The founding directors of Development Connect have, throughout the last 2 decades, been involved in a vast number of (private and public sector related) research design studies, engaged in its undertakings, analysis, reporting and communication globally. Subjects areas range from banking marketing studies, rural agricultural value chains, violence against women, public private partnerships in service delivery sectors, (policy, program) capacity development interventions and more.

Both directors conducted also extensive research on Sustainable Development subjects for their MSc degree thesis at the Imperial College/SOAS in London.

Although lots of research is available in countries where Development Connect works/ed, findings have often not reached policy makers and/or investors, or they have not been interested to learn from the data. And often, researchers and development practitioners themselves too are not aware, not up to their game, about the latest research in their own area of work, unintentionally duplicating existing data or unnecessary reinventing the wheel.

The report “A World That Counts” was released in 2014 by the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group. The report contains much that is important to global development. But what might the data revolution mean for organizational and human capability development? Which data do we need to convince resource organisations, investors, incubator funds and the likes to expand financial investment for (as an example) local organizational development of our clients and partners? And do we really need more research?

Development Connect believes that conversations about what data already exist and how it can be used, that are a key part of the process of any country (policy, programming) analysis, and investment decisions that are directed to scale (local level) sustainable development, need to be intensified and scaled up. When handled well, and involving many stakeholders, this will support to develop capacity within a country, provide a platform for collaborative dialogues and make the business of government and private sector easier, to coordinate across the many that are moving around in their localities. The data revolution has the potential to enrich such conversations, and to ensure the use of their reports, enormously.

The data revolution already has a direct impact on human capability development. Remember that human development has been defined as “expanding the choices of people to lead lives they value”. Access to good and a wide variety of information is vital to expand choices. Not only does it enable rural communities to better hold their (village) leaders accountable, but it can help all of us to take better decisions in our day to day lives. But, just as with any valuable resource, access to information is not equally distributed around the world. And even when good data are available, many people lack the basic skills to access or understand it. This has to change.

Still, development resources are mainly invested through channels that are reserved for specific organization types. NGOs and UN organizations are resourced through contracts, grants and mandate agreements. Government agencies are resourced through their parliaments, foreign direct investment and development aid. Profit making development contractors are resourced through competitive bidding. Private sector companies are resourced through profit making business activities. Research organizations are resourced through national and international scientific investment instruments.

Some food for thought:

Research organizations (as an example) may unwittingly be complicit in undermining national and local capacity development, creating attitudes or expectations that actually weaken well intended work for development and change objectives, replacing local resourcefulness and self-reliance with new attitudes that view the benefits of externally-directed programs as an entitlement that hinders national (public, private sector) ownership and new initiatives.

Failure to recognize how the on-the-ground implementation change processes and dynamics fosters such attitudes may help explain why many of the improvements attributed to externally-funded programs persistently lack sustainability. Why have much “modern” research (for development) programs, in general, left their partners/clients inert, disempowered, and uncommitted to act independently on the challenges they face?

Finding ways to create space for meaningful dialogue on this is a most significant challenge.

A “new” research for development paradigm supplanted a long-functioning, traditional system of addressing farmer community needs. While those pre-existing systems may or may not have been efficient or equitable, they rarely left communities inert, unwilling to take action, and dependent on others, this may not be the result of a lack of capacity of communities to manage new technologies or systems, but rather an unwillingness to accept responsibility for them.

The amount of guidance and support farmer communities receive from researchers and development partners is often inversely related to the even short term sustainability of an initiative. This has profound implications for development practice: sustained development happens when external development agents intervene less and when national systems are built, and local participation and ownership is encouraged. Unfortunately, failures to empirically ground these concepts in the social psychological field of attitude change and behavior, have led to widely divergent interpretations of their meaning and more importantly, to their ineffective implementation in the field. To emphasize this point, “community participation” was claimed to be a key, albeit diversely understood element within each of the development processes leading too often to deleterious outcomes. If extensive external intervention does undermine sustainability, there are issues with the nature of these interventions that a better understanding of social psychology could help address.

The confluence between research and (sustainable) development may bring you two potential resourcing possibilities:

  1. By better aligning existing work towards mutually desired (and agreed) goals, development partners can exploit the benefits of directing (new) research funding, to for example value chain specific issues, direclty to local organizations for specific and targeted capacity strengthening purposes, and;
  2. Research actors can likewise exploit the benefits of allocating development funding to specific value chain partners/clients based on assessed needs/demands.

By promoting system wide engagement across the work we do, we will explore how to most effectively facilitate structured engagement across many actors and projects to form a multi stranded movement that make collective sense. We will inform “investors and governments” about our work, about our research, our views, our experiences, capacity assessment findings, and evaluations to help push and pull for whole system change across the Sustainable Development strands and regions we work in.

Development Connect will help paint a richer picture that is so much needed to avoid duplication of efforts, faster learning and to encourage joint accountability for collective performance in the design and research up take of outputs produced.