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Community Driven Development

Reflecting on being radical: Integrating theories of change as practice

Heather Lanthorn's picture

Ms. Gurugalpola, teaches parents and children about dental hygieneRecently, Craig Valters published new work on theories of change. He calls not for a new tool (product) but for a more careful approach (process) to practicing and engaging in development. That is, changing the state of the world for someone. And learning from it. And, ideally, communicating that learning. (Craig is pessimistic that we are near actually ushering in a learning agenda to replace the results agenda. On this, I hope he is wrong.)
In this post, I echo and expand on the idea of theories of change as allowing “space for critical reflection” (p. 4) and push back slightly on two of the outlined ‘key principles’ of a theory of change approach: being ‘locally led’ and thinking ‘compass, not map.’ I also include some of the comments Craig made on the original version of this post, here.

I have two disclaimers, given points raised both in the paper and in Suvojit’s follow-up blog. The first is a musing, though I have adopted the theory of change language along with the herd. I wish we could still revise it to hypotheses of change or ideas of change or stuff that might matter because we thought hard about it, looked at what had been done before, and talked to people about what could be done now (or something else catchier but far more tentative, humble, and open to updating than 'theory'). Alas. On the brighter side, Craig notes that, at least, “theory implies we have to think really hard about it, even if what we end up with is not a theory in the social science sense of the word.”
The second is a confession. I really like boxes and arrowsnot as the definitive product associated with a theory of change but as some means of organizing ideas that people can stand around, look at, point to, and ask, “have we learned anything about how this arrow really works?” While I don’t want to foist the need for a visual on anyone, especially if it is just going to end as a bad flowchart, I feel I should at least lightly advocate that a visual can be a useful tool for learning and may be friendlier to revisit than a lengthy narrative, and it's usually prettier. In his follow-up responses, Craig echoes that a diagram, no matter how pretty, “is not in itself a Theory of Change.” I concur.

Maintaining momentum in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.

Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.

Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.

In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia.  Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.

The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.

Where have we got to on Theories of Change? Passing fad or paradigm shift?

Duncan Green's picture

Gum Arabic farmers at Hilat Ismaiel, North Kordofan, SudanTheories of change (ToCs) – will the idea stick around and shape future thinking on development, or slide back into the bubbling morass of aid jargon, forgotten and unlamented? Last week some leading ToC-istas at ODI, LSE and The Asia Foundation and a bunch of other organisations spent a whole day taking stock, and the discussion highlighted strengths, weaknesses and some looming decisions.

(Summary, agenda + presentations here)

According to an excellent 2011 overview by Comic Relief, ToCs are an "on-going process of reflection to explore change and how it happens – and what that means for the part we play". They locate a programme or project within a wider analysis of how change comes about, draw on external learning about development, articulate our understanding of change and acknowledge wider systems and actors that influence change.

But the concept remains very fuzzy, partly because (according to a useful survey by Isobel Vogel) ToCs originated from two very different kinds of thought: evaluation (trying to clarify the links between inputs and outcomes) and social action, especially participatory and consciously reflexive approaches.

At the risk of gross generalization, the first group tends to treat ToCs as ‘logframes on steroids’, a useful tool to develop more complete and accurate chains of cause and effect. The second group tend to see the world in terms of complex adaptive systems, and believe the more linear approaches (if we do X then we will achieve Y) are a wild goose chase. These groups (well, actually they’re more of a spectrum) co-exist within organisations, and even between different individuals in country offices.

The Accountability Lab: Building a community

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab discusses the importance of community-driven development and how filmmaking can engage people in accountability goals.

Many organizations and development professionals have found that reaching initial benchmarks is sometimes easier than sustaining them. However, with clear goals, development progress can be sustained in the long-run.

According to Blair Glencorse of the Accountability Lab, setting goals that are context-specific is critical. The Accountability Lab, he says, meets “people where they are, not where we want them to be,” and takes into consideration the varying levels of literacy, numeracy, and other practical skills of their clients when designing a program.

At the same time, a program is only as strong as its supporters so encouraging community members to speak up is equally important.

