Community development: on-going dialogue, wherever it happens?

The Katine community development project in north-east Uganda has just (8 November 2010) come largely to an end, after a three-year collaboration between The Guardian newspaper, Barclay’s Bank and Amref (the African Medical Research Education Foundation).
The focus is therefore currently on evaluation.

Was the programme good value for money and effort? Should it be replicated elsewhere? What are the best indicators of success or failure, for the future?

An overview
The unique aspect of this programme was the extent of its real-time reporting, on-line for all to see. As the Academic Review by Ben Jones of the University of East Anglia says:

What appeared on the website was not a neutral thing, nor was it entirely extrinsic to the life of the project on the ground. Bloggers, journalists and development experts helped shaped what was valued…. This was a more open way of doing development work. It made the project more complicated, and meant there was a much wider and more diverse constituency addressing the question of how to do development in Katine….

Journalism usually focuses on … only one issue or theme. In [the reporting on] Katine you get to see how issues of politics, society, culture and economics are related to one another. … how these [people’s] lives intersect with local, national and international systems. In this, you see what it means to bring about change in a poor, rural community.

Not only in Katine
But one aspect of this amazing programme which remains as yet unremarked is what can be learned about community development in any context, whether rural and African, or perhaps urban and European or American.

A feature of real-time and realistic reporting in Katine has been how much events seem real for other contexts too – serious omissions of financial and socio-political support, human vulnerabilities and failings, lack of vision and insight, and of course often a weak grasp by those leading the programme from ‘outside’ of the meanings of the interactions from the perspective of people ‘inside’ that community. (One Katine example is repeated but dismissed local demands for more cattle – which we learn have symbolic importance as well as agricultural relevance.)

Fundamentals and opportunities?
So what are the ‘lessons’ to be learned, or ideas to be explored, beyond the physically and politically fundamental ones of ensuring continuity of clean water, health care and education etc?

Is there scope somehow for this type of ‘development’ to become a conversation across diverse communities, as well as an open and considered location-based programme?

* Is it best to see the evaluation of any such programme as on-going and subject to changes of emphasis over time, as the dialogue develops – whether simply between people in a specific location, or between people using a much wider virtual constituency to communicate their ideas?

* And would this always need to be led by ‘agencies’; or could it simply be initiated or facilitated by them?

* Will there come a time when people across locations and even nations can share their community development experience comfortably to mutual benefit?

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Posted on November 11, 2010, in Reading and Research and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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