Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Thinking out loud

By Badriyya Yusuf, 1st year MDP student

Picture this: You’re working from the 12th floor of a skyscraper in New York City, sitting behind a computer screen, sipping a steaming cup of Starbucks coffee as you collect data on climate change trajectories in Ouagadougou. Funny thing is you’ve never step foot in Ouagadougou, heck, it’s the first time you’ve ever come across the name of the capital city of Burkina Faso, but yet you are in charge of this data collection process. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a great researcher but is something amiss here? 

I came across the term desktop research quite a number of times while undertaking my field practicum this summer. It is defined as the process of gathering and analyzing information, already available in print or published on the internet. Pretty much the same process we utilize for our research papers. Online tools actually exist to make the process even easier. It is both cost effective and time efficient. It is also a methodology used by development, aid agencies and think tanks to formulate policy recommendations to be implemented in different corners of the world. However it comes with the risk of unreliable data, assumptions far different from the reality on the ground and the high probability that the intended beneficiaries will not be a part of the implementation process. Could this perhaps be among the reasons why sustainable development remains an elusive quest in many parts of the world?

Downtown Winnipeg
I recently found myself wondering about the ‘poverty trap’ as coined by Jeffrey Sachs. With so much technology currently available, collaborative knowledge sharing and money given in the form of aid and investment, why is poverty not a thing of the past? I found a partial answer in Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden” where he says “It is a fantasy to think that the West can change complex societies with very different histories and cultures into some image of itself”. (Did you know he was actually fired from his job with the World Bank?). Anyway, what if his words do actually hold some ground? To me, Indigenous populations around the world come to mind when I reflect on that sentence. Are there perhaps not alternative pathways to sustainable development? Did you say, “Well, if there were any effective alternatives, we would have known them by now”? You could be right, but staying put in a different corner of the world could also be why we are yet to get there. I strongly believe that sustainable development needs to be homegrown. It will require putting more youth through school systems that recognize their heritage, contributions and limitations, filling their libraries with relevant books and ultimately empowering them to sit behind a computer screen right there in their villages. Now that’s what I call desktop research that provides sustainable results!

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