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Discovering development management
Discovering development management

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2 Opening up development management

In his 1996 paper, ‘What is development management?’ Alan Thomas was concerned to establish whether or not there is a distinctive field that can be labelled ‘development management’. To achieve this he looked at the two terms – ‘development’ and ‘management’ – and subjected them to critical scrutiny.

In particular, he asked what if anything was distinctive about what he called ‘development tasks’ that might require a type of management that was different from ‘conventional’ management, which he (somewhat crudely) characterised as being based on ‘the simple idea of getting the work [of an organisation] done by the best means available’ (p. 101). The extract reviewed in Activity 1 is where his thinking took him.

Activity 1 Identifying development management

Read the following extract from ‘What is development management?’ (Thomas, 1996, pp. 101–3) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

  • a.Does Thomas’s account leave you feeling that development management does, indeed, exist as a distinct professional and academic field?
  • b.What would you remove from his account? What would you add?
  • c.How does it relate to the ways in which you may be ‘doing development’?


What you have just read can quite justifiably be seen as the origin, the source, of our postgraduate development management qualifications. In a little over 1000 words, Thomas presents what has emerged, and still holds good, I judge, as a statement of the orthodoxy of development management as a professional and academic field.

From his scrutiny of the nature of ‘development tasks’, and how they need to be undertaken, Thomas suggested that development management might be characterised in these terms:

the management of deliberate efforts at progress on the part of one of a number of agencies, the management of intervention in the process of social change in the context of conflicts of goals, values and interests … a process or an activity that can take place anywhere, not just in developing countries.

(1996, p. 106)