12 March 2011

Guardian Development: Ghettoising or Mainstreaming Development?

I am a fan of the Guardian's Development site. It is increasingly informative, diverse and provocative. But I wonder if it is (a) making it "OK" for other sections of the newspaper to ignore development and (b) bringing in enough content from other parts of the newspaper, content that is not on development but is stuff that we should be thinking about?

On the first, it would be useful to hear the Guardian editors' reflections. It would be even better to have the stats on whether development stories are more or less likely to make it to the print version of the newspaper.

On the second, the challenge will be to be selective. Just today there were four stories that stimulated the development parts of my brain:

* the earthquake that has devastated Japan and is threatening the entire region: a chilling article by Bill McGuire on how many natural disasters can be planned for, but in the face of a Tsunami we are almost powerless (I can think of several counterexamples to these two assertions).

* cigarette packaging: this gets the Ben Goldacre "Bad Science" treatment--about how positions for and against banning branding on cigarette packets carry on happily ignoring the evidence (packaging design makes a big difference). How many development debates are like this? A lot, I think. But this one made me reflect on how incurious we are about how we communicate our findings in research. My sense is that the way results are framed and presented can have a huge influence on the likelihood of uptake and on the content of the message received. This is a huge research area waiting to happen.

* the UK census: a huge number of letters talking about what is personal data (individual records or anonymised data?), the design of the questionnaire itself and whether the commercial ties of the census company matters (it's Lockheed Martin!). All of these issues are hugely relevant in development fieldwork and will get more important the more research is focused on fragile contexts with fewer freedoms and more corruption.

* convoluted language: Simon Hoggart reports on RAND Europe courses on "pathway development". He makes fun of the way in which the course is advertised by the "Local Better Regulation Office" which uses phrases like: " The session will focus on local authorities who have gone through the process of developing their logic model, and now require additional expertise on how to develop indicators to measure achievements against outcomes".

We don't talk like that, do we?

1 comment:

Patta Scott-Villiers said...

On convoluted language, in an article in last month's London Review of Books (vol 33 no 5) Andrew O'Hagan tells us about Andrew Lansley’s Department of Health, which "continues to show a peaky disregard for sound paragraphs. ‘Liberating the NHS’ – see what I mean? – is said to be the result of the consultation process. Here’s a typical block of text:

To further incentivise improved outcomes and financial performance, consortia will receive a ‘quality premium’ based on the outcomes achieved for patients and their financial performance. Some of the outcomes from the Commissioning Outcomes Framework will inform the premium – but not necessarily all, since some may not be suitable for translation into financial incentives. The Bill introduces the powers necessary for the quality premium, and we will discuss further with the British Medical Association and the wider profession on how to shape it."

O'Hagan compares this kind of talk to Aneurin Bevan's 1946 speech on the health service: "It is cardinal to a proper health organisation that a person ought not to be financially deterred from seeking medical assistance at the earliest possible stage … The first evil that we must deal with is that which exists as a consequence of the fact that the whole thing is the wrong way round. A person ought to be able to receive medical and hospital help without being involved in financial anxiety … If it be our contract with the British people, if it be our intention that we should universalise the best, that we shall promise every citizen in this country the same standard of service … the nation itself will have to carry the expenditure, and cannot put it upon the shoulders of any other authority."

We in development could take a leaf from Bevan and O'Hagan, giving not just the incomprehensible 'bullet points of the argument', but the argument itself.