Can We Know Better?: Reflections for Development. Robert Chambers, Practical Action, June 2017.
This book is intended for all who are committed to human wellbeing and who want to make our world fairer, safer and more fulfilling for everyone, especially those who are ‘last’. It argues that to do better we need to know better. It provides evidence that what we believe we know in international development is often distorted or unbalanced by errors, myths, biases and blind spots.
Undue weight has been attached to standardised methodologies such as randomized control trials, systematic reviews, and competitive bidding: these are shown to have huge transaction costs which are rarely if ever recognized in their enormity. To confront the challenges of complex and emergent realities requires a revolutionary new professionalism. Promising developments include rapid innovations in participatory ICTs, participatory statistics, and the Reality Check Approach with its up-to-date and rigorously grounded insights.
An excerpt – Beginning on page 37, Chambers discusses Out of the closet: blind spots of WASH. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is a source of examples of past and present (though diminishing) blind spots and biases.
Infant poo. Andres Hueso has called infant poo the blind spot of blind spots (pers. comm.). Explanations can be sought in terms of biases: cleaning children’s faeces is overwhelmingly women’s work and women often lack time and resources to deal with it hygienically; it is less smelly and disgusting than adults’; it is widely regarded as harmless, although it carries a heavier pathogen load than that of adults. So in rural areas where there is open defecation, it is common practice to leave infant poo in the
open near dwellings or to throw it on rubbish heaps together with rags or other material used for wiping bottoms. For many it would be too expensive or time consuming to do anything else.