in Development, Personal Development

Learning to Do Development Differently

I was immediately a fan of the Doing Development Differently (DDD) manifesto. It was launched in 2014 while I was an ODI Fellow in Zanzibar. I recognised that “too many development initiatives have limited impact” and fail to address the complexity of their context. I saw this all around me: well-meaning and talented outsiders arriving with enthusiasm but leaving little in the way of impact. In my more self-critical moments I included myself in that category.

Therefore, I was excited to hear about this community that brings together people who recognise this and are trying to do things differently. This means focussing on local problems with local ownership and working in an adaptive, flexible way, taking ‘small bets’ and using feedback loops.

My initial attempts to work in this way were unsuccessful. At the time, I was busy planning how to review and then replace Zanzibar’s medium-term economic growth and poverty reduction strategy. There was a deep faith in detailed planning and a need to specify everything in advance, even when everyone knew any implementation plan would be out of date even before it was finished. Precision was valued at the expense of accuracy or flexibility. While I like to think the strategy was better for my contribution, I didn’t get very far in persuading anyone of the value of a different approach.

Humbled by this experience, I’m now equipping myself to do things better at the next opportunity. To do this, I’ve been trying to identify which skills are valuable for someone who wants to do development differently, for instance adaptive management, facilitation and measuring change in complex systems. Once I identify these I think about strategies for deliberate practice and deep work. I’m learning in three main ways: by doing, through courses and by reading. Continue reading