Solving a problem requires observing the problem from various points of view. If the problem is observed from only one point of view, regardless of how important that point of view may be, solution designed on basis of that observation will likely not be sufficient.
For example, an identified problem may be lack of cooperation between research & education institutions and enterprises. Often, as the main cause, lack of equipment is identified, i.e. these institutions do not have equipment needed for providing services to enterprises. It may be equipment needed for producing specific parts of prototypes or testing the product. Starting from there, interventions are focused on providing equipment for the institutions, so that their capacities are built to the level needed for providing support to enterprises.
And that is needed. But, most often, that is not enough. Having equipment is only one precondition that needs to be fulfilled in order to start providing services to enterprises. It is necessary, but not sufficient. There are also other preconditions that need to be fulfilled. And often these other preconditions are considered as if they are already fulfilled, without further considerations. In fact, assumptions are taken as facts. The assumptions, in this case, include that enterprises have a need for support, that research & educational institutions are willing to engage in providing the support, that they have human resources and procedures that enable this cooperation with enterprises.
However, in practice, this is often not the case. Even if the institution has the equipment, it still needs to develop procedures to make that equipment available to enterprises. They usually have staff with needed knowledge, but with no time and motive to engage in providing support to enterprises. Also, it must be defined how the enterprises access the equipment, who operates it, at what time, who covers the costs, how are human resources engaged. Of course, enterprises must be informed on these possibilities. Again, this is often not done. Therefore, providing equipment to research & education institutions does not entirely solve the problem of lack of cooperation between research & education institutions and enterprises, and consequently it doesn’t contribute significantly to solving the problem of enterprises lacking capacities for introducing innovations. Observing the problem from various points of view, may be a step towards the solution. Sometimes it will require safe to fail experiments to get all needed insights, and experiences from previous projects may also be helpful to get the clear and comprehensive picture of the problem. The next step may be to coordinate efforts of different stakeholders, so to ensure that designed solution is comprehensive, covering all key aspects of the problem. Only then, solution will work in practice, producing desired change.
At least, let’s stop making conclusions based on assumptions.
Dynamic changes in modern world, modern life, require constant monitoring, constant awareness of changes in the environment in order to achieve sustainability of structures such as organizations and results of projects. And the sooner one becomes aware of change, the better one can prepare for using the emerging opportunity or avoiding emerging danger. Like in surfing, the surfer gets on the wave in an early phase and rides it when it becomes powerful. This also lights the subject from a different angle, i.e., weak signals are often seen as means to identify potential threats, but they can be as well used for timely identifying potential opportunity. So, it is essential to identify emerging change as early as possible. It makes concept of weak signals more and more important.
On the other hand, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a methodology for identifying weak signals. Some opinions emphasize role of experts and that seems like a good starting point. Why are experts valuable? They have knowledge and experience. So, they already have deep understanding of the phenomena and know where to look for data and information indicating changes. When we analyze these benefits, experts seem to be a means to get what is really needed for detecting the emerging change timely and later for well-developed decision-making capacity, which is knowledge and updated information. So, experts may be very valuable in getting needed knowledge and information, resulting in decisions. They also can face stressful situation calmly, which is beneficial in conditions when the action is to be taken in short period of time and with limited information. Experience they have usually brings self-confidence (not arrogance) and capacity for well-thought reaction in short time in tense situations. We should keep in mind that experts are only one way for getting these values, there are also other ways, such as research, work of teams and networks, etc. which should be more explored from this point of view.
There is one more important category (that may or may not also be an expert), a decision maker. Namely, the longer one works on analyses and planning, the more one becomes aware of limitations of data in terms of early identification of future change. Data are useful, of course, but it should be kept in mind that data are just reflection of previous causes, which may no longer exist, or now function in different environment. So, in regard to getting information on what will happen, more than from experts, valuable information may come from decision makers. They know what they want and have means to realize that change. Also, they often have capacity to motivate people to contribute. Therefore, change which is in their focus is much more likely to create a change in reality, than some extrapolated event based on historical data.
Even if we can get weak signals on time, how do we filter what to take into account and what not to consider, how can we tell which signal is important and which is not? Again, methodology is very difficult, if not impossible, to create.
