16 September 2013

Development Speak: This Year's Model

It is Fashion Week in London again, and it is time to have a semi serious look at words and terms currently riding high in development land.

1. Resilience. The biggie.  Everyone is glomming on to it.  What does it mean?  Bouncing back? Bouncing back better?  Avoiding the drop in the first place?  And whose resilience counts?  (sorry, I couldn't resist).  Resilience probably has a lot to offer, but we need to make sure it actually does.  

2. Transformative. Something that changes the rules of the game.  But often it just means "our stuff is so important it must be transformational".  I am involved in a research program called Transform Nutrition and the transforming filter is an important one to select activities, but it is easy to forget to use it.

3. Multi-stakeholder Platforms.  Put visions of your favourite train station aside, this is about creating spaces for people to come together.  Very good, but remember the power of the different players will be different and the vision of a platform is something that is level.  The risk is that the platform is more of a steep slope--one that ends up with everyone sliding to the feet of the most powerful.

4. Scaling Up.  Not just about rolling out or multiplication.  Rolling out always runs the risk of petering out.  Multiplication ends up with fuzzy photocopies of the original idea.  Scaling up needs to be thought through carefully, planned for and resourced with skills and money.

5. Political Economy. Often used as "whatever I cannot fit into a quantitative model" but it is the study of how political policies interact with economic processes. Working with my political science colleagues at IDS it is clear that it has structure and a long and storied intellectual tradition. Resist the temptation to use it as a dustbin for failed economic analysis.

6.  Mixed Methods. Often used as "I don't have a clue what method to use yet and I will figure it out as I go along".  Again, mixed methods can be done brilliantly or they can be done haphazardly and without rationale.  Reviewers, whenever you see this, dig deeper.  (I could say the same for "statistical model".)

Fashions change--what will be next?

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