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Discovering development management
Discovering development management

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3 A conceptual framework

Thomas’s definition of development management as ‘the management of intervention in the process of social change in the context of conflicts of goals, values and interests’ (1996, p. 106) can be used as a conceptual framework for exploring development management in ways that certainly include (but are not restricted to) those undertaken by ‘managers’ in development agencies.

By ‘conceptual framework’, I mean a set of concepts that can be connected with each other, and that make it possible to look at something – in this case, development management – in a disciplined and powerful fashion. Here the concepts that need to be brought into play are:

  • intervention
  • process of social change
  • conflicts of goals, values and interests.

However, I also recognise that there is nothing simple about this development management. We need to find a way of looking at it that recognises this; a way that enables us to discover the richness of development management, whoever is undertaking it. With this in mind, I am proposing three more concepts that I judge point to key qualities of the process of development management. These three concepts are:

  • complexity
  • difference
  • emergence.

Each of these concepts on its own can tell us something about the nature of development management. What does each of them point us to? To start with, I would suggest the following.


This quality is rooted – as, in fact, are ‘difference’ and ‘emergence’ – in the reality that any development management intervention involves many interested parties (some of whom, but not all, may be development agencies and their staff), whose relationships make up a complex web. I think that we can see this complexity in terms of at least the following, each of which are connected and inter-connected:

  • multiple interested parties (e.g. public, private, civil society; organisations, individuals)
  • multiple fields (e.g. social, political, economic: employment, health, education, environment)
  • multiple levels (e.g. local, national, global; micro, meso, macro).


This quality is rooted in the reality that all of the interested parties come with their own specific identities, arising out of – and contributing to – their own specific histories (within broader histories involving different mixes of interested parties). These differences include:

  • interests
  • values
  • agendas
  • cultures.

Another difference relates to power. I’ve set this apart from the other factors; this is partly to signal the significance of power in any process of development management (though that is not to devalue the other factors), but more to do with an understanding of power as a dimension of the relationships between the parties, rather than just a property (or possession) of any of the parties.


This is rooted in the reality that development management emerges from the interactions between the interested parties, which constantly change the state of play in ways which can never be fully anticipated or predicted; and the reality that new parties might enter the process at any point in time, setting in motion new dynamics such as the following:

  • uncertainty, which has to be lived with
  • unintended consequences, which may be variously judged good or bad
  • unevenness, which reflects the specificities of different contexts.

Complexity, difference, emergence (CoDE)

Each of the three concepts thus can, on its own, generate insights into development management. However, together, the concepts form a powerful ‘CoDE’ (Figure 1) through which we can break down some of the difficulty that is inevitably experienced in a quest to understand an ‘interesting’ and ‘unclear’ (Crewe and Axelby, 2013) phenomenon such as development management.

Described image
Figure 1 Complexity, difference, emergence (CoDE)

Connected with Thomas’s abstract definition, CoDE offers a rich conceptual framework for conducting a successful process of discovery. This conceptual framework will enable you both to identify (discover) development management you don’t know and to question the development management you do know.