Do we use obscure words to impress our colleagues – or fashionable ones to win research proposals? How do poor people define their poverty? How can we use aid budgets most effectively? Are many of our actions against poverty simple, direct... and wrong? This book is an entertaining and unsettling collection of writings that questions concepts, conventions and practices in development. It is made up of short and accessible writings by Robert Chambers, many from the last ten years and some from earlier, reflecting on the evolution of concepts like participation and of organisations like the World Bank. Besides provocations, there is mischief, verse and serious fun. The book is organised into four sections: Word Play, Poverty and Participation, Aid and For Our Future.
Rapid changes are taking place in international development. The past two decades have promoted the ideals of participation and partnership, yet key decisions affecting people's lives continue to be made without sufficient attention to the socio-political realities of the countries in which they live. Embedded working traditions, vested interests and institutional inertia mean that old habits and cultures persist among the development community. On this premise, the authors of this book describe the need to recognise the complex, non-linear nature of development assistance and how bureaucratic procedures and power relations hinder poverty reduction in the new aid environment. The book begins with a conceptual and historical analysis of aid, exposing the challenges and opportunities facing aid professionals today. It argues for greater attention to accountability and the adoption of rights based approaches. In section two, practitioners, policymakers and researchers discuss the realities of power and relationships from their experiences across 16 countries. Their accounts, from government, donors and civil society, expose the highly politicised and dynamic aid environment in which they work. The book then explores ways forward for aid agencies, challenging existing political, institutional and personal ways of working. Breaking the barriers to ensure more inclusive aid will require visionary leadership and a courageous commitment to change. The authors show how translating rhetoric into practice relies on changing the attitudes and behaviours of individual actors. The book aims to present a contribution to the understanding of how development assistance and poverty reduction can be most effectively delivered by the professionals and agencies involved.
As change accelerates, development professionals fine themselves more than ever explorers of an unknown and unknowable future. This brings opportunities, excitement and surprises, and demands continuous critical reflection and learning. In the opening part of this book, Robert Chambers reviews his own life, including his early career, participation in the World Bank’s Voice of the Poor project and research and engagement in South Asia on canal irrigation. These experiences led him to examine personal biases and predispositions, and to recognize the pervasive significance of power in forming and framing knowledge.
The book then reflects on a journey of learning, and encourages readers to learn from observation, curiosity, critical feedback, plan and fun. Participatory workshops have been the source of much enjoyable exploration and have evolved in unexpected directions. Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and community-led total sanitation (CLTS) are two movements that have benefitted from sharing practices and innovations through participatory workshops. Experience-based practical tips for facilitating such workshop are presented – 21 for learning, for managing large groups and for co-generating knowledge to influence policy and practice. Finally, the author argues that the new dual realities – virtual and physical – are getting out of balance, and encourages readers to enjoy exploring through experiential learning in the physical and social world.
This book is intended for all who are committed to human wellbeing and who want to make our world fairer, safer and more fulfilling for everyone, especially those who are ‘last’. It argues that to do better, we need to know better.
It provides evidence that what we believe we know in international development is often distorted or unbalanced by errors, myths, biases and blind spots. Undue weight has been attached to standardised methodologies such as randomised control trials, systematic reviews, and competitive bidding; these are shown to have huge transaction costs, which are rarely if ever recognised in their enormity.
Robert Chambers contrasts a Newtonian paradigm in which the world is seen and understood as controllable with a paradigm of complexity, which recognises that the real world of social processes and power relations is messy and unpredictable. To confront the challenges of complex and emergent realities requires a revolutionary new professionalism.
This is underpinned by a new combination of canons of rigour expressed through eclectic methodological pluralism and participatory approaches that reverse and transform power relations. Promising developments include rapid innovations in participatory information and communication technnologies (ICTs), participatory statistics, and the Reality Check Approach, with its up-to-date and rigorously grounded insights. Fundamental to the new professionalism, in every country and context, are reflexivity, facilitation, groundtruthing, personal mindsets, behaviour, attitudes, empathy and love.