What can be done is to create an environment that enables and supports detection and use of weak signals. Encourage such behavior in the team (like psychological safety concept), set boundaries (following the idea of enabling constraints) to focus the efforts but eliminate obstacles to research and free thinking, and use safe to fail approach on signals that seem important. And see what happens.
In The Will to Power, Nietzsche says that: „Specific characteristic of our nineteenth century is not victory of science, but victory of scientific method over science.” Is this happening to strategic planning? Are we more and more focused on technical aspects of the strategic plan and less and less on the content, the essence?
The essence of the strategy is to define what is to be achieved. It should be formulated clearly enough so that it is possible to prepare operational part, i.e. to elaborate how to achieve the defined goals. In practice, it often starts with collecting and analyzing data, to get comprehensive and clear picture where we are, what is our situation like. Then, we usually identify strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, the well-known SWOT analysis, and using this as a basis we focus on strategic goals. From that point on, process is more and more technical, focusing on how different elements of the strategy are formulated, are they harmonized with each other and similar. And that is needed, no doubt about that, especially if the implementation capacities are limited and need more detailed instructions on their role in implementation of the strategy. From the point of view of increasing probability of achieving defined goals through implementation of precisely described actions, this approach is fine.
But what is it that we are trying to achieve? Is focusing primarily on available resources a good starting point for defining strategic goals? Are we taking into account changes in the environment, global processes that do affect developments in local economies and in local communities in general, in companies, too? How can we get needed information that should be used to identify relevant developments in the environment, the ones having impact on development of the, let’s say, local community, the ones that smaller local communities must fit in, lacking capacities to influence these developments? In practice, strong determination of local leaders and entrepreneurs proves to be an important factor in defining and especially in achieving specific change, but how can we detect this determination? And how local leaders and entrepreneurs are defining their agenda, on basis of what?
All these questions are addressed to some extent, but it is hard to say if that is enough. In the strategic planning processes, energy is mostly used for creating a document of determined structure and defining all elements so that they meet certain methodological requirements. And that is all fine, as long as strategic goals are well defined. If they are not, we shall have a well-prepared plan to achieve something that is…well, something. Maybe the best for the community, or company, maybe not. And we will invest our energy and other resources in achieving these, at least questionable, goals.
Also, observing and considering rapidly changing environment and focusing more on defining the strategic goals, i.e., focusing on what we want, which also includes defining what we don’t want, should result in better strategies, better use of resources and achieving better results from the point of view of the wellbeing of the community.
Niče, Fridrih. (2012). Volja za moć. Beograd: Dereta, stranica 291
In the Principles of Personal Defense, Jeff Cooper starts the chapter about the principle one, alertness, saying that among the first maxims to be impressed upon new lieutenants is the one that “A commander may be forgiven for being defeated, but never for being surprised” (Cooper, 1989: 7). In modern societies, conditions change rapidly and avoiding surprises is not an easy task. Nor is to design and implement an intervention that leads to desired change in such environment. Lately, there are more and more cases proving that it may not be enough to implement the activities defined in the project design to achieve expected results and reach the goals.
Why is this so? First, when talking about development funds supported projects, there is usually a period between project design and implementation phase, a time that is needed for ex ante evaluation, ranking proposals, and contracting selected ones. Second, implementation takes time, in case of some projects two to three years or more. So, it may happen that several years pass from the moment of project design to the moment when the goals should be achieved. It should also be considered that project design phase uses statistics and some other data that most often are a year or more old. And things do change over time. And the changes will influence results and impact of the intervention. Therefore, it is needed to maintain awareness throughout the implementation of development intervention, about the intervention itself as well as about the environment.
This awareness, let’s call it so, should consider the initial project design. It is a starting point, after all, and if the intervention is designed properly there is no reason to ignore the initial plan. But to achieve desired change in conditions of rapidly changing environment, it may not be enough. Not only the intervention, but the environment itself should be continuously monitored.
Monitoring based on approaches like project cycle management (PCM) is good for closely following the implementation of an intervention, ensuring that the implementation follows the plan (European Commission. 2004). It also includes significant attention to administrative and regulative aspects of implementation, such as procurement and reporting. In some cases, in stable conditions, this may be good enough to achieve the defined results of the intervention, i.e. to achieve desired change.
