In my experience, when development practitioners are called in to help address a complex challenge, they are not alone. Every development project requires an implementation team – people working together to achieve development objectives and outcomes. Depending on the nature of the challenge, practitioners may work with government officials, staff from NGOs and CSOs, community leaders, sector specialists, and others. It, thus, becomes vitally important for members of these teams to understand one another and the stake each has in the project, the perspective from which they approach it, and their assumptions about it, their history with, and their commitment to it.
In addition, development professionals must become knowledgeable about the reality of the communities in which they work to avoid designing implementation plans that don’t always work out as intended. For example, we have all heard the stories of cook stoves or toilets that are introduced into communities, but are used as storage objects. This attention to personal, political, and social factors affecting project design and implementation is precisely what the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program helps operational teams achieve and maintain, to get desired results.
In the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior
, the World Bank identifies three kinds of thinking we all do by reflex.
Thinking automatically, rather than carefully and deliberatively – we typically do not bring our full analytical prowess to bear on the issues and experiences of our daily lives;
Thinking socially, or in ways that are related to how others around us think – the influence of peer-pressure on our thought process is an example; and
Thinking with mental models generated by societal norms and the culture in which we live that tacitly influence how we perceive and think about our world.
These ways of thinking, research suggests, are implicit and fundamental and they shape human behavior, including interpersonal and collective interactions and decision making. This insight has enormous implications for our development work. If we do not account for and bring to the surface such social, cultural, and psychological realities in the design and implementation of projects, we can expect to be setting ourselves up for failure. Most challenges today are a complex mix of technical problems and behavioral or adaptive challenges.