Listening to the real drivers of development

Posted on March 17, 2012

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Imagine if a group of medics turned up at your door, set up an operating table, performed surgery and proscribed you a course of medication without finding out from you any details of your symptoms nor any discussion as to whether the proposed method of intervention would have any positive effect on your wellbeing.

Such an absurd scenario is in fact pretty close to the daily reality of the supposed ‘beneficiaries’ of development interventions. Pick a development project and chances are the people it’s supposed to serve will have had precious little to do with defining the projects aims, objectives or methods.

While empowering the poor by placing them in the driving seat on their own development journey has been an aim in aid effectiveness agreements and has featured as a key issue in campaigns like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, questions remain as to the extent to that this strategy really improved for the poor (a term I hate so if anyone has a better suggestion please comment).

A recent Devex article on this very issue mentioned the Listening Project set up by CDA Collaborative Learning Projects in the US. Given that this is an area of development that I’m passionate about I decided to check it out. I was bracing myself to be critical but despite its ancient website I think the organisation and its project really are the real deal.

Through visiting 20 field sites and engaging with over 130 local and international NGOs in collaborative “listening exercises” the project explores “the experiences and insights of people who live in societies that have been on the recipient side of international assistance efforts (humanitarian, development, peacebuilding, etc.)”

What do these conversations reveal? Ultimately what people want more ownership and to have a greater say in their own development. Here are a few snippets:

How assistance is provided is just as important as how much is given. People have suggested that donors work together more to address poverty and other systemic issues rather than fund individual projects or short-term interventions.

Accountability is still weak. There continues to be more focus by governments and aid agencies on being accountable to donor countries than to aid recipients. Despite efforts at improving transparency, local people have said that they often lack access to the information needed to hold their government and aid agencies accountable.

All the information gathered to date, including examples of the evidence, the analysis and lessons learned, recommendations will be released in a publication later this year. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the results…

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Posted in: Development