Saturday, 5 July 2014

Practioner's Dilemma: The Professionalization of Development

The economist Bill Easterly is likely the largest proponent against technocratic, heavy handed development efforts around today. He argues against the 'big development' type of development that repeatedly witnessed a strong lack of consistent success, and yet the largest voices in development such as Jeff Sachs, The World Bank, and The Gates Foundation are still working within this framework. As his recent book The Tyranny of Experts' name would suggest, Easterly has an issue with the professionalization of development that has taken a stranglehold of the decisions that are made across the Global South, and became a standard for all major (and most minor) development organizations. Professor Easterly refers to these experts themselves as the dictators, and the problem the continues to plague development efforts worldwide. The experts are the technicians who can fix technical problems, when in reality problems faced by the poorest one billion people are far more complex than any technical solution can handle. How can experts, such as Jeff Sachs, travel around the world preaching the technocratic solutions for poverty and one hand, and live in a multi-million dollar flat in Manhattan on the other?

And herein lies the problem. I want to be that same expert, technician and now apparently dictator.

I agree with Easterly, who echoes the likes of Arturo Escobar and Amartya Sen when he says that poverty reduction is something that can only occur through freedom, not technical solutions. A conflict exists between this approach and the more technocratic, expert-aligned approach, and it is very politically derived. When rationally-minded people are faced with seemingly logical solutions it is natural to take the path of least resistance, work within the bounds of reason which dictates problem identification, finding the most effective cost efficient solution and implementing it. This is how I was taught to find solutions studying Geographic Information Sciences and data base management, because this is how they are structured: within the confines of logic. Humans, on the other hand, do not easily fit into the confines of this model. We are often irrational and incomprehensible, we do things that often work against us, and often times do it repeatedly.Effective development, like all things, should be completed holistically. It should be entirely based around the needs of the beneficiaries, with the inputs of experts being done within a loose and accommodating framework.

 I have faith that while working for beneficiaries instead of for donors I can still be an expert, but an expert who doesn't carry only his laptop to hotels, hold meetings, and fly home. A balance must be struck between being a logically minded technocrat or expert and someone who can accept (not try to understand) the irrationality of human decisions. I anticipate learning from both schools of thought will help this become a reality in coming years.