Do we really know the causes?

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.

Instructions – need and speed

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.

Hermeneutics of Development

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.

Welcome!

Goran

 

Sources:

·        Blekburn, Sajmon. (1999). Oksfordski filozofski rečnik. Novi Sad: Svetovi.

·        Gadamer, Hans Georg. (1978). Istina i metoda, osnovi filozofske hermeneutike. Sarajevo: IP Veselin Masleša.

·        Merriam-Webster. (2015). Development. Preuzeto 01.02.2016. u 13.57 sa: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/development.