What can we learn from looking at the overlaps between innovations in ways of doing research and neglected development issues?

November 23, 2023

     By Duncan Green     

The same subjects have been coming up again and again in random conversations recently, especially the ones where someone comes down to South London for a general chat in a local coffee shop (one of my favourite ways of avoiding work). In a recent discussion with Oxfam Mexico’s Estefanie Hechenberger, a small penny dropped – the value of looking at the overlaps between the subjects, rather than always taking them separately.

FP2P regulars will be used to reading about four of my main hobbyhorses, as shown in the 4 blob Venn above, namely:

Positive Deviance: identifying, exploring and helping scale up the positive outliers that already exist on any given issue, rather than assuming that external intervention is required.

Domestic Resource Mobilization (DRM): by ignoring domestic forms of altruistic giving and solidarity, we perpetuate aid dependence and centre aid organizations, when actually there’s significant amounts of potential funds in-country.

Diaries: Repeat conversations with people on topics such as how they manage their money, gain access to water or resolve disputes can be super helpful in revealing underlying structures of power and exclusion and stop us doing stupid/unnecessary stuff.

Faith: Poor people trust and rely on their faith groups far more than on NGOs or the state, but the aid sector, including activist NGOs, is often determinedly secular and fails to take faith institutions, leaders and congregations seriously.  

These are apples and pears of course: Positive Deviance and Diaries are innovative methodologies, while DRM and Faith institutions are neglected topics (at least in my experience).  But chatting to Estefanie over a yummy pre-Christmas mince pie, we started to discuss the potential of the overlaps. Let’s start with the ones between two of the topics:

  • Why not do a ‘diaries of the rich’ project to find out how well off people in the Global South fund good works, and how NGOs tap into that?
  • Faith institutions and leaders elicit marmite reactions – activists either hate them or love them, often based on their own personal experiences. Why not use diaries to understand more about their work, and where what they do aligns with progressive values?
  • Similarly, a positive deviance approach could explore which congregations or even members of congregations are positive outliers on issues such as early marriage, or FGC and then go and find out why, and what lessons can be learned
  • Finally, a positive deviance approach to DRM would try and identify which people or institutions in a given country give money for progressive causes and try and understand why, and whether that can be scaled.

That’s as far as I’ve got, but it might also be worth thinking about the 3 blob overlaps, labelled A, B, C and D in the diagram, eg combining diaries and positive deviance approaches to understand the importance of faith leaders (D) or how domestic philanthropy can be boosted (B).

Finally, there’s a nice juicy bull’s eye involving all 4 blobs – something along the lines of combining diaries and positive deviance to understand and tap into the role of faith in altruistic giving.

I also realize there are some missing 2 blob overlaps between blobs on opposite sides of the diagram, but suspect I’ve probably lost everyone already, so won’t go there.

What do you think? I wonder if this could be a way to brainstorm in order to generate new ideas for both research and activism on thorny issues like localization, shifting social norms etc (you could just swap them in for DRM and Faiths). Or maybe I’d just had too much coffee.

As ever, over to you

November 23, 2023
Duncan Green


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