However, in conditions of dynamic changes in the environment, which is almost a rule for development interventions in modern society, it will not be sufficient. The mentioned awareness thus gets richer since it must include influence of changes in the environment. It would be just too shortsighted to ignore events in the environment that do happen and do have impact on implementation of an intervention. Monitoring should be sensitive to such events, too. Therefore, it should not focus only on the initial plan and implementation of activities accordingly but should also grasp external influences. Although PCM includes attention to such events, it is more emphasized in some other methods, such as Capacity Works, which sees results-based monitoring as a “navigation tool”, where it is needed to periodically test the initial hypotheses, as well as observe the ambient conditions, and if important changes are detected, the intervention may be adjusted (GIZ, 2015: 27).
Awareness gets even richer when SCRUM is brought into the picture. It brings in an interesting point of view – instead of focusing only on what has been done, focus is primarily on the work that is still to be done and results to be achieved, recognizing that in complex environments, what will happen is unknown and that only what has happened may be used for forward-looking decision-making (Schwaber and Sutherland, 2016: 14). So, the intervention is to be monitored in its entirety.
The longer the implementation of an intervention lasts, the higher the probability that things will change and that this change will require adjustments in the intervention to achieve desired impact. Also, it is beneficial to, time to time, consider if there are changes in the environment, what are influences of the change on the intervention and how the intervention needs to be adjusted to new situation. Although outcome harvesting (Wilson-Grau and Britt, 2013) is primarily linked to evaluation, it seems that such perspective may be useful also in monitoring, especially in case of larger scale intervention with longer implementation period. This approach further enriches the awareness with attention to changes in the environment and links of the identified changes to the intervention, helping also to establish cause and effect relations.
Also, modern world is more and more connected and achieving changes through designed interventions is getting more and more demanding. Convergence is visible in many areas. Methods applied should not be left out of processes of change, neither should methods that function be left out from design and implementation of development interventions. It seems that it may be good to combine and adjust methods, taking from each method what is needed for successful managing of development processes. This gives broader perspective, enabling us to be aware of many important aspects of the environment and the intervention, and of their interactions, giving us a chance to timely adjust what needs to be adjusted and to navigate through these uncharted waters, since every intervention is a new experience. This should also increase chances of achieving the desired changes in modern societies, through well-designed and carefully navigated interventions, helping us to avoid unpleasant surprises on that path, by being constantly aware of our actions and our environment.
of society brings new, more and more complex, challenges. It seems that this
reached the point where solutions that enabled breakthroughs in economy,
technology and social development in the past now seem to be obstacles.
Fragmentation, more than any. Namely, specialization in performing certain functions
in society had an important impact on development of society. E.g. specialization
in production operations was a breakthrough in development of industry.
Observed more broadly, specialization in different areas of life used to bring
better results. Establishing entities in charge of teaching, regulating,
researching, and producing contributed to improvement of quality of life of
individuals and to development of the society. They focused, more and more over
time, on their tasks, thus building specialized capacity but also increasing
the distance from other social entities and processes. E.g. universities teach,
factories produce, and so on. They became very good at what they are doing. However,
with time, it seems the focus shifted from the purpose and initial function of
certain entity to the existence of the entity itself. So, nowadays, we often
hear opinions that the problem is „silo“, i.e. each stakeholder is performing
their specific tasks, fulfilling their specific function in social life as they
see it, while interactions and consequentially levels of understanding problems
and cooperation in the society becomes lower than needed for new breakthroughs.
Is this good for future steps in social development? Or it is necessary to
bring closer stakeholders that currently do their work mostly separately?
is already happening in different areas. E.g. in media, where division between
printed and electronic ones, and then between electronic audio and visual ones,
was clearly defined, while now we have different contents joined in online
channels, so we can read, listen and watch the content from the same
communication channel. Not only that, but technology also enabled consumers to
become producers of content, so now we have not only contents prepared by
professional journalists, but also by citizens that take an active role in
reporting on social events. Is this a pattern that will spread through other
areas of society? It is hard to say to which extent this will go, but it is
already happening in different areas of social development. Universities are making
endeavors to get closer to industries, adjusting curricula and intensifying
research activities to meet demands of changing industries. Enterprises are
investing more and more in research and development, participating more
intensively in learning processes conducted by educational institutions. State
institutions are making efforts to improve approaches and interventions enabling
development of economy and increase level of quality of life.
