I am a Development Handyman. Here is my Toolbox.

Monitoring tools, systems strengthening tools, tools to build capacity of community-based groups, tools for gender assessment. A complete set of screwdrivers and wrenches.

We in development sometimes throw around this word as if we were a carpenter, to describe the things we use to help us do our job better. They might be guidelines, training curricula, or lists of indicators with a description of the best way to measure them. And though the title of this post is sarcastic, I don’t mean to disparage the incredible work, rigorous evidence, and highly-informed expertise that have gone into creating – and successfully using – many of them.

But what does the word “tool” imply? That they are standardized and will work the same anywhere? That we have them in our belt and, when the situation arises, we can pull out the right one for the job? That by banging a few nails and tightening a few screws, we can predict what will (or won’t) happen as a result?

Working in international development from the faraway land of Washington, DC, I am always interested by the little tricks of language that are used here – intentionally or not – that give us the impression (illusion?) of our own mastery and control over what happens in our programs. Nobody has devious intentions (or at least, very few in the NGO world), and everybody will affirm the importance of adapting to local context, and be genuine about it. Everybody knows that folks in DC can only have a certain amount of control over what happens on the ground in developing countries. Still, we use these words that let us believe (and perhaps more to the point, let donors believe) that we do have control. That the problems are linear and un-complex. That technical approaches are enough, and political considerations are irrelevant. That we have the right tools for the job.



About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

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