Tag Archives: social development

Management fads and the importance of critical thinking

One of the main themes of Mats Alvesson and Hugh Willmott’s new edition of their book Making Sense of Management is that management, and the ubiquitous tools and techniques that accompany the practice are widely taken for granted as neutral, technical and helpful. In detail, and at length, they call these assumptions into question. Further, in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Management Studies, Alvesson, with his co-author André Spicer go on to accuse organisations of practising both knowledge and stupidity management. By stupidity management they mean the way that many organisations rush into adopting the latest management fad that everyone else is taking up, simply because everyone else is taking it up. They point to an absence of critical reflection and questioning in many organisations.

It is this process, endlessly rushing towards the next big idea provoked by an anxiety about keeping up with ‘the latest thinking’, or perhaps because of (self-imposed) coercion from peers or scrutinising boards and other agencies, that keeps the management shelves of bookshops filled to overflowing, and management academics and popular writers busy (and sometimes rich). Continue reading

Complexity and project management – exercising practical judgement in conditions of uncertainty

In an INGO where I was working recently one of the newer members of staff proudly told me that he was Prince2 trained. This was mentioned in relation to the conversation we were having about what he considered to be the ‘lack of systems’, I think implying a lack of rigour, that he perceived in the organisation he had just joined. As someone who once worked as a systems analyst, operating at the interface between software developers and end users, I was prompted into thinking about why my colleague might believe that a project management method originating from software development, and contested even there as to its usefulness, might also be suitable for managing social development projects. One would hardly look to the domain of IT for examples of projects which have been delivered on time and to budget, without even considering the other, obvious differences between the two fields of activity. Nevertheless, Prince2 is a good example of the kinds of tools, frameworks and methods which increasingly pervade the management of social development, and are taken to be signs of professionalization in the sector. Continue reading

Complexity and evaluation

Evaluation is a domain of activity which the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to as a field of specialised production. In other words, it is a highly organised game, extended over time, with its own developing vocabulary, in which there are a wide variety of players who have a heavy investment in continuing to play. Because the game is complex, and played seriously, and those who want to play it must accumulate symbolic and linguistic capital, it is very hard to keep up. To influence the game there is a requirement to be recognised as a legitimate player, as one worth engaging with, and this requires speaking with the concepts and vocabulary that are valued in the game. To call the game into question, then requires the paradoxical requirement of using the vocabulary of the game to criticise the game, and this is no easy thing.

However, a number of evaluation practitioners have begun to question the linearity of development interventions, and therefore the evaluation methods which are commonly used to make judgements about their quality. Since most social development interventions are construed using propositional logic of an if-then kind, there can be no surprise that most evaluation methods follow a similar path. As a recent call for papers for an international conference articulated this, evaluation is understood as being about developing scientifically valid methods to demonstrate that a particular intervention has led causally to a particular outcome. In calling into question the reductive linear logic of the framing of both social development and evaluation, a number of scholars have found themselves turning to the complexity sciences as a resource domain of a different kind of thinking but have done so with a varied radicalism in calling the evaluation game into question. Continue reading

Social development: engineering solutions, or complex social processes?

There are at least two competing theories of social development, one which draws predominantly on natural science analogies and considers development to be a series of technical problems amenable to technical/rational interventions, and the other which emphasises the social. Neither is exclusive of the other, but sometimes you would be forgiven for thinking that they are.

For example, I recently came across this video on TED   from the BIF innovation summit which shows one organisation’s response to social development in Latin America. What is interesting about it is the way that it completely ignores the debates that have taken place over the last few decades about the importance of the social in ‘social development’. So, simplistically put , previously there was a dominant discourse that development was about finding ‘solutions’ to people’s ‘problems’ so that people in less developed countries could ‘develop’, i.e. be more like us, and aspire to the things that we aspire to. The things that stood in people’s way were technical problems that the West’s greater scientific know-how could ameliorate. Then for a period  counter arguments seemed to hold more sway, that technical ‘solutions’ on their own would never be enough, or even that the West’s understanding of development was not a universal paradigm but a culturally and contextually defined ideology. People in other cultures would not necessarily want to develop as we have and do not necessarily aspire to what we aspire to. For the young woman on the film however, development turns on capital, infrastructure and know-how. How, then,  would we explain the modern state of India, where all three exist but still ¾ of the population lives in abject poverty? Continue reading