this social convergence, based on focusing on results rather than on existence
and characteristics of different entities in society, is already recognized as
something desirable and useful and if it is happening already, is this a
subject to think about at all? The thing is, even in developed societies, i.e.
in developed states, these processes are still facing many challenges, such as hesitation
of different stakeholders to cooperate, being unable to see long term benefits
and even necessity of such cooperation, trying to keep their independence and
identity rather than bringing their structures closer to other stakeholders and
thus involving more strongly in social development in different areas. In less
developed countries, it is, of course, much worse, in regard to networking and
cooperation, where risks are often on top of the list of decision making
criteria, where low level of trust is preventing cooperation, and lack of
resources is an obstacle for initiatives that are agreed on.
there are numerous challenges in uniting social forces to enable next steps in
social development. Some structures, functions and processes emerge. However,
the old ones are quite resilient, seeing these changes not as development, but
as jeopardy for their existence. But it is not about their existence. They can,
of course, exist in future, but with changes and adjustments required by new development
challenges. After all, they have already changed and evolved, no one is the
same as some years ago.
Therefore, strengthening trust, networking and
cooperation seem to be the right way to join forces of social stakeholders from
different areas, such as technology, education, industry and regulatory
institutions, to enable the next step in social development. It brings the
focus back on results and effects, not on existence and benefits of individual
stakeholders. In fact, in the long run, this seems to be the best for the
individual interests, too, because developed countries, where quality of life
is high, achieved that to a great extent thanks to cooperation processes that
are still recognized as a priority for further development. This approach
enables joining resources and better prioritization on the level of society.
Bringing together universities and companies, government and citizens, simply
gives better results in social development. After all, societies came into existence
on the ground that every individual can achieve much higher quality of life in comparison
to existing in isolation. Specialization, as we mostly know it, seems to have
served the purpose. It created capable entities that are good in performing
specific tasks. Now they have to join forces and converge processes to enable further
development in different areas of social life. With everyone doing what they do
best, working more and more closely with different stakeholders in society,
changing and adapting over time to new conditions and development requirements.
That is what society is all about, isn’t it?
society is characterized by rapid changes in different areas of life. Different
stakeholders are investing efforts to manage processes of changes, to achieve
development and benefits for the individual stakeholders and consequentially
for the society. There are also efforts to harmonize and coordinate activities
of different stakeholders to achieve the best results on the level of society. However,
it is not easy. Therefore, plans are being prepared and implemented, with
monitoring and evaluation, lessons learned and proposed adjustments. This
points out that strategies and their implementation is considered important,
taking into account that preparation of a strategy, as a specific plan,
requires significant resources and that strategies are often prepared in various
areas. At the same time, development requires ever new solutions and
innovations are more and more often considered one of key, if not the most
important, factors in development. This brings to questions about relations
between strategies and innovations, how to plan interventions that foster
innovations and what are specific aspects of such plans and their
word strategy comes from military area and includes high-level goals and plans
to achieve these goals, both resulting from strategic planning processes, while
tactics is focused on engaging resources to achieve these goals on operational
level. Innovation system, innovations ecosystem or national innovation system,
whatever term is used and whatever level is observed, is a concept focusing on
interactions among companies, education and research institutions/organizations
and other stakeholders in introducing innovations.
conditions of dynamic changes and more and more complex interactions in society,
defining strategic goals is an extremely difficult task, since it focuses
resources on certain areas thus bringing also risk of missing opportunities for
achievements in other areas, so that it may or may not bring desired effects. There
are different approaches applied in preparation of strategic plans, that
include different analyses in introductory phases, different levels of
participation of various stakeholders, and different structure of strategic
documents. One of key differences is in the structure of strategic documents,
i.e. how deep in details it goes in defining how strategic goals will be
achieved. Some strategic documents give strategic goals and broad, but still
precisely enough defined, directions, while other develop detailed operational
plan, with interventions, resources, allocation of responsibilities and other
details, including monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Both, strategic goals
and broad directions and operational details are needed for achieving the
change. So, why is the structure of documents different?
