When “on the ground” is actually thin air

Redd countries - The REDD Desk 2011-06-18 14-12-47

The REDD desk lists such “on the ground” initiatives as national REDD strategies and funding proposals.

Conservation and development agencies love to boast about their achievements on the ground. Though policy changes may be equally if not more important, nothing quite connects with the public at large as specific stories of actual conservation and development successes. These, however, can prove to be somewhat harder to pin down than marketing departments would like to admit, and so some fairly tenuous claims get magnified into complete myths.

I recall one MSc student recently visiting a nearby ‘project’. A big international NGO was involved and she’d seen some snazzy publicity leaflets talking about all the good work going on. The NGO had even boasted about its achievements at the Copenhagen summit in 2009. This project was a prime example of their good works, and therefore a ‘big thing’. Other international partners also appeared to be involved. All in all it looked an exciting subject for an MSc thesis. When she arrived in country, though, our heroine found that the substance behind these claims proved frustratingly elusive. In her memorable quote:

“The closer I get to this project, the less there seems to be to it.”

Eventually she reached the field site where despite over a decade of dysfunctional attempts to engage the communities, there were zero concrete achievements, and communities had no more rights or powers than they had twenty years ago. The guilty BINGO was actually a relatively late arrival on this scene, so cannot be entirely blamed for all these failures, but their marketing puff certainly was a signal distortion.

I don’t believe the BINGO ever meant to act fraudulently. In fact much of the publicity was generated early on in their project, and spoke about what the project was going to do; 2-3 years later any outside observer would tend to assume that at least some of these goals had been achieved. Naturally no BINGO is going to loudly announce such delivery failures.

Although in this case I think the BINGO concerned did not manage their project well, we should be realistic: not all conservation and development projects are going to be a success. NGOs, big and small, and other development agencies, who know this should not be so quick to rush out the publicity. That way, when they claimed successes on the ground we could be rather more confident that they really existed outside the marketing department’s fervent imagination.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] this another case of publicity out-running the reality on the ground? Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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