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.

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