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Are global development leaders prepared for the future? Do they possess the skills necessary to work effectively in the changing landscape?
These questions and others were the focus of a live chat - Development 3.0: adapting leadership for a changing world- on The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network website.
Here are some excerpts:
On the solutions-driven approach to development:
RH:Development is moving from a solutions-driven (SD) approach, where solutions are presumed to have been tested elsewhere and broadly applicable to a problem-driven approach (PD) where solutions are seen as fairly context specific and projects have to explore and discover what works in a particular context. The quintessential SD approach was the Washington Consensus, a list of solutions to any problem. SD leads to "isomorphic mimicry" where people try to look like effective organizations elsewhere by copying the forms of success but not the functionality. PD requires a capacity to nominate problems, explore alternatives but also requires a stronger feedback loop to get information regarding whether things are working out or not. My friends Lant Pritchett and Matt Andrews have coined the term Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation. It is based on the evolutionary idea that progress involves variation and selection. We need organizations empowered with the capacity to explore variations but they need to connect to strong feedback loops so that they can better select the variations that actually work. Such an approach would involve decentralized exploration and learning instead of the traditional approach that presumed to do the learning and design in a centralized manner.
On the problem-driven approach being difficult to sell in risk-averse bureaucracies like donor agencies:
RH:Donors want to support things that have been shown to work elsewhere, but this is often unwarranted. We should be eagerly willing to learn of alternative designs, but we still need solutions that understand context. This is too difficult to achieve without experimentation and variation. Donors often want to know exactly how the money will be used before they give it. But this assumes that we know how best to spend the money before we start. Projects have to be designed with the flexibility to adapt to new knowledge.
On the conditions the support innovative and flexible development support:
RH:Our world is becoming flatter and more networked. Leadership in this world is not about hierarchy, command and control or the cult of the Great Man. It is about the ability to call attention to issues, explore new alliances and forms of collaboration, and use information that allows society to see itself in the mirror and respond to that image.
On the importance of public image. Do the leaders of governmental departments for development, for example, need to be experts in all the major aspects of development, or is it ever enough to rely on good advisers and be popular?
RH:One interesting distinction is whether a leader is seen as representing a solution or a problem. The solution-driven leader has a hammer and sees everything as nails. The problem-driven leader is committed to finding a solution but is not tied to a particular form. He will be concerned with its effectiveness in getting the job done. I think political leadership is not about the "how" but about the "what." Political leadership is about defining the agenda, the priorities and the values that should guide any design solution. Technical expertise is about the what. There are people who can do both, but you cannot be politically effective without an ability to define the "what" and to transform it into a shared goal.
On the need of leaders to be highly flexible:
MA:I think that all versions of leadership are about groups. Even where we think it's about heroic figures or downward leadership in bureaucracies, if we look close enough, we see groups. Some do appear as champions and this is a role to be played. But it is just one role. So I don't think that leadership manifests through individuals operating alone.
On the state of development leadership today:
RH:Current leaders are the Darwinian survivors of a particular game. We don't need to focus on the individuals. We need to focus on the game. If the game changes, the characteristics of the survivors will change. For example, name-and-shame organizations try to change the pay-offs of the game in order to affect incentives and winning strategies. If isomorphic mimicry is rewarded by donors, leaders will be a playing Marcel Marceau impersonation game.
You'll find the complete chat transcript in the comments section of The Guardian web page.