Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Observations on Climate Change ‘Development’ - Part 1

After a few months working away in the Solomon Islands for the UNDP I arrived back in New Zealand. It wasn’t how I anticipated to come back, but due to various stuff ups, mostly not of my own making, I ended back here sooner than expected.
It was a rapid fire six months. Sometimes in the Solomon Islands it’s hard to know what has been achieved after you step away from the environment you have been working in. Progress is certainly hard won. I know from an earlier volunteer role lasting two years in which tangible outputs were hard to identify, I couldn’t claim I assisted with developing new roads or help design new wharves. Sadly this is how success is measured. It’s about how many kilometres of road had you developed, how many people had had been at the receiving end of power point presentations. Given my understanding of development practice and the context I had been working in of the Solomon Islands, these quantitative measures based on simply sheer numbers, more of something being better now seems like a quaint measures of development. We should have care about qualitative rather than quantitative measures of success. What was the quality of what was done, did it result in meaningful change for those involved should be asked, when quality is used as a measure it often has no basis in the actually realties of quality outcomes for that cultural context. What I found is that quality was determined by what others thought was quality based on worldviews formed from experience in other countries or the country in which they resided (Australia, Europe or United States of America).             

What I did achieve in my recent work and my earlier volunteer assignment was engaging people in discussions, demonstrating new skills, exposing them to new literature and concepts and helping to develop critical thinking. What I was sought to do was build the capacity of individuals so they had the confidence to be effective public servants and if needed, confront the culture they live and work in.    
Clearly we are using the wrong measure for successful development. We need measure the capacity of individuals. It is these individuals that will create the change in their own country. A friend and I discuss this a lot, both of us agree that in the Solomon Islands the approach of donors is often wrong, often by significant margins. Climate Change is an area where donors are still exploring what it is they should be doing. Observing this first hand in the Solomon Islands has been an eye opener in many ways.       

With Climate Change programmes a phenomenal amount of money is being spent on what are commonly called Climate Change and Disaster Risk (CCDRM) related projects. What was formally sustainable land management is now called ecosystem based adaptation, water and sanitation projects are now Climate Change adaptation. Construction of infrastructure has variously been called service delivery and now appears in many cases also claims to be Climate Change adaptation. As a friend once said to me service delivery is when the actual quality of services improve, meaning when the capacity of individuals to personally contribute to the delivery of high quality services improves, built infrastructure is only a part of this, the individual is the larger part.  
From what I have learnt Climate Change will not be overcome in the Solomon Islands without institutions with the capacity to adequately respond. It sounds pretty straight forward right!
One of the biggest problems I encountered is that strengthening of governance processes is not cheap, certainly it’s not considered sexy. It’s far more appealing to invest money in infrastructure, agricultural extension programmes are also much easier for donors to market. A large Climate Change programme in Choiseul Province had a significant component that involved agricultural programmes but requests by the Provincial Government to support strengthening of governance processes and structures was dismissed early in the ‘consultation’ phase.

Donors are often more concerned ensuring brand distinction than they are with actual outcomes. I suggested over the course of my recent work that we work together with other donors, essentially pooling resources. The response back was somewhat stunning, apparently this couldn’t be, partly this was expressed that we had to maintain our own profile and distinctiveness of our activities, working in with others may have resulted in these being obscured. As a kiwi I still believe we need creative solutions for what appear insurmountable problems, we have to do things different; the recent past in Climate Change work in the Solomon Islands is littered with examples of programmes that did alright, nothing spectacular, just alright. I don’t accept mediocrity is adequate when significant resources are available to achieve inspirational outcomes. From what transpired working together only meant shared meetings or workshops, possibly a bit of sharing ideas (but not too much of course). What needs to happen is a completely open approach whereby funds are pooled and intellectual property built and owned collectively. We still have a lot of work to be done.     


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