the point of real conversation

I was a bit worried when I walked into the first panel at the HKS International Development Conference this year. For one thing, I was wearing a suit. For another, the keynote speech had consisted of everything to be feared most: economics, donor distance, and scripted jargon.

However, this first session was all one could have asked for, at that point in life. It was entitled “Development and local ownership: including the beneficiaries in governance.”

The panel consisted of an eclectic mix of development professionals. There was Isabella Jean, one of the pioneers of the “Listening Project”; Anahi Iacucci of Internews (incidentally the volunteer coordinator from Pakreport); Jeff Hall from WorldVision; and Dennis Whittle, a former World Bank economist who went on to establish GlobalGiving. What struck me most was the fact that they still sounded excited about what they did. Perhaps it was because they had had the fortune (and made the effort) to be in direct contact with people (less paper).

Here’s a little illustration of what was said about effective communication in the field of development.

the pendulum swings

the pendulum swings

International development, it seems, goes through several cycles. The pendulum can swing rather dangerously between too much prescription and too little organization. The “Point of Real Conversation”, however, is between the extremes of the “Top-Down Expert Approach” and “Bottom-up Participation”. It is the point where each party acknowledges that the other side could have valuable insights – and neither has all the answers.


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