The 5 M’s of Development: Mundane matters (Part 3 of 5)

written by Matt Andrews

As I reflect on how change happens in development, 5 themes come to mind. I wrote about the importance of moments which are vital to foster change in complex contexts, and muddling which is important to find and fit reform and change content that fosters real development. Today I will discuss the third one: mundane.

The mundane matters in development. What I mean is simply that everyday, boring, taken for granted events, pressures, relationships, activities and such have a huge influence on prospects for change and development. We think these things are ordinary, banal, and don’t matter. But actually they dominate time and activity, and are the key to ‘getting things done’ and to prospects for change and development.

If mundane processes and pressures do not foster efficient activity, organizations are likely to be inefficient–there will be loads of meetings and people answering emails and writing papers and filling in time sheets and doing due diligence activities but these mundane activities will not foster effective results. Similarly, if the mundane does not support change then change and development will not happen: people will attend meetings but won’t follow-up with new activities because their time is already spoken for by the mundane.

I have seen this more than ever before in some of my reform experiments in 2013. The trouble they ran into had little to do with a lack of ideas or money. Instead, the challenges were mundane: getting people to ‘do’ new things in already full calendars, and to sit in meetings and engage purposively without looking down at the three cell phones on the table in front of them, and more. In all the experiences I have been part of, change only started when these and other mundane influences were managed or even altered.

The problem is two-fold:

  • First, development is full of mundanity. Governments and development organizations are the ones Andy Partridge (lead singer of the 80s band XTC) was talking about when he wrote: “We’re horrible mundane, aggressively mundane, individuals. We’re the ninjas of the mundane…”
  • Second, the mundane is mundane. What I mean is that most development specialists think it does not matter. “Too boring. Too unimportant. So easy to overcome. Surely not as important as rigorous empirical analysis and fancy new ideas.” But they often find that the mundane crowds out the new activities and empirics–again and again–to limit and undermine development initiatives.

mundane

It would be great to see development experts taking the mundane seriously. I think a strategy to identify, manage and even alter the mundane could be more important than most fancy development strategies. And infinitely more valuable than a fancy ‘Science of Delivery’. We need to rethink the mundane, seeing it as the key to getting things done and the key to change; less ordinary and banal and boring and more central to development.

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