I have participated in the study visit to Germany, Berlin area, where we had an
opportunity to get acquainted with SME support mechanisms, in different areas. My
impression was that state-level institutions define strategic goals and
directions towards them, which are ambitiously and precisely defined (e.g. https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Publikationen/aktionsprogramm-zukunft-mittelstand.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=7 emphasizing importance of
innovation networks or https://www.de.digital/DIGITAL/Redaktion/EN/Publikation/digital-strategy-2025.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=9 ), but operational planning, i.e.
developing interventions that will ensure reaching these goals is left to other
stakeholders, such as enterprises, educational and research institutions. Even
programs that initiate movement towards desired goals, financially supported and
monitored by the government, are administered by transparently selected and
contracted private agencies. Documents on level of federal states contain more
details (e.g. https://digitalesbb.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/190529_Broschüre_A4_Gesamtstrategie_web.pdf ), but still do not go into all
details, such as identification of responsible stakeholders for implementation,
financial values and sources of funding. So, higher levels of authorities
define what to do, and other stakeholders provide ideas how to do it. On the
other hand, strategic documents in BiH often contain detailed operational part,
as defined by methodologies such as Standardized Methodology for Strategic
Planning and Managing SME Development. Methodologies also suggest that
strategic planning process should be followed by establishing structures and
procedures for implementation. So, the strategic document not only defines what
to achieve, but also how to do it.
is the reason for this difference? Like in the military, commanders who have
well-trained and equipped units have the luxury, so to speak, to define task
and rely on lower levels of command for tactical application in the field (an
approach well-known for a long time, applied by, for instance, Helmuth von
Moltke the Elder). So, one of the reasons may be in availability of capacities
and interactions. Namely, Germany has well-developed innovation system, with
strong individual capacities of stakeholders and with developed interactions,
both of which they are further developing. So, government can count on the
innovation system to create solutions to reach defined strategic goals. They
also have financial resources to support development processes identified as
priorities. On the other hand, less developed countries do not have so
well-developed innovation systems, neither from the point of view of individual
capacities of stakeholders, that are often lacking resources, nor from the
point of view of interactions. Therefore, stakeholders who develop strategic
plan, in order to increase probability that it will be implemented and thus
create desired change in reality, define all details they can, with precise
descriptions and allocation of tasks and responsibilities. It is
understandable, since it is less likely that concepts will come from
stakeholders that still lack resources and from the environment with
This approach may be necessary steppingstone in
development of underdeveloped countries and their approach to innovations,
since a number of interventions in strategies is focused exactly on developing
capacities and interactions, thus creating conditions to engage wider circles
of stakeholders in developing solutions for achieving strategic goals. This
way, less developed countries are creating conditions for applying similar
approach to the one currently applied by developed countries, thus enabling creative
potentials of many to contribute to future development processes in economy and
in social development in general.
Planning in conditions of rapid and often unpredictable changes
There are periods of time, such as
the one we are living in, when changes are present in many areas – economy,
technology, education, etc. Changes are influential, rapid and quite often very
difficult, if not impossible, to foresee. In such circumstances, questions
occur about possibilities and limitations of planning of development processes
– is it needed, possible, how to do it. Exploring these subjects, one may come
across different opinions – that it is not needed at all, that it is needed but
impossible, that it is needed and possible but that it requires new tools and
methods. Especially, there are many discussions on methods, arguing which is
better, even opinions that certain method is almost perfect and universally
So, in practice, what helps and
Planning is needed, there are
hardly any dilemmas about that. Even activities we undertake in everyday life,
the smallest ones in terms of time and resources, require a plan, where a plan
may be just an idea of what we want and how to achieve this. Going from point A
to point B already includes several things important for planning:
we need to move from point A, so there is a reason for change,
we should go to point B, so it is clear where we should go,
we can define what resources we need, having information about the
path between these two points (distance, obstacles, etc.).
Clearly, in such situation, there
are many things known and planning is not that difficult. Yet, we do need an
idea about the process of change, but it is possible, and we know how to do it.
However, situations in development
processes are rarely so simple. Much more often it is not easy to recognize the
moment when the change is necessary, it is not easy to justify need for change
to stakeholders, it is extremely difficult to define what is to be achieved and
consequently how can we do that. Despite all that, we still need planning.
Seriously, what is the alternative? Just to go with the flow? It does not seem
like a desirable option. So, we do need a plan, which brings us to questions
how to plan.
