Development is a strange business, it engages, or can engage some of the most privileged people on the planet with some of the least. In a very frank assessment of how it works in the Africa desk, the World Bank's Nicholas Gorjestani showed that there was a significant "gap to adapting knowledge to client needs in Africa". His paper is here, including,
... evaluations of operations showed that the quality at entry indicators of the Africa Region’s portfolio was below Bank averages. Insufficient use of lessons learned and effective development practices in the design and implementation of projects was a key factor contributing to relatively low indicators of quality. So, if we wanted to improve quality, we had to share and learn better and apply not only what we know as individuals but also what we know as an institution.
Gorjestani reported that the team also found that there was a lot of tacit knowledge in the organization that was not being leveraged; the system to store knowledge was not optimal and there were very high transaction costs associated with finding and/or sharing information.
[Client Feedback surveys] suggested that staff and clients had very different perceptions of how effective the Africa Region’s staff was at disseminating knowledge and adapting knowledge to the local context.
For example, it was found that while clients in Africa, generally perceived World Bank staff to be very knowledgeable about international best practices, clients perceived Bank staff to be less effective at adapting this knowledge to the local context, although the latter was rated as a very important success factor by the client.
Identifying this “knowledge adaptation gap” (see chart below) helped in asking new questions about what kind of knowledge clients want and how well equipped are Bank staff in providing the services that bring the highest value to the client.
Additional factors that impeded the effective transfer of knowledge to clients included: knowledge not shared in a form that clients could use productively; and the right technology not being utilized to make knowledge accessible to them. In addition, said Gorjestani, there were not enough collaborative learning initiatives between clients, partners and Bank staff.
I keep running across similar gaps between those who talk about, or act at a distance, in the development field, and those who have to deal with the actual problems on the ground. So I would like to run a thought experiment. To specify a small community, either a real one suitably anonymised by someone who knows it well, or a hypothetical one that is nevertheless credible to those who have worked directly in the field.
Then those, like me, who live in Sydney and Washington, Manchester and Zurich have to propose actual strategies and processes by which an ICT intervention in that community would help alleviate poverty, meanwhile the field workers will be the evaluators, suggesting whether such a strategy would work in their community and if not, why not.
We spend a lot of time talking about principles and theories, or about "projects", but we don't focus that much on action and outcomes in specific circumstances and I would be interested to see whether we can test some of those ideas against the implicit knowledge held by present or recent field workers who might have access to enough internet to participate.