Rethinking development

Reconceptualising development is an ongoing debate. One that should take place in a relational space – as a conversation between people – unencumbered by concepts and labels. The international development discourse needs to be where answers are never taken as seriously as questions.

My working journey in development over the years has never been about taking on a role. Quite early on, I realised that I should not avoid bringing my whole person to any role or job, to every conversation, to every encounter I experienced. Why? Because to do less would be to create a bureaucratic protection, for myself and the organisation. An artificial protection against the daily struggle of those communities who were offering their hospitality and openness to joint work. To be involved in development is to ‘live, work and learn’ about one’s daily practice, one’s place and impact within the world.

A narrow managerial or transactional relationship within a developing context is not useful. Hiding behind third person statements and theories that objectify the process is not developing a new paradigm but reaffirming the current state.

What is the context within which development and developing takes place? It is the day-to-day lived, embodied experience of people in relationship, in community across the globe. It is not the sum total of the multi-sectoral approach of much current development practice. Deciding that development responses must be ‘joined up’ or ‘place managed’ is more of the same, and not the answer. Who disaggregated the issues in the first place? As it has been said, the ‘map is not the territory’.

Lived experience is integrated. Development thinking that does not model, reflect and agonise over this reality is flawed.  A more transformative approach lies waiting and can be found if one is willing to set aside the urgency – indeed artificiality and at times lack of respect – in the current bureaucratic call to arms.

Development is not necessarily an upward trajectory. It offers a place for sitting alongside, for people to connect and share in the commonality of their struggles, the joys and pains of daily life in vulnerable and complex environments. It provides a space for working that involves deep listening and shared exploration. It is an approach of ‘being-with’ as well as ‘doing’.  It acknowledges what everyone brings to the table. Action takes place within emergent relationship and the mutual sharing of skills and experience. The word development need never be spoken, and impact becomes a shared journey.

Leadership as a verb and not a noun

Too often I see leadership discussed and taught as a noun rather than a verb.

Knowing leadership as only a noun focuses on a model, a set of steps, a framework that forgets to breath and to grow.

Knowing leadership as the present participle ‘leading’ means being in the present – building and layering the ways and means of your style, how you are known and how you are being experienced as a leader in each moment in time.

Leading is the day by day, moment by moment work of reflecting, creating, listening, moving, understanding, speaking, advising, facilitating, adjudicating, concluding, opening.

To see leadership as co-creation is to lead by navigating the dynamics of psychology within place; is to learn in each moment how it is that you express every value, every principle you have ever known.

Leadership as a verb is brave and courageous.

 

LOL Michel Foucalt or/ how knowledge can often get in the way

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The following is Foucault’s explanation of the impetus behind his The Order of Things. I offer it as a reminder that categorisation, like the search for definitions, theories or explanations, is a nuanced art.

“The book first rose out of a passage in Bores, out of the laughter, that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought – our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography – breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other.

This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine candle hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like ‘flies’.

In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated in the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own …”

We assume taxonomies and typologies create spaces for everything once and once only. Dewey and Linneaus take note. Foucault understands the quandary and John Shotter writes that “as adults n the western world, what we ignore, even in the study of ourselves, is the coming into being of things. We tend to think in terms of finished things, like solid objects. we are not well versed in methods of thinking about unfinished things, things still open to yet further development, fluid things.”  

My ontological interests lie here, because the map, as they say, is not the territory. Being, becoming, emergence are the edges of knowing and unknowing. The world of en=mergence loves the present participle.

Today’s ‘animal’ photos offer giraffe spotting in Nairobi, Kenya (and yes, some so far off they looked like flies); the craze for cute animal onesies; our dear departed Golden Retriever, Angel; puppy taking a break from antique selling, Le Marais, Paris; geese conversing, NSW paddock;  superb art inMusee du Louvre and up close and personal in Petra, Jordan.