In this lecture we will learn how it works
This course was created on Dja Dja Wurrung land, located in central Victoria in what's now called Australia. I thank the Jaara people for their ongoing custodianship of this land that I now enjoy, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I also pay my respects to Indigenous people everywhere, who have survived, and whose cultures continue to thrive, all around the world.
Welcome. I'm delighted you decided to join me in the Principles of Good Local Development course. My name's Deborah Cummins, and I'm the founder and director of Bridging Peoples.
Now, before we dive into this course, I want to begin by addressing a couple of very common misconceptions.
First, you don't have to be working in the aid or development sector in order to benefit from this course. While my own background is working in humanitarian aid and development, so you'll find that the terminology that I use does reflect the way things are talked about in this sector, the fact is people are people everywhere. At Bridging Peoples we don't buy into this idea of there being something fundamentally different between 'developed' and 'developing' countries. In fact, we consider it a pretty unhealthy binary. So you'll find that the issues that we discuss are applicable regardless of where you happen to work in the world.
Second, you don't have to be a community worker to benefit from this course. If your work is intended - at some point - to touch the lives of community members, then you've come to the right place.
So let's have a look at what we'll learn in this training video.
First, we'll have a look at a case study, to show you some of the complexities of doing good local development that works in that context and culture.
Next, we'll examine the mainstream way of understanding local development, and consider some of the problems with this approach.
And finally, we'll explore another way of looking at local development, considering it from the community perspective, and looking at some of the local factors that can influence either the success - or the failure - of a project.
Imagine this scenario. A team of experts in a country called Rai Doben have put together a project designed to bring fresh water to the villages. In the past, community members would get their water from the river system and underground aquifers. But now, with the changing climate and a bigger population, most of the water is dried up. And what what does remain is heavily polluted. In response to this problem, a team of experts come up with what they think is a good plan. Instead of trying to access the water from the rivers, they come up with a new way of sourcing the water. This new system is a scientific innovation, but still basic enough for community members to be able to use and manage it.
They trial in one village to see if it works. And it does. They do everything you're meant to do when delivering a project. They monitor the results closely. They deal with problems that emerge, find solutions, and feed those results back into the project design to make it even better. In the end, under the close examination of the team of experts, the project is declared a success. Everyone's excited. There are smiles all round and lots of photos and videos of happy children playing in the water.
Based on the success they implement it across 50 other villages in similar geographical conditions. They're careful to use the same design and follow the same processes. But it doesn't work. Only about 10 percent of the villagers actually use it, and the rest are still without water. A few years later, the infrastructure is falling apart in many of the villages. If you compare it to the photos and videos of happy children that were taken a few years earlier, it is unrecognisable.
Same project design. Same environmental conditions. Different communities.
Now, if you've been doing this type of work for a while, you'll be familiar with this type of scenario. The reality is that for most of us working in the aid and development sector, we've come across probably multiple examples of project failure, and possibly even been part of it ourselves. It's hard not to get cynical.
So returning to our example of Rai Doben, what happened? How is it that a project could succeed so well in one village, and then fail so miserably in others? Is it that the people responsible for implementing the project just weren't as careful when they were implementing across the 50 different villages, compared to that first single pilot village? Maybe. It's not uncommon for pilot projects to receive a lot of attention. And, of course, that attention isn't sustainable when the project is scaled. But there are also other factors to take into account which go beyond a project's technical design. These factors come back to how we 'see' local development.
Very often, particularly if we've been working in the aid and development sector for a while, we forget to see things from the community's perspective. We think in terms of log-frames, donor requirements, technical issues. Sometimes if we're more experienced in this work, this can actually work against us because we're used to seeing only one side of the story. What we need to do is learn how to shift perspectives from the external bureaucratic view, and consider the community perspective. What do I mean by this?
Here's one way of understanding development. On the outside, you have organisations or institutions that design and finance a project to be implemented at the local level. This could be the government of the country. Or it might be an international organisation, such as the UN or the World Bank. It could be a foundation. It could be an NGO such as Oxfam, or Plan International. Or it could be a donor agency - representatives of foreign governments who give aid to that country. Now, of course, it can get complicated because different organisations partner together to carry out the work. But this simple diagram is enough for us now.
