The development process--the problem of imitating success.


* Development practice continues to operate on the assumptions of an outdated theory of modernization.

* Developing countries often sustain legitimacy by imitating other successful modern institutions without actually developing the functionality of the institutions they are copying.

* Aid condition can encourage this kind imitation and create disincentives for experimentation.

One important aspect of the development process is the building of the human capacity. Institutions and infrastructure are important but a skilled, educated workforce is required to carry out basic functions such as policing, security, regulation, and core service delivery. Developing this capacity is a difficult task and is not likely to be achieved in a short amount of time. Despite this, billions of dollars are spent each year on short-term programmes designed to achieve the impossible.

While modern development discourse espouses the idea that different countries require different solutions, there is still an overemphasis on imported--one size fits all--solutions. This approach not only fails to develop state capacity, but also slows the process by encouraging developing countries to adopt predefined solutions which focus on form over function, and thus neglect the importance of experimentation.

What is development?

Development practice continues to operate on the assumptions of an outdated theory of modernization. This is at least part of the reason for lack of progress in terms of developing human capacity in developing countries. This theory of modernization sees development as a process through which a country undergoes four interconnected transformations related to the more productive economy, a more democratic polity, a more just society, and more professional administration (figure 1).


1960s many believed in the idea that history was unfolding towards an inevitable end state and that the occurrence of these transformations was simply a matter of time. Communism for those on the left, and capitalism for those on the right would inevitably lead to the uniformity of institutional forms. Thus modernization theory stated that the best way to speed up development was for countries to skip some of the process of modernization by copying those countries further along the path.

Very few development professionals still subscribe to this view. The development discourse is now focused around the idea that one size fits all and silver bullet solutions simply do not...

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