An act of co-creation

Development Policy15 Mar 2011Allan Kaplan

A few months ago I wrote a paper called Towards a Larger Integrity, trying to take a fresh look at capacity development. It’s a long work, trying to go deeper. In this blog it’s harder to go deeper within 500 words a hit. Still, I have lifted a few sentences from that paper, adapted and juxtaposed them.

When it comes to the upper echelons of the hierarchy of capacity, where management and training and input and bounded projects and programmes are not as effective and a more iterative and emergent approach is called for, what specifically characterises the approach that we now turn to using? Management and input and training imply the ‘building’ of capacity, whilst the term has shifted subtly, over the years, to capacity development, implying, correctly I believe, that capacity cannot be built, its not an artifact, not an external thing, rather an inner, an approach to something. But the radical nature of this shift has not yet been grasped.

We cannot build or develop capacity as we think we do, or wish to – by constructing, implementing, inputting in order to achieve an outcome. We can prepare ourselves, in disciplined fashion, through practices informed by a finely held intentionality, but that which lifts us comes towards us from the vast beyond, enters into our minds, is received as though our brains and our hearts were antennae, feelers sensitised to an intelligence which lives in the world itself. We become capable of perceiving, of receiving, of seeing, of understanding (different from producing). A reversal takes place; at some point the process turns and we find that we are not building anything, but being developed. We do not develop ourselves, or others. We can develop faculties with which to perceive, or receive, but this implies that there is an equal and opposite movement necessary, a letting go, an opening up, which alone will allow something greater to enter.

At the heart of capacity is, as Keats put it, an ‘anti-talent’. At the heart of capacity lies a ‘hidden uncertainty’, a question rather than an answer. At the heart of effective action lies non-action; at the heart of our outcomes lies an elusive intentionality which itself is the central outcome. This is the meaning and the energy and the intentionality that provokes, that infuses. A dedicated openness; a hunter’s stance (with bow strung) but reversed – when the arrow is released, it flies towards the hunter’s own heart, as a shaft of meaning, of light.

It comes to us from beyond ourselves and all our best efforts, yet we discover too that it comes from inside of us, in an act of co-creation, we enable it through forming a kind of ‘holding emptiness’ within. It is accessed in that moment of reversal, when everything turns around, and we absorb into ourselves rather than produce out of ourselves. Out of the absorbing will come the producing, but a focus on the producing, on the tangible thing, on the outcome, will never enable us to access that enigmatic, invisible and intangible energy which forms the essence of our capacity.

We do not get to the invisible via the building blocks of the visible. Capacity is not to be gained by adding one skill, one piece of information, one input and outcome, onto another. We know that authentic capacity – the ability to work towards the future, to read accurately and to strategise continuously, to respond fluidly and appropriately to highly complex and constantly changing realities – demands the kind of imagination, intentionality and attention that I am talking about here, yet we respond with bureaucratised and reductive programmes that separate everything out into such tiny component parts that the whole is constantly being lost, and everyone is left with “pieces of a broken wineglass”. What we gain with these programmes, with our current approach, is a spurious and illusory sense of importance and purpose in the face of an inner void; what we lose is the (and our) larger integrity. The whole is, indeed, that larger integrity.