Finding the right balance between planning and searching

That was an excellent class today!  Many thanks for all of your contributions ..  And we ended with the good discussion about ‘thinking like a clinician’ vs. ‘thinking like an ecologist.’  So what do you think?: if you ran an agency trying to promote sustainable development, would you appoint more clinicians or ecologists as planners; more clinicians or ecologists as searchers?  Share your thoughts!

And here’s another query for you: in the area and sector that you are studying, how do you find the right balance between planning and searching?  Moreover, how can you set up a process to improve well-being that (following Woolcock’s talk) has the promise of scale, is sensitive to the cultural context, and helps to manage conflict?  Again, please share your thoughts : )

(And as noted, here’s a nice blog that summarizes Easterly’s ideas of planning and searching.)

4 Responses to “Finding the right balance between planning and searching”

  1. I’ve been seeing how “planners vs. searchers” play out in my life this past few days as I secretly identify friends, family, acquaintances as one or the other. But the fact is that most people aren’t solely searchers or solely planners. Again, there is a gradient.

    But the more I think about it, the more I think that there isn’t a “correct” balance of planners and searchers, ‘clinicians’ and ‘ecologists.’ Just as we probably should say “eat everything,” we probably should be increasing the diversity of people who are on the ground acquiring metis as well as increasing the diversity of people who are sitting in board rooms releasing money. The chances of actually being able to consciously place more planners-who-think-like-ecologists in the board room and searchers-who-think-like-clinicians in the field (or whatever combination of character traits) is actually very hard to do. The more practical solution is really to place a wide variety of people that can inform one another. You just don’t want all of one type of people in one place. There is no perfect balance of searching and planning.

  2. Ryan raises a good point. Like many of the issues we are tackling, black and white, quantitative answers are hard to come by and even harder to implement once developed.

    Balance is an important goal for any organization seeking to respond effectively to these challenges at scale, but it is important to remember that sometimes the most balanced response is simple diversity.

    The question, though, is would we assign our ‘ecologists’ to be planners or searchers, and the same with ‘clinicians’? Perhaps it is my bias for the word itself, but I think that ecological thinking (a focus on systems, feedbacks and connections between parts) is the crucial skill set for both searching and planning, and that ecological analysis applied to a broad range of interdependent variables within the challenges we face forms the foundation of any diagnosis. Clinical thought is still important, but I think it is most effective within the context of an ecological awareness. Diagnosing individual problems ignores the broader picture, and results in solutions that address one issue while sometimes creating another.

  3. Easterly is quick to criticize the unapologetic planners like Sachs, but I think it is important to fuse both approaches. While the “clinician” type may be able to prescribe solutions for large scale projects, surely the thoughtful introspection of an ecologist would help the planning level comprehend the need for flexibility. Maybe Easterly would not be so quick to say, “the best aid plan is to have no plan,” if the planners had some feedback from the ecologist minded. Any large scale planning scene is sure to run into some complex realities at ground level, and fusing the opinions and approaches of a diverse group would allow for flexibility. Like Ryan said, a wide variety of people can inform each other. I think it is important to step back even further. We talk about metis as a listening process. Workers learn metis in the field, listening and thoughtfully considering the local way of life. This listening process should permeate the entire approach. Pairing ecologists and clinicians only works if they approach the project ready to listen, compromise, and fuse their approaches.

    Climate Change’s impact on Pacific Island Developing Countries is completely in tune with this issue. Smale scale projects must be established to improve the situation at hand. Water is a pressing issue, and many small island nations lack adequate potable water supplies. The searching method, moving from island to island, project to project, would help achieve modest goals one at a time.

    Meanwhile, climate change is a global issue. Large scale planning is completely necessary to encourage developed nations to fight climate change. This does not necessarily mean that only the “clinician” type should be involved in planning. In fact, thinking about my own topic, even the simple awareness of what is going on in these small island nations would help the large planning scheme. Including the ecologist approach at the planning stage may help raise the profile of individual islands and their increasingly threatened existence. The ecologist would treat these potential “climate refugees” as people, rather than just numbers. Attaching these individuals to a specific place, history, and lifestyle, is sensitive to the cultural context, and brings a human aspect to large scale planning. Voicing their specific battles with climate change at a global level tackles the issue of scale, raising the profile of small island nations to trigger widespread change.

  4. Both Kate and Ryan mention flexibility as key components of planning and implementing plans for change; I fully agree with that, and that’s why I find it difficult to pinpoint how to balance planning and searching. I think we can agree that every project needs a combination of both types. For me it is a question of scale; for a project to move up in scale from a grassroots initiative, for example, there does need to be communication between those on the ground and those in higher-up administrative positions.

    For example, my project is on how to encourage and provide girls’ primary education in southern Sudan. There are already many foundations that go into one town or area of the region and donate time, money, and supplies to build schools. These groups are also beginning to teach the importance of girls’ education. However, in a region where the long-standing traditional role of girls is in the home, a more widespread program of informing girls and their families of the benefits of primary and secondary education will eventually be necessary. There are very few universities or other higher-educational facilities available to girls, but it is not plausible for these small towns to fund and host such large facilities. At some point, as more and more young women reach this level of education, the government is going to need to provide more higher education for women. In other words, small-scale work on the ground is probably the most important work for the moment, especially as searchers there feel out exactly how to approach this complicated issue of lack of resources and cultural obstacles. However, in the future there will need to be more planners either to grow the project enough to make it widespread so that the government must acknowledge it or to create an approach to effectively convince the government that this is worth their while and their resources. I think that eventually these types of projects require communication between local groups/towns and higher-up administrators, and at each level of this process a mix of planners and searchers is needed.

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