Taking a holistic approach, the Accountability Lab works with young people in Liberia, training them to create documentaries on issues related to accountability.  The up-and-coming filmmakers then present the documentaries to their communities at film festivals to spread awareness and get people involved in tackling the tough issues.
VIDEO: Accountability Lab: building a community


​Putting ourselves in women’s shoes: Experiences from rural Bolivia

Francisco Obreque's picture

I recall a visit to a Bank-funded project in a rural Bolivian community. An enthusiastic Quechua woman was proudly telling me that she was about to undertake the 3-hour journey to Sucre with her “wawa” (baby) to get the three price quotes she needed to purchase wire for the community fences. She was participating in one of over 600 investments designed to help vulnerable rural communities in Bolivia lift themselves out of poverty, within the scope of the Community Investment in Rural Areas Project (PICAR) executed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Lands.    
“You just have one wawa, right?,” I asked. She replied: “Well, this is the youngest of six children; the others will stay home. My ten-year-old daughter will look after the younger ones. Right now my husband is working in the Chapare, harvesting coca leaves. He only comes home occasionally.”
After talking with her I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I was worried that our gender-targeted project was asking too much of her and might be harming her kids in some way. On the other hand, I realized that it was giving her a unique chance to engage in tasks historically performed by the men.

Development from the ground up? Mining community development agreements in Sierra Leone

Jared Schott's picture

Relationships with affected communities can make or break mining activities. From a business perspective, local disputes can lead to more than US$20 million per week in losses for large-scale mines. To say nothing of the broader costs – in terms of lives lost and development stymied – when local discontent develops into violent conflict. 

In response, a growing number of mining companies and governments have rolled out “Community Development Agreements” (CDAs), an umbrella term covering formal arrangements for local development between a company and designated communities. CDAs can run the gamut of the community-company relationship, including among other areas, socio-environmental impacts, benefit sharing, employment, monitoring and grievance redress.

CDAs have spread quickly in national law and policy. Since the mid-1980s thirty two countries have adopted community development provisions in mining codes, with nine countries currently in the process. The CDA model, it seems, is an emergent “best practice” and initiatives ranging from the Ruggie Principles to the International Council on Mining and Metals have reiterated their value.

The false dichotomy among sanitation-for-all advocates

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The sanitation debate has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all.

A good way of blocking progress in an argument is to present two aspects of a whole as a dichotomy. The sanitation debate, in recent years, has suffered from a seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy when it comes to identifying the best approach towards sanitation for all. This is the one that pits subsidies against motivation and correspondingly, construction against behaviour change communication. And yet, in a comprehensive and prudent programme design, there is no need for these ideas to be opposed to each other. I call this then, the false dichotomy in the world of sanitation advocates.

The current sanitation programme in India has at its centre a subsidy and incentive for individual households constructing toilets. This is a programme that has clearly not worked, irrespective of the minister or bureaucrat at the helm of affairs. India holds the ignominious record of having the largest number of people defecating in the open. At the same time, the popularity of the community-led total sanitation (CLTS) approach has risen. This approach depends on using shame and motivate as a call to action to build basic pit latrines (rejecting subsidies completely) and has worked in multiple countries around the world, as well as in certain states in India.

Aid for Peace? Let’s Dig Deeper

Robert Wrobel's picture

In their article “Aid for Peace,” Berman, Felter and Shapiro question some of the basic assumptions underpinning delivery of humanitarian development aid in zones of conflict and argue persuasively that small, targeted programs designed based on a deep contextual understanding of the drivers of a conflict produce better outcomes than programs aimed at spreading around as much cash as possible. As a development practitioner with experience in conflict-affected parts of Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Aceh, Indonesia, I ultimately agree with this conclusion and commend the authors’ innovative work through Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC). However, I would strongly caution against generalizing too broadly from the Philippines’ experience as to what constitutes “smart aid” in other conflict zones. It’s worth noting in particular that studies of community-driven development and conditional cash transfer programs implemented in other countries affect conflict outcomes in ways that are entirely at odds with the Philippines’ experience.

Video Blog: World Bank Vice President for East Asia & Pacific on his Visit to Chin State, Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture
Video Blog: World Bank Vice President for East Asia & Pacific on his Visit to Chin State, Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for East Asia & the Pacific, visited Myanmar from May 12-16 to observe some of the initial results of the National Community Driven Development Project, the World Bank’s first project in the country in 25 years.