Adaptive pluralism and intentions…

In a recent meeting on Practice-based change for development, which took place in London, UK, on 20-21 February 2012, and blogged about earlier here by Ewen le Borgne, we discussed Robert Chambers’ work on Paradigms, poverty and adaptive pluralism. Chambers compares the dominant paradigm of neo-Newtonian practice in international development, oriented to things and ‘imposed by powerful actors and organisations’ (2010, p. 3) with the paradigm of adaptive pluralism, oriented to people. Chambers defines adaptive pluralism as:

Paradigmatic elements and relationships associated with people as adaptive agents, with eclectic and participatory methodologies, and with ontological assumptions of complexity such as non-linearity, unpredictability and emergence. (2010, p. 7)

Many of the distinguishing characteristics of IKM Emergent fit within this tradition of adaptive pluralism such as its methods and procedures which are ‘pluralist, iterative adaptation, a la carte and combinations; which have ontological origins and assumptions based on people, the social world, complexity science, emergence, and non-linearity; and which involve goals, design and indicators which are negotiated, evolving and emergent (2010, p. 44). IKM Emergent has been taking place in a context in the development sector which is largely dominated by the neo-Newtonian paradigm which are ‘supervising, auditing, controlling, conforming, complying’. But in agreement with Chambers, we understand that:

 So in the name of rigour and accountability what fits and works better in the controllable, predictable, standardised and measurable conditions of the things and procedures paradigm has been increasingly applied to the uncontrollable, unpredictable, diverse and less measurable paradigm of people and processes. The misfit is little perceived by those furthest from field realities and with most power. (2010, p. 14)

In one of Robert Chamber’s blog posts on this subject Whose paradigm counts part 2, he has made two figures which describe different aspects of the two paradigms: concepts and ontological assumptions; values and principles; relationships; methods. procedures and processes; and roles and behaviours. I have also tried to do the same for IKM Emergent. From this exercise, I realsied that although IKM does fall in the general category of adaptive pluralism, some of its specific emphases are quite different.

IKM mindsets, orientations and predispositions (adapted from Chambers)

A discussion about this figure (left) led us to the conclusion that values are very important to our work but that we very rarely talk about them or even consider them explicitly. One of the really good things of taking this lense to examine your work is that implicit mindsets, orientations and predispositions suddenly become much clear, and can even be part of a process of negotiation.

Jaap Pels was present at the meeting via skype and I know he had some additions to this figure so this is an invitation for his comments :-).

Mulling over these issues after the meeting, as one does, I was thinking that there should be another circle in the figure called ”Intentions” because that is at the roots of everything we are doing. For IKM, and myself, I would think that intentions would be: reforming, more pluralistic, more open, more inclusive, more respectful, more creative. In fact, I’ll have a go at re-drawing this figure with the new circle when I’ve had Jaap’s reflections on what still needs to be added.

Now I have started thinking about the ”intentions” circle for the neo-Newtonian paradigm and I am worried that they might be the same as the ones I’ve listed here. But, then again, I think they’re more likely to be: value for money, control, efficiency. Not that I don’t think these are important, they’re just not my core intentions.

ICTD2010 Part 2: IKM installations

In 2008, some of you may remember that IKM had – among other things – a display at the EADI General Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. This featured a huge flag hanging in the atrium (see photograph) but also the first IKM installation which was designed by Ralph Borland, a South African artist. This installation had a number of different components:  four information boards, featuring different perspectives on information and knowledge management related to development; one laptop per child; and an artwork called Crank the web which illustrates the importance of bandwidth for connecting to the web.

You can see Ralph Borland describing the Geneva installation on this Youtube video:

The next tri-annual EADI conference will be taking place in York in September 2011 and plans are afoot for the design of a new installation to be used at EADI and at other conference. This new installation was on display for the first time at the ICTD2010 conference which took place in December in London.

The new installation is slightly different to the original one in that it comprises computer screens playing IKM-related digital stories (see photograph).  Here is a slide show featuring photographs of the new installation at ICTD2010.

And why is IKM Emergent concerned to have installations at large conferences? If you consider that IKM is a campaign for slow knowledge and a space for innovation and reflection, both installations are designed to encourage new ways of thinking about information and knowledge. The installations are important in terms of both content and form. As content, they highlight diverse issues and, as form, – visualisation – they aim to facilitate innovation and new perspectives. They also represent – again as form – a new way of doing things at academic conferences.