Development, between results and relationships

Development cooperation work has been decried for its overall lack of effectiveness (links). And I’m not even talking about research for development (or research far from development sometimes) here.
From outside in – i.e. from the perspective of people look at development (cooperation) work but are not part of it  – demonstrating accountability, relevance of efforts and some meaningful results is a big expectation nowadays. The quest for impact is in full swing and return on investment is a must.
Yet from inside out, impact is far-fetched and difficult to trace (much more so to attribute to anyone’s intervention) and every experienced group of people knows that the human factor plays a critical role: capacities are required to achieve impact; more importantly yet, trust is central to any successful enterprise. In the networked age, and as complexity gains recognition and pushes everyone to embark on ever more interactive initiatives between multiple stakeholders, trust is the fertile soil for any development initiative to take root and find its place in the natural ecosystem in which it is ‘planted’.
This begs the question: What is development really about? Results? or Relationships?”]Should we agree on achieving results or building relationships?  [Credits: KayVee.INC/FlickR]

Back in April 2011, I attended this event on ‘network approaches and alliance management’ and this question came on the menu too. In the corporate sector this issue has also been raised. And it has also been an ongoing questioning process occasionally leading me to arguments with some former colleagues of mine when thinking about our development philosophy and approach.

Well, since this is a shoot post, let me cut it short and clear about my current thinking on this: sure we should strive for results and need to streamline development efforts, because otherwise we might as well not bother working on this in the first place. But if we don’t invest in relationships, we will never achieve lasting results.

So if you want quick and short success, go for results. If you want long-lasting change and don’t mind the grappling and battling and bartering with approaches and partners, go for relationships. That’s where your best results lay. And if you work in Africa (but arguably anywhere else this is applicable), I don’t think you can afford to skip relationships…

Seeking results can perhaps best be organised around supporting civic-driven initiatives that naturally take less time to take root – that would be a more certain way to avoid the idiocy or grave irrelevance of many development efforts. But even there, building relationships with the nodes in the local social fabric is simply unavoidable.

Now let’s move on to real development and get on with our folks, our friends, our partners, shall we?

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