Sunday, October 31, 2010

I like more doing ... less study

Dear Colleagues

I have a fairly active presence on various websites that concern themselves with various aspects of socio-economic progress and relief and development activities. One of these discussions is at

I have just added the following comment reflecting my concern that so much of the conversation is about doing studies ... and rather little is about doing the hard work. While I have been fairly polite in my posted comment, I am getting increasingly concerned that there is acceleration in the wrong direction in most of the relief and development sector with more and more people wanting to make a career ins "study" of the problem and nobody deeply interested in actually doing the hard work that is needed ... but worse, less and less people actually knowing much about the techniques that are needed to do things ... to build things, to grow things, to maintain things, and so on! It is a scary situation and not enough on the radar!
Dear Colleagues

Some time back I posted a comment indicating that "I liked the project" ... and there have been a number of subsequent comments about the project, mainly indicating a similar sentiment.

A recent comment asking whether it is this project or some other action in society that is the cause of social improvement and has prompted me to write again. It is very difficult to get academically rigorous cause and effect in any social setting ... and in order to do so there is a high cost, and the answers are usually not much use for practical decision making.

My position is very simple. If we had spent the money that has been used studying development performance over the past 60 years and used it instead to "do development" and if we had kept some quite basic simple tracking of community level performance we would (a) know a lot more than we seem to at this time. and (b) we would have progressed a whole lot more than we have.

On the face of it ... I like this project. I want to see lots of other projects that "I like" being implemented at the community level. I am also pretty sure that where there are a lot of initiatives that "I would like" .. there would be a whole lot of socio-economic progress ... that is the quality of life in the community would have improved.

If the quality of life does not improve in a community doing things that seem to be sensible, then the cause/causes are external issues that are too big to handle at the local level alone. Sadly these bad externalities are widespread ... and most would solve quite rapidly if they were clearly identified and easily seen by the interested global public.

I am convinced that meaningful metrics are key to a smart society ... and that my work towards True Value Metrics is a step in right direction.


Peter Burgess


  1. Right on the spot. Who is doing the studies? Do they have any idea of the reality of being on the ground? Do they have a vested interest in the result of the studies? There is no easy answer. Sometimes, people are in such need of paid work that nonprofits are organized just to get an income, with little concern for the problem to be addressed.

  2. Tene

    Thanks for your comment ... a very good observation. I think you know the simple answer to the question you have posed ... but the idea of problem and solution is perhaps a little more complex.

    I started to work with Africa in the 1970s ... and a lot has happened over that time. My view is that there should have been way more progress, and hopefully this is going to happen ... but there are still too many who benefit from the status quo.

    I like your work with the artistry and culture of Africa. It is a value that is not well enough appreciated ... yet quite extensively exploited. I cannot pretend to be happy seeing African Art with the little label "Made in China" hidden somewhere on the product!

    I am hopeful and optimistic if for no other reason than my experience of Africa at as personal level has been very positive ... but in addition some of the economic fundamentals are going to work in Africa's favor in decades ahead.

    My work with "true value metrics" maybe is something that will help leadership in Africa and in the international community get held to account for the decisions that they make.

    All the best ... I like your blog

    Peter Burgess