Technocracies love complexity, especially technical complexity. If you can't hurl regressions at a problem, well, that is not interesting. Yet at the heart of effective development specific contexts is an art. That art is political judgement, not partisan politics but sound judgement when it is the domestic political process that determines whether or not you succeed.
The trouble is this: saying something is an art gets many technocrats nervous. Technocrats love numbers. But as reflective practitioners of the so-called social sciences have often pointed out, the reason you cannot claim that these are sciences is that the subjects being studied think. Human beings are not numbers; they are full of surprises. Which is why when it comes to how to achieve your objectives in Gugu Republic, you being the head of a development initiative being implemented in Gugu Republic, you will not be successful unless you can display sound political judgement.
Part of the problem is that some technocrats can't see when their roles change. If you are a transport engineer, or a procurement specialist contributing ideas to a major development initiative, you have a right to see your role as purely technical. But if you are the manager responsible for the success of the initiative - and you have to make it work in the real-life context of Gugu Republic - then you have to accept that you no longer function in a technical capacity. You have to be effective in a stubbornly political context. You cannot afford to be politically naive. To be successful you will have to exercise sound political judgement.
Unfortunately, political judgement is not taught in school. You can't earn a PhD in political judgement. Nevertheless, it is the outstanding capacity of all those who are able to get things done in real political contexts, every one of which is fiendishly complicated.
In one of Sir Isaiah Berlin's collections of essays, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History, he has an essay titled 'Political Judgement' that is worth reading. According to Berlin, political judgement is the outstanding capacity of successful statesmen, and he defines it as a special understanding of public life. it is not about immutable laws; it is about skill, sagacity. Here is a quote from page 47:
"What are we to call this kind of capacity? Practical wisdom, practical reason, perhaps a sense of what will 'work', and what will not. It is a capacity, in the first place, for synthesis rather than analysis, for knowledge in the sense in which trainers know their animals, or parents their children, or conductors their orchestras, as opposed to that in which chemists know the contents of their test tubes, or mathematicians know the rules that their symbols obey."
Political judgement, in other words, is an art, not a science. It is about moves actuated by wisdom; it requires synthesis, reflection, and a focus on practical outcomes. All this is why successful initiative-managers in international development come from a wide variety of technical backgrounds but if you study their actual practice you will find that they have one thing in common; and that thing is sound political judgement.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Dennis Collette...!!!