Our development concepts may be THE problem

My previous two blog posts (F13- KM is for value creation: WHOSE value? and F14- Monitoring and evaluation of KM for development) point to a key criterion in KM for development: What do community members truly value?

In 2003, CCLFI.Philippines implemented a project on “Leveraging Best Practices” for UNDP. We documented best practices into manuals, and tried to capture the qualities of best practioners through vignettes and video interviews. We invited community leaders who were recipients of UNDP grants in lessons-capture workshops. Near the end of the project, we conducted a “Wisdom and Knowledge Sharing Workshop.”

One of the workshop exercises tried to probe what the community members value by asking the question: “What is a successful community project?” The workshop groups were asked to draw their answers and explain their drawing to the rest of the participants.

One of the workshop groups drew this answer (“tagumapay” is the Tagalog word for “success”):

what is success to community members

One of the group members, Annabelle, explained their answer (translated from Tagalog, shortened and edited while maintaining the essential ideas):

    For us, the start of development is like making walis tingting.* [*Note: “Walis tingting” is a local broom (“walis”) consisting of about a hundred coconut midriffs (“tingting”) tied together. This coconut broom represents a well-known local metaphor for unity: one coconut midriff cannot do anything; it is powerless. But when many are tied together (unity of the community), they gain strength and efficacy.]

    First, the leafy part from each coconut leaflet is removed by a knife to produce one tingting [midriff]. This is like individual discipline: it is difficult or painful but when done, it is a small success. Then many tingtings are tied together into a broom. This is community discipline and unity – a bigger success. With a broom you can clean the seashore of garbage. If the community is united and a project answers community needs – when families get their own house, land and livelihood and they can help themselves and the community – then the project is successful. However, that is not the end-all of success.

    The last stage [see last arrow pointing to houses inside a heart] is when you no longer need the broom because every community member understands and respects or feel responsible for the environment, and no longer throws garbage. That is far greater success.

Reflecting on their answer, my colleagues at CCLFI.Philippines learned these lessons:

  • We were expecting that community leaders will mention material measures of success. They did (house, land and livelihood) but they placed more attention to intangible outcomes (individual discipline, community unity, and internalized sense of responsibility).
  • Our thinking was based on the sustainable development framework, which looks at economic, social and environmental impacts — all about external impacts. The community leaders’ thinking is wider: they also look at external impacts but they look further: at internal or personal impacts. We were tied to the concept of sustainable development; but they were more into sustainable living.
  • We — “the development agents” — realized that our notion of what is valuable to them is merely that: a notion. Our shocking realization is: our development concepts or notions may be part of the problem.
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