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Conference reflections and ripples

2013 April 27

Conference convenors were delighted that on the 23rd and 24th April we were able to bring together so many thoughtful and engaged development professionals. They came from across the globe, including those working on the ground, in head offices, in consultancies and research institutes._63037176_skim2

The Politics of Evidence conference provided an opportunity to share and strategise for people working on transformative development, and who are trying to reconcile their understanding of messy, unpredictable and risky pathways of societal transformation with bureaucracy driven protocols. They have struggled to make sense of the shifting sands of the results agenda – seeing the wisdom in some aspects while actively questioning its less useful, sometimes damaging, manifestations and consequences.

We designed it to make the most of participants’ experiences and ideas and everyone had the chance to share these in the conference break out groups, including documented case studies from about a third of the participants. As Lawrence Haddad comments in his blog yesterday on the conference, power pervaded these stories.  We hope that their engagement in such an interactive conference process will have given participants courage and confidence to adopt and develop further the potential strategies and tactics (developed in the break out groups and shared in the final plenary session) to make possible programming and evaluative practice fitting for transformative development.

Over the next month or so – while the conference report is being finalised – the convenors will be blogging about some of the key issues and challenges that the conference threw into relief.  Then, we plan to start work on a book that will explore these issues further, including contributions from some of the conference participants.

The Big Push Forward convenors aimed to throw a stone into a pond to make ripples. We hope these ripples will continue to expand outwards. Meanwhile, by September the current group of convenors will be stepping down in the hope that others come along to throw in more stones – either as the BPF or in some other form.  Contact us if you are interested!

3 Responses
  1. Tracey Martin permalink
    May 1, 2013

    Thanks for the conference. It was very reassuring to hear other people’s experiences – both the challenges and the successes. It was also good to see acknowledged the good things that have come out of the results and evidence agenda – the motivation to look at what we do more critically, the sharing and availability of information about what works and what doesn’t. If everyone was prepared to accept a much wider variety of evidence as valid and recognised that progress does not necessarily result in countable results, if donors and implementers could meet face to face and talk through what they were going to do, why and what might look different as a result and how best to capture that; if donors were more willing to fund learning processes rather than ‘tag on the end’ evaluations then maybe we would all be happy with a results and evidence agenda.
    However, something that wasn’t addressed at the conference and which was niggling away at the back of my mind for the whole 2 days was – are we just discussing how to alleviate the symptoms? Are we doing enough to address the root causes? What if the system is fundamentally flawed? Is the system anyway becoming increasingly irrelevant with the shift in who distributes aid and how?

    If we look at the system perhaps we should be focusing on a number of things:
    1. A total review of ‘the aid system’ – what about it helps or hinders developement? There are some obvious things, time bound short-term projects for example, that do not work well in bringing about transformative change.
    2. Understanding and working with the ‘new donors’ – BRICS etc.
    3. Educating people in our own countries – in my breakout group there was a real frustration about the simplistic way that development is portrayed in order to raise money – no wonder people want results. But how many Communications people were at the conference?

    If we could bring about systemic change in the way that aid is distributed, managed and accounted for – so that it is more likely to bring about transformative change people would need to spend less time trying to make the bits that don’t work less harmful.
    be a place where people can continue to be involved in the
    So yes, this conference really gave food for thought and I hope this website will continue to be a place where people can contribute to the thinking around this – but also take action.

  2. May 1, 2013

    Thanks so much for the great conference, the blog above and for your comment Jerker. I agree very much that there is much rich food for thought regarding the gender dimensions of all this. And of course what gets counted gets funded. I wrote an article about this funding issue last December and the comments beneath it (and the genders of their authors) were most interesting in this regard. (http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/alice-welbourn/gender-politics-of-funding-women-human-rights-defenders) I look forward to more thoughts on this from others.

  3. April 29, 2013

    I just finished reading Rosalind Eyben’s (2013) framing paper for last week’s Big Push Forward conference, entitled ‘Uncovering the politics of ‘evidence’ and ‘results’: a framing paper for development practitioners’. I found this very interesting and so much of what you say, Rosalind, plays out strongly in the results we got from the field in ‘Aid for AIDS’, for example (which may not be that surprising, as that sector is so archetypal of this approach and also being a sector in anxious ‘decline’!).

    The reason I thought I’d make a comment, however, has to do with what all this might have to do with gender and patriarchy, which is not really addressed in the paper itself. In thinking a lot more about that subject recently, it’s hard for me not to see ‘masculinities’ and ‘patriarchy’ as gendering these discourses and efforts in many subtle – and other less subtle – ways. A book by Allan Johnson – The Gender Knot: Unravelling our patriarchal legacy – characterises patriarchy as a pervasive system (or logic) of power as having four central deep-root aspects, namely: (i) Male supremacy, (i) male privilege, (iii) male centeredness (roughly analogous to ‘the unmarked male’) and (iv) an obsession with order and control. Whilst the first two seem more obvious and more related to quite visible ‘power over’ and structural privileges etc. (although – of course – even that gets more complex, inter-related and nuanced than this), it is the latter two aspects which intrigue me – also in relation to what Eyben writes.

    The ‘invisible power’ inherent in the unquestioned or unmarked masculinity of the micro-technologies for evidence and results are, I believe, de facto male centred on so many levels – from the deeply psychological, to ‘gendered aptitudes’ (e.g. numeracy versus linguistic), to the gendered masculine characteristics of the prevalent hegemonic disciplines influencing the discourses (e.g. privileging linear reductivism over holistic multi-dimensionality), not to mention the thinly veiled masculinity of these discourses themselves (‘managing by results’, ‘goal oriented SMART objectives’ etc. etc.). The fourth characteristic of ‘an obsession with control and order is also interesting, since this is so much what these agendas ‘perform’. A more well-known writer on masculinities, R.W. Connell, is generally credited with inventing the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ to explain relations and dynamics of power and influence between men (and ways of performing manliness), whilst a good friend and colleague Alan Greig talks (and writes) of ‘the masculinity of hegemony’ as connected to ‘anxious states’ (with a subtly intentional double meaning), in our recent book Men and Development. The development industry’s obsession with ‘evidence’ and ‘results’ actually fits very well with this and with Allan Johnson’s insistence that patriarchy necessarily involves an obsession with order and control (which when combined with male supremacy, -privilege and -centeredness become transacted through masculine lines and intrinsically masculine micro-technologies of power). None of this, incidentally, means that women don’t also play important roles in these power dynamics, whether through masculine or feminine performances, or whether with critically self-aware feminist aims or not.

    All to say that I think this debate is hugely important and fascinating and that there is a deep-level gender analysis to be taken forward in terms of this constructed discourse and agenda; the question as ‘to what extent – and how – this strain of knowledge-power is inherently patriarchal?’

    Many thanks for a stimulating read!
    Jerker Edström
    Research Fellow, IDS

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