Now you see, if we go into the next layer, we see a few examples of project sectors or themes. An organisation might fund and design a project to improve the environment. Or they might focus on improving people's livelihoods, if the people are living in extreme poverty. Or the program might be focussed on providing humanitarian aid, for people who are living in a conflict zone or for people who have survived a natural disaster. These are just a few examples of the type of aid or development projects that can be carried out.
At the centre of the diagram, you see the local communities - the people who are meant to benefit from these programs.
But good local development is much more than simply providing a project to address a particular need. There are also many local factors to take into consideration. But the problem is that, too often, aid and development agencies enter into a community as though it's a blank page. Whereas that community actually has a certain shape and structure. And that shape - that structure - is what influences how a project works at the local level. When we understand this reality, we can begin to appreciate the influence of local factors - different local factors - on how a program is implemented at the local level.
So here's another way of looking at development. For example, what are the employment norms? Is it culturally acceptable for women to work? Under what conditions? What influence do political parties have in the community? Is there a history of conflict between political parties which might influence how a project should be implemented? Do community members have customary law, or use alternative dispute resolution - ADR - such as mediation, rather than the formal justice system? Maybe their customary law limits the types of things you can do, and who you should work with? What about the private sector, maybe local businesses or even big businesses who are in the area? They're often very powerful. What about family and kinship norms? If you're working with family groups, how do you do that? Are there religious leaders in the community who people trust? How could you work with those leaders? Is the land or the water spiritually significant to community members? Who's responsible for caring for these resources? Do you need to engage with these custodians? Is there local conflict between different sectors of the community, or has there been conflict in the past which hasn't healed properly? Could this impact on how you engage with these different groups? How does the household economy work? Who earns the money, and who decides on how to spend that money? Maybe the person earning the money doesn't get to decide how to spend it.
Now, I know you don't have time to go into all of these different factors across all of the different places where you work. That's not the point of this exercise. Even if you did try to go into every single factor, across every single community where you worked, I'd probably tell you that's not the best use of your time. You're not an anthropologist. Your job is to design and implement programs that will work at the local level.
But I share these examples with you now to help you appreciate some of the complex reality of working locally. Communities are unique, with their own systems, their own cultures, their own strengths and resources. And when we can appreciate this reality, we can begin to anticipate potential problems and design for them - anticipate them - in our work.
Maybe because of gender norms, we need to be sensitive in how we employ women in project activities. Maybe we need to engage better with ethnic or clan leaders, to increase the project's legitimacy before community members will even consider getting involved. All of these are just examples of possible local factors that can influence how a project works on the ground.
So you see, it's not enough to just design a project that works well on paper. It also needs to work well in people's lives. This means reflecting appropriately on the unique context of the different communities where you're implementing your work. And while I'll be completely honest and say: yes, this work does take time and effort, you don't have to become an anthropologist to do this work.
Throughout this course, I'll be sharing with you some of the systems and tools that we at Bridging Peoples use in our own work, to identify the more important local factors for a particular project. It's a slightly different way of working, but as you get used to using these systems and tools, it does get easier - just like with anything in life.
So let's review what we learnt in this training video.
First, we examined a case study of a pilot project succeeding - but then failing - as it was implemented across different villages.
We then looked at the mainstream way of understanding aid and development, and the impact that it has at the local level.
And finally, we explored another way of looking at local development - considering the many local factors that influence either the success, or the failure, of an aid or development project.
Now it's time for you to take action.
With every lesson I've provided, two things: (i) a short quiz to help you test your knowledge, and (ii) a more in-depth Reflection Sheet, for you to explore how these ideas fit into your work and community context.
You need to complete both of these things for every lesson, in order to get the Certificate of Completion at the end.
So go ahead and complete the quiz, download your Reflection Sheet, and share your reflections with the group. I can't wait to see what you come up with.
Thanks for joining me. Up next: exploring Top-Down and Bottom-Up Development.