Introducing international development management
Introducing international development management

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Introducing international development management

5.2 Perceptions

This section looks at how to manage conflict sensitively and introduces a number of intellectual tools to help facilitate this.

Read Article 9, linked below, then complete Scenarios A and B.

Click below to view Article 9 (0.1MB).

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Section 5 contains six scenarios. All are based on real-life situations; in some we have changed names and places so as not to identify organisations and individuals. It is important that you work through these examples, because they will give you more grounded experience in thinking about perceptions, problem analysis and decision making in complex and changing environments. Put yourself in the position of the decision-taker. Use these cases to explore the issues and to develop your creative and critical thinking skills.

Scenario A

FAMAID is a UK charity with an international reputation as a key player in alleviating distress and suffering in the aftermath of civil wars and natural disasters. Suppose you are working for FAMAID at a refugee camp which has been set up for people fleeing civil war. It is located on the edge of a large town. Your main responsibility is to ensure that people are properly fed. Food is coming in by road twice a week.

Your current thinking is that if you are to distribute food effectively, then you need somewhere secure to store your supplies. You see security as essential if food is not to be stolen before it can be distributed. You have learnt that the local town council has a large, suitable warehouse within easy distance of the camp, and only a third of the warehouse is being used, to store building supplies. You would like them to allow you to use the rest of the warehouse, but initial informal discussions show the council to be very reluctant to let you use the warehouse.

Think about how you solve this problem.


Did you stay rooted to the concept of storage of food?

Did you discuss the issue with community leaders in the refugee camp and try to develop systems which did not require storage?

Did you consider changing the truck delivery system so that storage was no longer required? If this could be changed to daily deliveries, then the need for storage would no longer be so critical and may even not be necessary. Thus one solution would be to reorganise the truck delivery system.

Why do you need a warehouse? Are there other ways of storing food safely? Did you consider storing food in a tent? This is real lateral thinking. But how secure is food stored in such a way? It would be very easy to steal from a tent. So this will not work. Or would it? If the food is distributed fairly and efficiently to people then there is very little incentive to steal – and in such circumstances there is no need for a secure warehouse. Local leaders and groups in the camp might play a more active role in fair distribution and securing stocks. A tent storage system could work. This option was used to store food safely and securely after the floods in Mozambique in 2000. Thus one solution to the problem is to focus on the fair and efficient distribution of food aid to all in the camp. This is thinking laterally.

Did you think of any other solutions?

Scenario B

You are still with FAMAID in a refugee camp, but this time there is an urgent need for clean drinking water and latrines. FAMAID is very aware of its reputation as being one of the best-organised and most effective aid agencies. Senior management in London are keen to see its high profile maintained, particularly as a number of large corporate donors take a real interest. You report on the situation and describe your plans to install latrines as a first priority and also water tanks. Head Office has already told you that an ITN news team will be coming out to film in a couple of days. It is essential that the latrines are placed in prominent positions, preferably on the main road, so that the name of FAMAID is seen. But the local people make it clear that they want latrines placed away from the prying eyes of the public and definitely not on the main road. You will need their cooperation and assistance in installing everything.

Now, suggest a possible solution, and give your reasons.

Next, ask yourself:

  • What is the real essence of the problem?

  • What are your criteria for deciding on a solution?

  • What possibilities do you consider?

  • What do you decide to do?


Did you consult with the local people and seek their ideas? Did you focus on the latrines or did you look more widely at the issue and explore some creative options? The real issue is reconciling the need for publicity for FAMAID with the needs of the people. Your criteria would include: providing sanitation and clean drinking water as speedily as possible; siting the FAMAID logo where it can clearly be seen by the visiting film crew; and the privacy needs of the local people.

Did you consider locating the water tanks in prominent positions with the FAMAID logo clearly visible? This would allow you to discreetly locate the latrines and satisfy the requirements of the people using them. This would also solve the PR problem. This was a real life problem and this was the solution used. Instead of focusing on the latrines, lateral thinking clarified the question and provided a creative answer.

How we perceive a situation or the motives we attribute to others is critical in informing how we respond. This section explores how we can be less instinctual and more creative in our perceptions and approaches to problem solving.

Now read Article 10, linked below, and complete Scenario C.

Click below to view Article 10 (0.1MB).

Scenario C

Why does the drug trade continue to flourish in the Ferghana Valley, Kyrgyzstan? Look at the list of actors in the DfID box below:

Local conflict actors in the Ferghana Valley, Kyrgyzstan

Post-Soviet Elites: Despite the democratic reforms of the post-Soviet era, officials from that time have been successful in retaining much of their former power and have developed sophisticated mechanisms for using the state apparatus for their own gains. In particular they have been successful in directing the benefits of development projects to their own advantage. Because the reform process is exclusive there are risks of alienating ethnic minorities as well as creating general ‘grievance’ in society.

Drug Traders: Although the region is poor, spectacular wealth can be made in the drugs trade from Afghanistan. This acts as a magnet for young men who otherwise have very little hope of employment. The trade results in the spread of weapons and violence. It also leads to an increase in drug addiction and more crime by drug addicts. If outside forces attempted to suppress the trade there could be a violent reaction.

Religious Fundamentalists: There is widespread depression, especially among young men, because of the economic situation. Many are turning to fundamentalist religion. This might act as a safety valve except that in neighbouring Uzbekistan and widely throughout the region, Islamic Fundamentalists have been viewed as opposition to state power and potentially dangerous. Russian and US perceptions could lead to the suppression of such groups and this could trigger violent popular reactions.

Military and Police: The huge imbalance between Kyrgyzstan's weak military and Uzbekistan's much larger forces could lead to border incursions. There are already strong tensions over the sharing of resources, notably water and energy. At a more local level, the police offer little help in resolving tensions but often exacerbate them by corrupt practices. Along with a corrupt judiciary, these factors mean that the state has lost its ability to mediate.

General Public: Although conditions may not be much worse that in other poor countries, the people of this region had been used to high levels of employment and very good health and education services until recently. The memory of lost happiness exacerbates the sense of grievance and could become the ‘fuel’ on which a conflict is created by those with an interest in doing so. Grievance could be directed against the state, or more probably against vulnerable ethnic minorities.

(From DfID's ‘Conducting conflict assessments: guidance notes’, 2002, Box 1, p. 14.)


Here are some answers – you may have these and others:

  • There are corrupt government officials who are lining their own pockets.

  • It is not in the interests of the government to stamp out the drug economy when it adds to export earnings.

  • People are poor and the drug trade offers the possibility of huge wealth.

  • Many young men are attracted to the drug trade because there is little hope of employment.

  • There is corruption in the local police forces.

  • The military are weak.

  • If outsiders attempt to suppress the drug trade there could be violence.

  • There is corruption in the judiciary.


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