As I prepare to speak on Tuesday morning at a conference being organized online, I was moved by my review of the materials gathered during last year’s rapid remote resilience project to reflect on my personal impressions of the project. Over and above anything else, over the past week I have found myself moved close to tears, yet the emotions are joyous. I had no idea how the experimental project would work out when I started, and I’d encourage the young team of facilitators on the ground by saying we were providing a hot meal with meat and a cash grant and a bucket of cleaning supplies, we couldn’t fail the mamas if our participatory sessions fell flat. The quote above captures it all.
This past week, I’ve been looking over the just completed telephone survey following up with our participants 9 months after the intervention ended last August. I can see the results – they’re not always obvious, and some concepts failed but the sense of joy also came from the lead facilitator informing me that they’d innovated on the ground with the tools I’d provided them when they found that the concept wasn’t gaining traction. They would not have thought to this if I had not devolved agency for planning and executing the implementation of the conceptual project design to them. In the rush of completing the project after the prototype testing and iteration with the team, none had brought this adjustment to the content of the participatory session up with me.
I discovered it in the follow up survey transcripts when I found a significant majority of the participants mentioning the tool’s usefulness in enabling them to plan and to save all through this difficult year. Even those groups whose content stream did not contain the introduction of this tool. It is changing the way I think about the tool and its applicability, if indeed it managed to gain the traction that it did, and was so enthusiastically adopted. I’m also wondering out loud if concepts without a tangible anchor in the real world context of the participants themselves or without a means to relate to their daily practices and mindset are more challenging to grasp and contextualize?
The combination of tool and concept that the facilitator team came up with based on their own experience of running the participatory sessions and their evaluation of how the content was received by the participants is probably something that may not have struck me if I had been present. As Felix, our lead innovation facilitator, remarked when we reflected together on the project last Friday, there were times when the facilitator team was convinced of the value of an approach or new practice but the participants pushed back vociferously that it didn’t make sense or it would not work. They then found a way to convince them by using evidence provided by a micro-experiment conducted together with the participants to show them the beneficial outcome of the activity.
Here though, the team could see that the more established group of traders (B2B) would also benefit from a tool that I’d only introduced in the content stream for the B2C less established trader groups, and that the advanced planning approach intended for them was challenged by worldview and mindset common to them all. I do not share that common worldview with the facilitators and the participants who are all from the same neighbourhoods and communities. It strikes me that I must explore this difference in approach by the facilitators some more. How were they distinguishing the resistance to a novel idea that required empirical evidence to convince the participants to explore adopting it versus when a novel concept failed to gain traction enough to provide any value?
All in all, there is much food for thought here on the role of design methodology and approaches in the context of development, and, I’d argue, how we describe development in the 21st century.