21 March 2014

Richard Longhurst: It's time for the UK to learn lessons on development from "developing" countries

Here is a guest blog from Richard Longhurst, a ResearchAssociate of IDS. We know the old model of "you have the problems, we have the solutions" is dead. We all have problems, increasingly common and collective, and we all have solutions, increasingly from outside the West. Richard outlines some of the issues where the potential for cross learning is high. 

His intervention is timely, not just because of the recent floods in the UK, but because of a recent series of articles in Prospect on Poverty in Britain, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. There is a nice introductory essay by AC Grayling on "What is Poverty?" and interestingly he finds he cannot talk about poverty in the UK without referring to poverty elsewhere--he says there is a moral connection within and across nations. The difficult truth is that it is very difficult to get any such comparative work done because of how research funding is divided up in the UK and elsewhere: developing and developed. Time to tear down these artificial walls and learn, learn, learn. 

Time for the UK to learn some lessons on "development"?

By Richard Longhurst

There has been a great deal of speculation recently in some parts of the media about whether the UK international aid budget might be better spent on flood recovery here in the UK rather than be sent abroad.  

But the historic UK flooding disaster has opened up another and perhaps more helpful argument about the use of our aid budget, raised by several commentators, including George Monbiot for one. This is: Wouldn’t it be sensible to try and apply some of the technical advice and support we provide for poorer countries, right here in our own back yard? Certainly the Prime Minister’s recent assertion of ‘money is no object in the relief phase’ must have struck a chord with many development professionals involved with water management and disaster risk reduction projects overseas for which significant rates of return on the original investment can be achieved. 

This general concept of ‘Development in Britain: Lessons from the Developing World’ is not new. Here at IDS these arguments were initiated in the 1970s with an IDS Bulletin co-edited by Richard Jolly and Robin Luckham, (See Britain: A Case for Development? IDS Bulletin 9.2, 1977). As we move towards the Institute’s 50th birthday in 2016, which will inevitably entail quite a bit of reflection on a changing world, we hope to vigorously pursue these ideas once again.

Why is it that so many people think that ideas and actions can only flow from richer countries to poorer ones? Why do no formal mechanisms exist to channel ideas and programmes that have worked in low resource contexts to higher resource areas, despite much anecdotal evidence about ‘what works’. Surely with so many ‘Diaspora’ communities in the UK there must be a lot of informal sharing of experiences. As we approach the end of the current MDG framework and a new settlement is developed that will hopefully recognise the end of the traditional North to South development paradigm, surely it is time to reverse the flow of appropriate development innovations?

We want to raise questions in sectors such as governance (decentralisation in particular), health, education, social protection and livelihoods and science and technology. For example, can the lessons of conditional cash transfers be applied to the UK welfare programme? The development of food banks in richer countries could learn from experience in developing countries. In early childhood development, what can Sure Start learn from experiences in Latin America and Asia? The small-scale credit model from Bangladesh has been trialled in the US. Finally, from this list, the use of mobile phone technology has galvanised communities in developing countries in ways that we could learn from in the UK.

In IDS we are starting to draw together some of these experiences. This is a huge topic and there may be organisations interested in working with us. So do keep an eye on the IDS website as our work on this topic progresses.


Anonymous said...

Comment received via IDS Facebook from Dube Mfowabo: Richard you are correct what solution could the western world give to Africa? Africa has its own climate and its own endoginious way of solving problems. West should stop attaching conditions on thier financial and economic support. As you hve said Richard i support you no more time for "you have problems n i have solutions

Unknown said...


Well made observations. The trouble is that there is an idea that some societies (poor) need one theory while there are theories for other societies (rich). Yet compassion, poverty etc. applies to all. Failing school systems apply to all societies. We need a theory for humanity albeit one that takes cognizance of contextual nuances.

Cornelius Chipoma

Bonnie Koenig said...

This is an important idea to share lessons from wherever they may come. U.S. AID also had a similar program in the 1990’s – Lessons Without Borders https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/archive/dialogue/1_11/relevance_social/587.html - but unfortunately it wasn't continued. It could, though, perhaps be a model to learn from and build on.