Online Conference – Decolonising development: Whose Voice, Whose Agenda?

Invitation to Join an Online Global Conference:  May 22 – 24 2017

Organised by Leeds University Centre for Global Development (CGD) and INTRAC (www.intrac.org)

(see Blog below for details)

What can – or should – development achieve? Who decides what success looks like or how it should be measured? With the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the list of urgent, interdependent and seemingly intractable global challenges seems only to grow. Addressing issues such as climate change, poverty, gender inequality or prolonged conflict is believed increasingly to depend on the capacity of stakeholders to form inter-organisational and interdisciplinary partnerships across academic researchers, donors, private sector, government and civil society practitioners.  Multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaborative processes – underpinned by knowledge sharing, pooled resources and expertise – are being promoted as essential modalities for achieving the SDGs in efficient, effective ways. Greater participation of, ownership by, and devolution to, Southern-based partners to set agendas, build local capacity and identify solutions is being lauded as the way forward to address the growing chorus of concern around how to ‘do development differently’.

Yet to what extent are the assumed democratic, creative principles of partnerships borne out in practice and whose values, knowledge and evidence count in decision-making and evaluation processes?  Research undertaken amongst Leeds CGD members and INTRAC and the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment in diverse development contexts exposes the complex power dynamics and contradictions often inherent in multi-stakeholder initiatives. The research demonstrates that donor funding environments and imperatives, and different priorities and approaches to development, affect how ‘impact’ is conceptualised and measured, how results are interpreted, how change pathways are established, and whose ideas and voices are included or excluded. Recent working papers, seminar series, edited collections and books (produced largely by Northern institutions) contribute to this debate.

It is time to widen the debate and encourage an open, frank discussion to engage critically with the questions of why we ‘do’ development; who decides what development is; what types of development we are arguably feeling forced into promoting; and what type of development we want to see.

Join us for a major online conference on May 22nd to 24rd 2017. The conference provides a unique opportunity, bringing together diverse actors from around the world, working in development practice, policy and research. The conference will focus on three interrelated themes:

Power, voice and inclusion

  • Whose voices really count within multi-stakeholder processes and to what extent are certain actors brought in to legitimise approaches and projects without being really heard?
  • Who gets to set priorities for research and in whose name/for whose benefit are multi-stakeholder partnerships being promoted? With what short- or long-term purpose?
  • To what extent are more progressive concepts like ‘voice’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘downward accountability’ and ‘agency’ being appropriated and even co-opted by donors and other powerful policy actors and stripped of their political intent in the process?
  • How is the dominance of the English language in global development practice skewing our understanding of specific experiences of poverty in different contexts, and marginalising non-English speakers?

Accountability, evidence and ‘impact’

  • Who decides on what counts as quality and rigour in research? Is ‘academic’ evidence the most rigorous? And how is the relative value of ‘evidence’ framed in relation to ‘on the ground’ experience in multi-level decision-making processes?
  • What counts as ‘impact’ from research partnerships that stretch across different disciplines, development issues and cultural contexts? Is it the same for all partners? Does impact have to be ‘measurable’?
  • How can anyone decide on what constitutes ‘best practice’? Is it even possible to identify interventions that provide the most benefit? How might we do this given the complexity of people’s lived experiences?
  • How can we ensure that research evidence is considered as part of decision-making processes and outcomes in the ‘post-truth’ or ‘fake news’ era?

Partnership and capacity building

  • How can diverse development stakeholders work better together given the different institutional contexts in which they exist? How do we encourage longer-term engagement and collaboration? What are the potential drivers of such a process and what support needs to be in place to facilitate ‘better’ partnership?
  • What would a funding model/system look like that created space for dialogue and support for capacity-building amongst a greater diversity of voices in sustainable ways, and how can space for mutual learning be created?
  • How are people already working more creatively within the current frameworks and with donors? To what extent is passive or active subversion or even outright challenge possible? To what extent is change possible? What type of change might that be?

The conference will provide a safe, mutually supportive space to:

  • Engage in a dynamic, critical discussion around the three themes
  • Share key concerns and experiences relating to the challenges of development and the achievement of the SDGs
  • Identify innovative strategies for doing development differently
  • Share lessons and good practices for enabling more inclusive, effective development approaches
  • Contribute to a new high-profile publication

How will it work?

The online conference will bring together participants from diverse countries and different areas of development, including research, policy, advocacy and practice. Dynamic real-time discussions on critical themes and questions will be animated by key contributors throughout the three days (to be announced).

How can you participate?

Are you asking similar questions within your own work and activities? Or are there other questions this changing development landscape is raising for you that can be usefully answered or addressed through dialogue and partnership?

If so, register your interest in our online conference by email to L.Narayanaswamy@leeds.ac.uk AND Alysonebrody@gmail.com. And please share with us your initial thoughts on the issues we have raised in this blog in the comments box below.