Louise Stoddard: Business as usual or real opportunity?

Development Policy08 Sep 2009Louise Stoddard

On the last day of the conference the final plenary for DSA 2009 was taken by Andrew Steer, Director General, Research and Policy, DFID and Roy Trivedy, Team Leader, White Paper Team. Together they presented the new DFID white paper which addresses three main areas of concern: the recession, climate change and conflict. Steer said that the British government were still going to work on their previous commitments (health, education etc) however in this paper he wanted to focus on opportunities, ideas and actions that the new global situation had created including issues such as social protection and changing institutions. (See our video interviews with Andrew Steer below for an outline of the paper)

Response to this presentation was mixed, some felt it was no real change from ‘business as usual’ and that there were few significantly new ideas within the paper. (See The Broker interview with Andrew Fischer). Lawrence Haddad asked ‘what can the DSA do to support DFID? One participant said that as the DSA we will produce rich stories for DFID about what is happening on the ground. ‘You have to learn how to use those stories’ he said, in a comment that perhaps led back to the Chris Whitty debate from earlier in the conference.

Later on in the day I spoke with Andrew Steer about how the DSA can work with DFID. ‘The door is open’ seemed to be his main message; he was keen to develop better links with such a diverse association of professionals. At times throughout this conference I have felt that DFID and development researchers are seriously at odds with one another, at other times there seems to be a common agenda emerging. Perhaps therefore the context of this global crisis can be a chance for the research community and DFID to work in a better relationship with one another, one which respects each others roles and also appreciates the work which is already being done. Time will tell, but it seems to me that with some adjustments on both sides, the opportunity exists.

After a trip out with other members of the DSA to Giants Causeway it was time to depart. Ana and I managed to persuade the coach driver from the trip to drop us off at Colerain train station and as the bus left we were waved off by the remaining group including the DSA organiser Frances Hill, Charles Gore and Santosh Mehrotra. As the two of us were driven away in an empty coach it struck me that DSA is all about people, some agree with one another, others clash. I had spent time with participants from all over the world and if I took nothing else away with me from the DSA I would surely remember the urgency with which members have talked about the situation ‘on the ground’, the desperate realities which we have to work harder to address. Are there opportunities within the crisis? – I would say that yes there are, but whether these will be addressed outside of political rhetoric remains to be seen.