government and international organisations still attempt to use planning and management techniques to control development activities rather than to facilitating encourage flexibility, experimentation, and social learning that are essential to implementing development projects successfully. Administrators have yet to come to grips with the experimental nature of development policies and with the uncertainties inherent in their implementation’

‘Because the policies emanate from rational and comprehensive analysis, plans must be carried out through a hierarchical structure of authority, which imposes rules and regulation. Deviations from preconceived plans are considered detrimental to achieving what are assumed to be commonly held objectives. Conflicts over goals, values or course fo actions are seen, therefore, as adverse and irrational manifestations of politics and the pursuit of selfish interest. Thus political conflict are to be avoided. Planners and policy-makers are to determine the correct course of action for others to follow and to establish rules and procedures that ensure adherence to them.’

‘It is the uncertainty and complexities of development policies that must become the major concern of development planners and project designers. Although little can – or should – be done to try to uncover and control them all at the outset of a project, the degree of uncertainty and ignorance involved in pursuing policies should be realistically assessed. Attempt to plan in more detailed and precise fashion should proceed incrementally only as uncertainty and unknowns are reduced or clarified during implementation. Planning must be viewed as an incremental process of testing propositions about the most effective means of coping with social problems and of reassessing and redefining both the problems and the projects as more is learned about their complexities and about the economic, social and political factors affecting the outcome or propose courses of action. Complex social experiments can be partially guided but never fully controlled. Thus, methods of analysis and procedures of implementation must be flexible and incremental, facilitating social interaction so that those groups most directly affected by a problem can search for and pursue mutually acceptable objectives.Rather that providing a blueprint for action, planning should facilitate continuous learning and interaction, allowing policy-makers and managers to readjust and modify programs and projects as more is learned about conditions with which they are trying to cope. Planning and implementation must be regarded as mutually dependent activities that refine and improve each other over time, rather than as separate functions.’

‘If, in fact, al development activities are essentially experimental, fundamental changes are needed in the way government and international assistance agencies formulate policies and implement projects.’

‘First, it is highly unlikely that uncertain, experimental activities can be planned comprehensively and designed in great detail at the outset. […] Lack of knowledge about the groups and societies for which process are proposed make detailed design ineffective or perverse.’

‘If control-oriented planning an management are either effective nor appropriate in coping with complexity and uncertainty, what alternatives do planners and administrators have for dealing with development problems more effectively? One way of coping with uncertainty, complexity, and ignorance is to recognise that all development projects are policy experiments and to plan incrementally and adaptively by decision-making that join learning with action.’

‘By planning and implementing projects sequentially through experimental, pilot, demonstration, and replication phases, problems can be effectively disaggregated and alternative courses of action can evolve’

‘Experimental projects are small-scale, highly exploratory, risky ventures that do not always provide immediate or direct economic returns or yield quick and visible results. Their benefits are derived form acquisition of knowledge. they can be useful in defining (or creating) development problems, finding more useful ways of coping with basic social needs, assessing a broad range of possible interventions, and exploring the conditions under which development projects must operate. Thus, experimental projects, are needed when problems are not well-articulated, elements or characteristics of a problem have not been clearly identified, alternative course of action have not been widely explored and their impact cannot be easily anticipated.’

‘Pilot projects can perform a number of important functions: they can test the applicability of innovations in places with conditions similar to those under which experiment were performed; they can test the feasibility and acceptability of innovations in new environments; and they can extend an innovation’s range of proven feasibility beyond the experimental stage. They may also serve a small-scale prototypes or larger-scale facilities and test the market for goods and services to be produced by proposed projects.’

‘The purpose of a demonstration project is to show that new technologies, methods or programs are better that traditional ones because they increase productivity, lower production, costs, raise income or deliver social services more efficiently. Their major objective is to show potential adopters the benefits of employing innovations. Thus, although demonstration project may evolve form experimental and pilot passes they must be designed especially to advocate the adoption of innovation. Even as the this phase of an experimental and pilot sequence, high levels of risk attend demonstration projects. At this stage, however, the risk is more evenly shared between project sponsors and intended beneficiaries.’

‘The dissemination tested methods, techniques or programs through replication, full-scale production, or service delivery project is the final stage of an experimental series. The major contribution of the projects is to expand productive and administrative capacity […] Careful attentions must be given to the early stages of pilot and demonstration projects to building political commitment and support among those who will decide about their expansion and replication. the base of support must be broaden quickly when positive results first appear and the interest of the government agencies must be attracted to them.’

‘The question that decision-makers may therefore find themselves asking is not, What is the best way of doing community development? but, What is the most politically and bureaucratically feasible way to do community development?’

‘Ultimately, all plans are political statements and all attempts to implement them are political acts. The pretension that planners and administration are politically objectives or neutral is naive. The belief that politics is beyond the scope of development administration usually reduces planners and administrators to a politically ineffective advisory role in which plans are produced but not advocated and little attempt is made to intervene in the political process to mobilise support for them.’


  1. Get a copy of ‘Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution’ by Thomas Carothers … It pretty clearly demonstrates we’ve been thinking about doing things differently for many years, without ever quite getting there. Lots of missed opportunities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s