The design space of actual development projects is complex, granular, and nuanced. In this video, Lant Pritchett, uses a simple example of a design space for teacher training to illustrate this point. You can watch the video below or on YouTube.
This is the last of the four common excuses that I hear about why PDIAcannot be done in development. If you are interested, you can read the first, second and third one.
Excuse 4:International development experts often tell me that PDIA is not possible because it implies that we are always muddling through. “How do I sell a muddled reform project ?”
I firmly believe that PDIA has its most value when we are in complex settings dealing with complex problems, where we don’t necessarily know the solutions or how to implement the solutions. In such situations one needs a process of finding and fitting relevant solutions that are unknown at first. This is where PDIA comes in and is useful .
If PDIA is used at the start of reforms in such contexts, one can find and fit solutions that have functional impact. A more traditional project process can be used once one knows (at least to some degree) what to do and how to do it. So you don’t need to muddle along forever… And PDIA is not about perpetual muddling – it is about structured, experiential learning.
This is the third of the four common excuses that I hear about why PDIAcannot be done in development. If you are interested, you can read the first and second one.
Excuse 3:International development experts often tell me that PDIA is not possible because it takes too long.
This is not true, especially when one considers the timing issues of traditional development projects. In my experience, many development projects last 5 years or so and deliver little more than new forms. These projects are then followed by a new project doing the exact same thing. Yes I know it sounds far fetched, but I see this in all countries and areas of development. So, if the counterfactual is 20 years of anti corruption reform in Malawi (that did not curb corruption) why say PDIA is too slow when it calls for crawling the design space for a year or two before we lock in a solution?
Second, traditional projects take ages to prepare (often one to two years). The preparation is largely passive, based on work in offices by project designers whose ‘product’ is the project design (not its implementation). PDIA offers much more with multiple active experiments and iterations in the context that lead to on the ground learning, capacity building, team and coalition building, experiential learning and active project design + quick wins. These gains far exceed those of many traditional project design phases, and yield projects that are already being implemented.
Iterative processes take multiple steps, but these are not necessarily long, can be much shorter than one step projects, and offers an opportunity for structured learning along the way. We need to use our time well and PDIA allows us to do this.