Shifting the Ideology, Redefining the Paradigm

May 28, 2013

Guest Post by Matt Jira, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013

After two solid years of studying development at MIIS (which included DPMI, Development Economics, and Development Theories and Practices), I thought I had a firm grasp on what community development looked like, and how it should be approached. Then, this little one-credit workshop that I decided to take at the last minute in order to fill a gap in my schedule radically altered my understanding of development. I felt like I was on an episode of Community Development Myth Busters. I had originally viewed this workshop as an opportunity to refine my view on community development, but left realizing that something greater than simply my view needed to change. The view of development that I owned was shaped by the books that I had read, and the lectures and learning experiences in which I had participated. I began to realize that there is a greater power, or paradigm, that is driving a lot of the mainstream development epistemic community; and that paradigm is in desperate need of change.

It seems as if the term “participatory development” exists as a requisite ancillary of community development (as it rightly should). Yet, our understanding of what participatory development entails is often skewed by our Western development lens. In the vast majority of community development case studies that I have reviewed, participatory development existed by virtue of “community ownership” of the development process or project. Regardless of the extent to which a village council, self-help group, or town government is able to make decisions and hold the proverbial financial reins; whoever owns the visioning process, the timeline, and the overall definition of success, owns the project. The Andean Alliance was able to show us in three short days, just how effective and meaningful community development can be when it occurs organically. This “organic development” means that the projects are generated within the community, implemented on their timeline, and measured by their standards. The role of a development organization within this concept shifts almost entirely to capacity building and advising; a role in which fewer personnel, and greater amounts of humility, are required. For the most part, this means shifting away from what we think is right, and working with them to find effective ways of developing what they think is right.

The big shift inherent in drifting towards this type of development, is the great divorce from the results-driven Western development approach. It is impossible to embrace this slower, more sustainable style of organic development while maintaining the traditional ideology. This shift towards a more endogenous style of development does not, however, require that we divorce ourselves from the participatory paradigm. Par contre, we simply need to redefine it in the light of this new ideology. A participatory focus is still an intrinsic component of any true community development process. Nonetheless, we must redefine ownership, and our role within this participation, and allow things to progress at the pace of the community instead of the pace of the donor. However, until our ideology shifts (and all of the things influenced by it: M&E structure, project timelines, ownership, accountability channels, etc.), this move towards a more organic form of development will remain hindered on a large scale.

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Our mission is to provide and implement sustainable programs and projects in collaboration with the indigenous people of the Sacred Valley of Perú in an effort to improve their lives and reduce poverty in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. Furthermore, we work to support local NGOs with whom we have shared values using the skills and tools we possess.