“Doing Development Differently” by Emma Crewe

Very interesting article by Emma Crewe in “Development in Practice“.  I really like her anthropological take on working in an international NGO.  From the abstract: “Rather than seeking conspiracies to explain the gaps between development rhetoric and practices, I suggest that people both contest and collude with bureaucratic systems of rule.”  

The author reflects on her experience in an INGO (disguised by using pseudonyms) from late 2005 to mid 2011, examining how various “rituals” (as she frames them) influenced behaviour, and evolved over time.  She “describes how things (were) normally done and how we tried to do things differently” – looking at finance, audit, staff performance assessment, planning, and visioning processes.  Her insights are fresh, at least to me, and useful.

For example, I really liked how the practices of staff performance evolved from, in 2006:

  • “the appraisal is an opportunity to take an overall view of work content, to look back at what has been achieved in the review period and agree objectives for the next“;

to, in 2010:

  • “what has been your experience of working in (INGO) in the last year, both positive and negative?”

I am in the midst of that yearly ritual now, and am finding this different approach to be quite helpful and useful.  I find it to be more consistent with the values that our sector stands for, a less mechanistic and hierarchical approach to something that should be supportive and human.  Isn’t that what was in our hearts when we joined our organisations?

The article shares a number of similar practical insights along the same vein.  Thanks to Emma Crewe for sharing these interesting and useful reflections.