So, let’s say we got positive
answer to the first question and established that the planning is needed. That
brings us to questions of is it possible and how to do it. And this is when
methods come into focus. In area where I work, among most often applied methods
in planning, there is methodology for strategic planning of development on
local level (MIPRO, UNDP BiH, 2011) and among methods for project management it
is Project Cycle Management (PCM), defined as “a set of project design and
management tools (based on the Logical Framework Approach)” (European
Commission, Project Cycle Management Guidelines, 2004, page 1). Also, “Logical
Framework Approach (LFA) is a methodology for planning, managing and evaluating
programmes and projects, involving stakeholder analysis, problem analysis,
analysis of objectives, analysis of strategies, preparation of the Logframe
matrix and Activity and Resource Schedules” (European Commission, Project Cycle
Management Guidelines, 2004, page 142). Logframe is obviously important and it
should be mentioned that it is “the matrix in which a project’s Intervention
Logic, Assumptions, Objectively Verifiable Indicators and Sources of
Verification are presented” (European Commission, Project Cycle Management
Guidelines, 2004, page 142). Also, these methods for identification and design
of development interventions are based on logic of linear processes, with
clearly defined cause and effect relations. Such methods can be applied for
detailed design of an intervention if we really know cause and effect
relations. In such cases, methods work fine, it is possible to make time frame,
allocate resources, manage and monitor processes in implementation, and to
evaluate the intervention. Such methods also work well in regulated environments,
such as projects funded by state, EU or donors, because it is possible to
prepare detailed project plan (a.k.a. application for funding) which makes it
possible to perform ex ante evaluation and make well based decisions. This is
an important aspect and is certainly not to be neglected.
Also, methods like PCM work fine
in a number of cases. However, there are also numerous cases where we are
struggling with applying such methods. More importantly, even if we find the
way to prepare and implement an intervention applying such methods, results may
not be what we expected. This just discovers that cause and effect relations
have not worked as we have expected. And this happens for so many reasons –
there are many factors that are changing while influencing the intervention and
each other, we do not have information in the area, etc. Should we give up? No,
we should try to find the way. After all, word method comes from Greek word for
path, a way, so it is a path from point A to point B. And there are many ways
to go from point A to point B, which denies claims that certain method is the
only one possible and makes us think more about which method to apply, i.e.
which path to take. However, before selecting the method, we should determine
are we in the situation where cause and effect is known or not.
and Boone, 2007
Cynefin framework (graphic above) offers
an interesting and useful idea. If the situation we are dealing with is on the
right side, PCM will work. If not, we have to establish cause and effect
relations first, i.e. we have to discover them. An important characteristic of
the cases on the left side is that we do not have information about the events.
So, we must explore. It is not easy, having in mind we are talking about social
processes. But it is not impossible, either. Several safe to fail probes (Cognitive
Edge, Safe-to-Fail Probes. par. 1) will
shed light on cause and effect relations, and then we can apply methods like
PCM. Even these experiments should be clearly defined, so that we can observe
processes and detect key points, interactions and influences. If we want to
further improve processes within the project, we may consider applying concepts
such as Theory of Constraints, as described in Goldratt’s Critical Chain (Goldratt, 1997).
Also, we can plan in different
situations. We should not be too attached to any single method or concept, but
rather try to understand what we are dealing with and then define an approach
to design and realization of solution. I stopped using services of mechanics
that were approaching my car carrying a hammer without even looking at the car.
Different problems require different methods and tools. Problem defines tools,
not vice versa.
Also, there is a number of critics
of every concept or method. A number of them is based on cases where an
approach was not properly applied (e.g. logframe was prepared without prior
analyses) or on wrong expectations (e.g. where Cynefin was applied as a project
management tool). On the other hand, these two concepts can work fine – Cynefin
to help us determine if and when we can apply PCM, and PCM to do the rest. This
is more shift in thinking than in methods. This is, of course, only one way of
understanding and using all above mentioned concepts.
Another, but rather important,
aspect is how to get support (and funding) for interventions where you cannot
promise precisely defined results (in fact, you could, but there is another
word for it). Like in other situations, there are different ways (should I say
methods). One is to find source supporting this type of interventions, ones
focused on research and development of concepts. Another would be to design
interventions where some components may have twofold purpose – to achieve a
precisely defined result and to make new findings. E.g. when you organize a
training for companies, you could clearly expect that their knowledge about the
topic will be better. But you could also continue to observe if they are trying
to apply some of concepts presented in the training and how does it go. It
requires additional effort, but you will get information that can be used for
design of new interventions.
