Thursday, 29 September 2011

Rethinking development in an age of scarcity and uncertainty

By Emilie Wilson

Last week, I was in York attending the European Association of Development Institutes (EADI) and the Development StudiesAssociation (DSA) joint conference, whose thematic focus is the title of this blog.

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There is something in the word "rethinking" which might suggest an attitude of "it's broken, let's go back to the drawing board and start again". IDS used the term "reimagining", which has a more inspirational and creative resonance to it, when developing research around exploring and responding to crises, the results of which have been captured in the latest IDS Bulletin.

From my experience at the conference, the broad assembly of academics, activists and policymakers reflected a spectrum of  approaches to "rethinking": from the radicals who want to upend the existing financial, governance and informational infrastructure on which development sits, the innovators who modify and improve on existing systems,  the philosophers who want to ask uncomfortable questions about the ethics of giving to poor countries over poor people or the politics of measurement, and the pragmatists who want solutions and answers to the problems they perceive..

The approach I try to bring to “rethinking” is one of learning: reflecting on past and current theories and practices, identifying areas of improvement and opportunities for innovation, and sharing this experience more widely. Hence the blog I wrote for the conference entitled “Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water”.

As I say in this blog, I found the definition of Knowledge by Dr Sebastiao Mendonco Ferreira fascinating.  He contrasted the practice of managing knowledge as a resource with managing natural resources.  This was a useful way to focus our minds on ‘knowledge’, rather a slippery word, like an intellectual game of charades or a riddle ‘it’s intangible, non-rivalrous, non-erodible, human-made, both tacit and explicit, contained in receptacles such as human minds or embedded in machines, it’s unlimited’….would you have arrived at ‘knowledge’ after this description?

He went on to highlight the role of the internet for Knowledge ecosystems :- Will this increasingly custom-made and intuitive ‘web-environment’ help us develop the epistemic cultures and communities? Sebastiao suggests we need to address our limited ability to ‘absorb’ knowledge? A knowledge which is increasingly complex and sophisticated, and thus difficult to verify? This is one approach that IDS has taken through its development of a social networking platform for people working in development, Eldis Communities.

Read the rest of the original post.

You might also be interested in my colleague Yaso Kunaratnam’s post on: Rethinking the role of intermediaries in bridging policy, research and practice