(Wo)Man up, Dev!

Introductory question (for development workers): On a scale of 0-10 what is the actual impact of the job you do?  (“0” being – “I could really limit my activities to feeding my cat and it would still contribute more to world’s development than what I’m doing now;” “10” being – “if I keep doing what I’m doing, we should have all major development challenges solved by mid-August.”)* 

It’s already been two weeks since I attended workshops on complexity management with Dave Snowden and Irene Guijt from Cognitive Edge. For these past two weeks the prevalent leitmotif in every second conversation I had (fault being mine) has been Cynefin/complexity management/micronarratives and alike. I keep on stalking people (no matter if they work in private, public or any other sector) and preaching about common sense. Right, common sense. One time or another I might drop in some of the Snowden’s terminology, but most of the time I use the “common sense” vocab.

Cynefin framework (don’t worry, hardly anyone pronounces it correctly — correctly being  /ˈkʌnɨvɪn/), in short, recognizes that there are different types of systems in both our every-day lives and our work and so we should not be approaching all of them in the same fashion (starting to understand the “common sense” part?). Here’s Dave explaining the framework:

As you can see, the Cynefin framework rejects a popular notion that simple causation is present in each and every development and aid challange.** Obvious, huh? So let’s try another question for development workers:

What part of the projects you have been running over the last five years assumed that the systems you were targeting worked on the basis of simple causation (if we give people food, they will stop being hungry; if we teach the elderly how to use the computer, they will no longer be digitally excluded; if we give the long-term unemployed money for their business, they will become successful entrepreneurs, etc.):

a. all of them;
b. most of them;
c. please, stop asking questions!

Right… Right…

Two days ago I attended a webinar with Evan Thomas from SWEETlab. Evan shared with us some of the SWEETlab stories about the international development monitoring initiative. The conclusion that stuck fast into my head and decided never to leave was that we (development/NGO) tend to look at our performance rather leniently; we are rarely adapting monitoring tools that would be brutally honest thus depriving ourselves of the chance to improve performance and make our efforts more effective and money spent worth it more. I left the webinar with a pounding question: What does it have to take for us (development workers) to man up?

Financial crisis has had its impact on the development aid. Many agencies and organizations start feeling the pressure to spend money effectively (better late than never, they say) and start actually deliver on their promises and missions. It’s time to (wo)man up! It’s time to stick our necks out and experiment, get in touch, fail in order to succeed, and honestly evaluate our efforts. Don’t be mistaken, though, it is a complex system.


*Please, do not post your answers in the comments box below, I really want to maintain whatever illusions I have left…

** Argument in favor of the notion being flawed from the very beginning, since if it was so, at this point we would all be living in the land of  happiness, equality, prosperity and love.


My dear colleagues – both known and unknown – I am aware of the fact that this blog post uses minor exaggerations and I apologize for it, but I needed it to highlight the point. Very often we do an amazing job that we can be proud of! Still though, we can do better. We must do better!


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