It seems that planning nowadays is similar to Hesse’s Glasperlenspeil, but with practical goals, requiring understanding of many areas, capacity to communicate with various stakeholders and readiness to play with new ideas. And also, to accept reasonable level of risk. Difficult? It certainly is. But it is needed, and, now and then, one may even enjoy it.
Usually, when designing and intervention, we start with analyses of data. We start with data that are available and this is useful, but it has limitations. Data usually tell us about consequences, not about causes. E.g. we can see that quantity of exported furniture is increasing, but we do not see why. On the other hand, in order to design an intervention that will bring desired change, we need to know the causes, because only influence on causes enables us to impact the result, i.e. to achieve desired change. Time is usually limited and, under pressure to act, we may design the interventions that, to some extent, are based on assumptions.
Also, design of development interventions, such as projects and measures, includes assumption that causes are known. On basis of identified cause-effect relations, development practitioners prepare interventions that should lead to desired changes in the society. E.g. if we provide training for the unemployed, companies will employ them and become more competitive. Seems fine. However, there are some, let’s say hidden, additional assumptions, such as, for example, the one that unemployed do want to work, but they do not have an opportunity. Usually, no one checks if this assumption is true, because it looks so obvious. In practice, however, it is not. Consequently, there are organizations offering free training for unemployed that are struggling with finding participants, there are companies seeking for employees and offering initial training, struggling to find candidates, etc. Obviously, not all causes of unemployment, as defined in modern society, are explored. Therefore, interventions can target only one part of employees as the target group – the ones that do satisfy all of the above-mentioned aspects and criteria. Unemployment is just an example, there are numerous similar examples in other areas of economy, and social life in general.
So, we have to get deeper insights, which limited data cannot offer, in order to have clear picture of cause-effect relations before we design an intervention. Sometimes, it takes only to look in more details and from multiple angles, and map of causes and influential factors becomes visible and clear. Observing processes and listening (yes, listening) to stakeholders, even if what they speak is not guided by a questionnaire or interviewer, will say much more about causes than some of existing data. In such cases, it is important not to go to generalizations too soon, i.e. to make conclusions for entire group on basis of insights in behavior of only few members. But insights are extremely valuable.
However, there are situations where information on cause-effect relations simply do not exist, where we cannot say what effect would an intervention have. In Cynefin framework (http://cognitive-edge.com/videos/cynefin-framework-introduction/) these are seen as complex. In such situations, as the framework suggests, it is needed to undertake steps Probe – Sense – Respond, i.e. it is not possible to immediately design large-scale intervention that will result in precisely defined and desired change. It could, but it would be pure luck. Above mentioned framework offers an approach that is good, because we do not engage massive resources for an intervention that has questionable design, i.e. that lays on assumptions that are used as facts. Just to clarify, not all situations are such and this should not be used as an excuse for being passive. There are many situations where intensive and dedicated research does lead to causes, thus providing basis for design of an intervention that will produce desired change.
Whatever the situation is, it is needed to identify causes in order to design an intervention that will produce desired change.
We are often in position to apply some kind of instructions and very often it is not easy. That leads to questions – are instructions in particular case really needed, is it more important to launch them faster or to ensure higher level of applicability without difficulties, as well as if and when they should be changed.
Generally, instructions are useful and needed when it is possible to describe a process in detail so that this description can ensure repeating the process with the same results and when it is needed to conduct the same process, i.e. to achieve the same results in a number of cases. That may be good starting point for thinking about the need for instructions. If it is determined that instructions are needed, focus is on preparation of instructions. Instructions should make life of those conducting respective processes easier. However, that is often not the case. Explanation, partially, lays with shortcomings in the instructions themselves. Namely, impression is that often ideas how some things can be done are presented and imposed as instructions. In practice, that leads to a number of problems in application of instructions and also to wasting resources, having in mind that a number of stakeholders are spending time trying to apply instructions that are impossible to implement and to find solutions for flaws in their design, where a number of stakeholders are trying to solve the same problem at the same time, most often without structured communication with each other. What is the reason for this – is it really so important to launch instructions fast? Even if it is, poorly prepared instructions will not lead to desired result, but to waste of time and resources and to creating bad working atmosphere.
