A ‘with the grain’ interpretation of community-driven development

DialogueConflicts surrounding CDD illustrate powerfully (and depressingly) how the development discourse can be a dialogue of the deaf.  The recent report on CDD by 3iE, the conclusions of which are summarized in this blog post by Duncan Green, continues in this frustrating tradition.  In this blog post, I extract two sets of reflections on the CDD discourse which appeared  in my 2014 book,  Working with the Grain (p. 137).  (In a series of tweets linked here, I summarize my view on the 3iE report; and this new (updated)  link takes you to a May 2018 paper by Susan Wong & Scott Guggenheim, which is an implicit response by eminent practitioners to the 3iE report.)  Section I of the blog explores the process through which the discourse has unfolded; section II offers some suggestions as to what would comprise constructive assessment:

I: The discourse. ” Throughout the almost quarter century in which I was a staff member at the World Bank there was ongoing tension between boundary-breakers and ‘keepers’ of the dominant way of doing things. Part of this tension could be traced to the usual kinds of bureaucratic tension — inevitable in any organization, but perhaps more endemic in one filled with a highly-educated and highly ambitious staff, and with a complicated, ambiguous and difficult to measure ‘bottom line’.  But there also turned out to be an even more fundamental source of tension than fights over turf or personal ambition  – namely the conflict between competing ‘first principles’ as to what could provide a viable platform for moving forward with development.

I  confronted one of these fights to the (professional) finish while I was leading the Bank’s Africa public sector reform group. I was becoming increasingly aware of the very uneven results from efforts at public sector reform. Meanwhile, some remarkable gains were beginning to be reported from ‘bottom-up’, community-based approaches to development work. Surely, I reasoned, there were opportunities for synergy: Participatory approaches potentially offered the gains in accountability which were missing from many public management reforms. Conversely,  public management reforms offered the potential for longer-run institutionalization, the Achilles heel of the community-driven approaches. But what I had not reckoned with was the degree of mutual (professional) detestation among champions of each of these two approaches.

All too often, protagonists of working with communities derided government as the enemy to be avoided at all costs. And, in a mirror image of virulence, all too often public management types derided their community-oriented counterparts as short-sighted romantics. So, all too often, bringing these warring tribes into the same room felt like facilitating a dialogue of the deaf. (Actually, in classic bureaucratic fashion, the meetings themselves generally had a tone of formal, distant politeness; it was in the corridors, or behind closed doors, that the true virulence of mutual professional dislike was voiced.)” (p.137)

“…. From small beginnings in the early 1990s, as of 2011 the World Bank had approximately 400 active CDD project, valued at almost $30 billion, on its books. For advocates of bottom-up development, this is a remarkable triumph. For champions of ‘long-route’ approaches to institutional development, the mushrooming of CDD warrants a special place in hell.….” (p.170)


II: Key issues for assessing CDD:  In the link below I provide a long extract from  Working with the Grain  (pp. 170-176) which comprises my effort to suggest how more balanced assessments could usefully incorporate  careful attention to context, counterfactual, & unfolding dynamics.  Here’s the link: –  CDD WWG extract – 



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