3.2 Managing development: professional and personal challenge
Whatever your background, it is likely that what has brought you to this unit is an interest in, a concern for, the ‘troubled and fast-changing landscape’ I referred to in the previous section. Such an interest, such a concern, can be driven by diverse motives, and you might find it interesting to spend a few minutes thinking about what guides your interest in the development arena. Is it a particular vision of social justice? A specific political position? A commercial interest? Religious beliefs or values? An interest in a particular place or issue?
How do you identify yourself? What interests or values shape and frame your engagement with development?
Whatever lies behind your interest in development, our intention is to help you gain a greater understanding of the concepts and practical skills necessary to better cope with the complexities of that ‘troubled and fast-changing landscape’, the concepts and skills of development management (DM).
You may have a good idea yourself what DM is or you may only have a very vague notion of what you think it is. As a starting point for engaging with debates about DM, it is helpful to hear from a range of people about the work they do and the range of activities they engage in.
Watch the video entitled ‘Challenging development managers’, linked below. In this short video you will be introduced to a range of development managers working on rural development initiatives in the UK and India. You will hear their perspectives on what their roles involve and the challenges they face in their daily work.
As you watch the video clip, reflect on your own experience and how you approach the challenges of managing development in the context of your own work or similar activities. What skills and understanding do you already employ in your work, and what would further enhance your capacities to manage development?
Click to view the video clip (10 minutes).
Transcript: Video 4
The experiences described in the video are certainly not exhaustive of what constitutes the arena of DM. Yet they do capture some of the key activities and practical and conceptual challenges faced by those attempting to manage development. And they highlight some of the key skills and capacities that development managers require.
A key issue emerging from the video is recognition of the different values and interests that drive development managers and influence the approaches adopted to processes of intervention. Is there, then, any agreement as to what development management is?
It is likely that there would be some agreement that development management is:
The management of intervention aimed at external social goals in a context of value-based conflict.
The key terms here might be paraphrased as:
Intervention: influencing social processes rather than using resources to meet goals directly.
External social goals: actions directed outside an organisation rather than internal to the organisation, with people as the raison d'etre of such goals.
Value-based conflict: such conflict derives from different conceptions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ and different interests.
Implicit in these concepts is the importance of viewing development policy as process, where the policy process is affected by a multiplicity of interests among state and non-state actors. Which of these, or combination of these, comes to have the greatest influence on policies is an outcome of the balance of power. In this context, the task of the development manager is essentially to negotiate his or her way through the power relationships.
Differing levels of access to resources and power amongst the different actors involved fundamentally affects the nature and impact of their interaction. The concept of ‘public action’ has been used to describe the terrain of DM as comprising many different actors, goals and interests. What do we mean by public action?
By public action we mean purposive collective action, whether for collective private ends or for public ends (however defined). By the public sphere we mean the arena of such public action from parliaments to public demonstrations, passing through the media, trades union activity and voluntary associations for mutual assistance.
(Mackintosh, 1992, p. 5)
‘Public’ in the sense that Mackintosh adopts covers a very wide range of institutions, not only government institutions. The ‘public’ will include, for example, governments, aid agencies, NGOs, community groups, collectives and political movements. Each of these includes a wide range of different types of institution.
From this view, DM moves away from policy implementation in any rigid sense to activities that involve the steering and facilitation of interventions wherever they may originate. This implies thinking beyond organisational boundaries to look at the wider arena in which efforts to promote development and change are being made, and to recognise the importance of building relationships.
This may challenge you to think about your own work, if you currently operate within an organisation with a strong internal focus to its work. Or it may offer a useful framework for thinking about inter-organisational working that you already engage in.
Within this framework of ‘public action’, development management encompasses a range of activities:
direct implementation of projects and provision of services;
funding of initiatives;
coordinating the action of a range of organisations;
advising on policy change;
evaluating the use of funds/impact of intervention;
advocacy in wider political and public arenas.
All of these constitute ‘interventions’ in the sense of attempts to bring about positive change. And in all of them, development managers face a variety of challenges, amongst them:
How can interventions be managed in a way that allows flexibility to respond to change, while still keeping focused on longer-term strategic interests?
Who should participate in processes of directing and implementing change? Whose voices should be heard? ‘Participation’ these days tends to be taken as a self-evidently ‘good thing’. But is it? And, if so, how is it to be secured given powerful forces working against it?
What can be done about inequality? To what extent should efforts to transform inequalities be conducted within existing institutional frameworks and the established order? And to what extent can development managers seek to challenge broader sources of inequality?
How do development managers know what to do, and how can they be sure their efforts are having the planned impact? How do they gather the necessary information? And how can they work in situations where much may be ‘unknown’?
With competing demands on resources, how can development managers define the boundaries of their intervention and action? Organisational priorities and particular visions of development can be useful in defining a focus for intervention. But they can also constrain opportunities for working across sectors or exploring potentially innovative approaches to working.
Cutting across all these challenges are questions of: how development is defined; how to engage with conflicting values and interests; how to engage with contexts characterised by diversity and complexity; and how to strike a balance between action and reflection.
Where and how do you encounter these challenges, which are both professional and personal? How do you manage them?