One more important aspect is change of instructions. Even if instructions were carefully prepared, it will probably turn out that instructions are not perfect. That is fine, as long as instructions serve the purpose. On the other hand, question that should, but often is not, asked is – is it really needed and justified to change instructions. Namely, change of instructions initiates massive communication to disseminate new, modified instructions, and then requires efforts from all those that have to apply the instructions. In some cases, changes are substantial and really needed. However, in some cases changes obviously do not lead to substantial improvement, but they will nevertheless require efforts in application. Is this effort justified? Is it really so important to add some part of table or to rephrase some sentences that will not lead to real improvement? Probably not. So, when thinking about changing instructions, it should be taken into consideration if this change will produce substantial improvement. If not, it is probably not worth to introduce these changes and additional efforts are not justified.
It would definitely be better to spend more time on design and testing of instructions, before they are presented as completed and ready to use. It will take some more time in preparation, yes, but it will save much more time and resources in application. Also, introduce changes only if really needed, not every time when someone thinks it would be good to change something.
Managing development includes defining interventions, i.e. projects and measures that should result in improvement in society, in area of economic and/or social development or environment protection. Preparation of interventions that are expected to produce desired results, requires comprehensive and deep understanding of the area in which the intervention (e.g. a project) will be implemented. Interventions based on such understanding of relevant stakeholders (their capacities and motives), processes and interactions in the society, have a potential to achieve significant change with relatively small resources. Understanding is important, because, to design an intervention that will lead to desired result, it is needed to discover causes. Also, it is not enough to observe consequences and their changes, but it is needed to discover causes and influence them, to direct processes into desired direction. Hence the title hermeneutics of development.
Hermeneutics is „method for interpreting primarily texts, and then entire social, historical and psychological world“ (Blackburn, 1999: 155). Also, it is about systematic way of understanding of phenomena, which is not limited only to understanding texts, but also includes social processes. Development is defined as „the act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger or more advanced; the act or process of creating something over a period of time; the state of being created or made more advanced“ (Merriam-Webster, Development, 2015). Development processes can be initiated, guided and observed on different levels, such as state level or level of local community, but also in an industrial sector or an enterprise. Enterprises function within a framework that are to a great extent defined by state level authorities and in conditions that are heavily influenced by local governments and local communities. On the other hand, functioning of enterprises influences local communities in which they function, as well as states in which they are located, by creating value, work places, and also by influencing social development and environment. It is easy to see that there is a number of connections and interrelations, and Gadamer emphasizes that purpose of his researches in regard to hermeneutics is exactly „to find what is common for all ways of understanding and to show that understanding is never subjective behavior towards a given ‘subject’, but that it belongs to the history of actions, which means: in the essence of what is being understood“ (Gadamer, 1978: 13). Phenomena usually do not develop in isolation, but in interaction, while development processes happen simultaneously, overlapping and influencing each other. Clearly, understanding the whole and its parts requires special attention.
For all those involved in development processes, every day brings a new challenge. Ideas how to overcome these challenges sometimes occur immediately, sometimes it takes time. In any case, opinions of persons that have knowledge and experience are valuable. Ideas of creative persons with knowledge and experience are precious, because they often bring not only a solution, but also a breakthrough in the area.
I believe that sharing information, experiences, knowledge and ideas can help development practitioners and theorists on their path. Not only that, sharing ideas as they occur may be beneficial for both, those that share because feedback can help them to develop ideas to the level needed for practical implementation, and those that see these ideas and provide feedback because it may initiate thinking in new direction, enabling different approach to problems they are dealing with. Therefore, I shall share what I am thinking about, working on and struggling with, facts and dilemmas. I hope that this blog will be one of places for sharing knowledge, experiences, information and ideas, and more importantly a place where ideas can emerge and be developed. I hope some things I share will be interesting, maybe even useful to some, and I am looking forward to hearing different opinions on posted materials. I am sure it will be challenging, inspiring, difficult and interesting.
·Blekburn, Sajmon. (1999). Oksfordski filozofski rečnik. Novi Sad: Svetovi.
·Gadamer, Hans Georg. (1978). Istina i metoda, osnovi filozofske hermeneutike. Sarajevo: IP Veselin Masleša.