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Social development and the global community: Why the legitimacy of the change process matters

Roxanne Bauer's picture

This is the first post in a series of six in which Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, discusses critical ideas within the field of Social Development.

Both globalization and international development bring a wide range of people into contact with one another, linking distant communities to transnational networks and opening up spaces to new ideas. Alongside the state, multilateral development banks (MDBs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), private contractors, and development professionals converge on project sites, often interacting directly with local communities.

This influx of people brings global values concerning trade, democratic governance, human rights, and environmental sustainability— among many others— in contact with local conceptions of these values. This can create friction when international actors push for global liberal values that local communities are unfamiliar with or when they disregard traditional patterns of discourse. The tussle over values also occurs within states as district and national communities debate how development should progress. Urbanization, immigration, and the arts, for example, can all be experienced differently by various groups within a society.

Michael Woolcock asserts that, “putting a very strong premium on the legitimacy of the change process” is critical to a credible and accountable development intervention. Further, he states that if multi-level stakeholder engagement can be sustained over time, “then a lot of the process of dealing with contention can be acquired and incorporated into the way in which systems get managed.”
Michael Woolcock
International development, thus, drives the normative battle of the interpretation of issues. Development not only helps address problems but also generates new issues for discussion.  

And while comprehensive, fully inclusive development remains uneven, incremental steps should not be underestimated. Development projects with processes that are perceived to be transparent and legitimate have managed to influence political decision-makers by giving voice to the marginal groups and by framing issues in alternative ways. At the same time, credible engagement frameworks also help maintain the accountability of global governance institutions regarding the overall level of transparency, consultation, evaluation and efficiency of projects.

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