Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Local versus national change

Governments cannot possibly deal with all street-level issues that arise on a daily basis. So they appoint representatives, such as local authorities, to deal with or channel such issues so they get attended to.

This presents a paradox. How can an institution interested in national, long-term, wide-reaching policy work with an institution that is interested in street-level, shorter-term policy?

A few variables are at play, such as:
(1) The number of people who you consider constituents;
(2) The level of resources required during implementation;
(3) The amount of time it would take for implementation; and
(4) The number of changes possible in a given timeframe.

I'm sure this paradox is a daily consideration for those policymakers who mediate between the national government and local government authorities. But a presentation this morning at Twaweza on declining access to water amidst rising population (thanks Ruth!) got me thinking twice about this set up.

Perhaps what we need to do is assess how much authority local government authorities actually have. Can they make a decision on policy? Can they implement that policy? And are they awarded/faulted when results of that implementation are out?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More humbling thoughts

It could just be me and the field I have been involved in for some time now. But I observe many people have a career tagline that usually ends with something like "... improving people's lives". 

It seems that, to make a statement like "my work improves people's lives", you need to actually have three things locked down:

1. Grounded understanding of the people you are talking about, including their language, history, religious values, other cultural values, ways of dressing, ways of walking, etc.

2. Experience in seeing what does not actually lead to improvement, including many failed programs with well-defined and clear indicators signifying failure.

3. Proven successes in the business of life-improvement, including many successful programs.

Now, do people who openly say that they are in the business of improving peoples' lives really have these three on a lock down?

It seems impossible to me to get 1 straight. I still feel like I am always learning new things about my own community, let alone others. So how do we ever have a "full" grounded understanding of people?

(I think the process of development is about doing everyday "ordinary" tasks with the consideration of how that task leads to our future kin's prosperity. To be continued inshallah.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Humility and glory

One of my good friends from Lafayette, who is currently travelling the world supporting international study programs, sent me Thabo Mbeki's "I am African" speech.

My favorite part of this speech comes near the end:

Together with the best in the world, we too are prone to pettiness, petulance, selfishness and short-sightedness.  
But it seems to have happened that we looked at ourselves and said the time had come that we make a super-human effort to be other than human, to respond to the call to create for ourselves a glorious future, to remind ourselves of the Latin saying: Gloria est consequenda - Glory must be sought after!

What does he mean when he says "together with the best of the world, we are too prone to pettiness..."? Does he mean to say that all humans are fallible, regardless of who they are? Or does he mean that we have conditioned ourselves to think temporarily, when in fact, we are built to think of eternity?

Whichever it is, I think these are important considerations. We are usually caught up with value that helps us live today. We are not usually caught up value because we want to see the next 200 years provide a constructive envirionment in which future kin can improve what and how we know about our world.

So I agree - Glory must be sought after - but it implies a lot: It implies acknowledging how our pursuit of "value" today may not be productive for the future. It also implies significantly shifting efforts - education, employment, systems of public provision, industry, etc. - to building the next 50-250 years. And it implies a form of knowledge exchange that is not only restricted to formal settings, but a fluid exchange that can happen anywhere because the value of knowledge is seen in direct relation with building a future.

(Thanks, Sancho)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Humans are adverse to change

Historically, we have settled with our tastes. At least we used to settle down with our tastes/demand for goods and services for longer periods. Not sure if that is still the case today. But if that still stands in our everyday behavior, then how do we explain changes related to development? That is, in all the behavior change efforts transpiring today, what changes are likely to last more than others?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Deliberating an alternative to school

How else can learning happen? Here are 10 alternative options to how we design formal learning today:

1. Learning circles with one mentor

2. Home schooling with one teacher

3. Parents as teachers throughout the learning "cycle"

4. Friends circles with no one teacher

5. Self-teaching

6. Pre-programmed learning software

7. Learning by experience

8. Vocational training; one mentor, one skill at a time

9. Visiting the library

10. Conversations with one friend (paired learning)

I am sure some of these options do happen. In thinking about these options, I am curious about the following:

a. How are pupils qualified?

b. Who awards the qualification?

c. Do qualifications need to be standard across many people?

We have reached our current popular version of schooling after some research and thought into pedagogy and rising populations. My contention is that it is never too late to reassess that research and thought. The world and how we communicate is changing fast, and we need to adapt to this rather than simply follow conventional models. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

EAC and beyond

I have been thinking about this article and about TZ's involvement with the EAC. There's been a lot of speculation that we're holding the rest of the region back from the next step in the process (common market, then monetary union). There's also been speculation that TZ is willing to continue. This has come after a series of postponed general assemblies, unannounced meetings by some heads of state, etc.

Not sure whether the politics is indeed holding things back (in general), or whether broadcast media is pervasive on this series of power showcases that actually tiptoe around important issues.

If it's indeed the politics holding things back, we've got to get real. This isn't about the heads of state, this is about people and getting bolder in global business.

If it's broadcast media, then we ought to look at the kind of tastes we have for news, because broadcast media is likely to be producing what the public wants to know. And I think we can ask better questions of our heads of state, such that the EAC proceedings continue meritocratically.