The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn into sharp focus the need for international development actors to experiment with new approaches, in particular delegating authority, not just responsibility, to local actors. The present disruptions thus provide an important moment to engage in reimagining localization and locally led development agendas. This must be done while also navigating significant uncertainty and ambiguity. Adaptation is thus key — avoiding what Scoones and Stirling in their book The Politics of Uncertainty: Challenges of Transformation call the ‘invisible foreclosing of possible futures’ and learning to move ‘from calculative control to creative care’. Particular focus must be given to the ways in which localization/locally led development, conditioned in uncertain and ambiguous contexts, shapes new approaches to development practice.

Key Messages

This paper focusses draws on examples of learning, adaptation and pivoting in development responses. Professor Chris Roche and Dr Lisa Denney highlight that 2020 provided critical junctures for utilising local staff:

Ongoing research with Pacific Islanders suggests that, on the whole, programs adapted and pivoted to respond to the COVID crisis and that remote support has largely been successful where local staff were empowered.

The paper discusses the implications for how development might be reimagined. The starting points highlighted include: 

  • recognising the signficance and origins of day to day practices,
  • starting with social change, not the development project,
  • coming to grips with the politics of uncertainty,
  • valuing multiple forms of knowledge,
  • thinking hard about identity.