Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The issue is rarely What to change, but Whether and How

From an email in March 2010 to the British Ambassador who had asked for my opinion on some proposals for social change/public goods initiatives they were considering funding, including the development of a new rule of law:

The devil as always will be in how rather than what; eg, how (a better) rule of law comes about, how does it actually get created in real-world conditions, with agreements and mechanisms and training and incentives all having to be designed and built while the old system continues? You might contact Ahmad Hashem (let me know if you want his email address) about his experience in trying to introduce healthcare reforms, with the President’s backing. It’s a salutary story of the sheer force of resistance to change.

So I wonder if the real trick here is as much in developing and embedding techniques for change as in any actual change itself. What if this was managed as a joint UK/Syria programme, in which UK experts work with Syrian lead implementers and trainers (who understand the local conditions) to develop practical methodologies of change that would work on the ground regionally – inside outwards, and bottom up? The result could be a series of officially recognised small locally (or sectorally) “owned” pilots (low political risk, unthreatening, easily scaled up if successful) in your target areas for change. They have to involve real people rather than just NGOs.

The UK, in other words, would be working with Syria to enable it to learn how to effect change generically – from one state to another, from one system to another, from nothing to something. At multiple levels. Syria could then eventually become a regional change agent, partnering with other countries to help them in turn. The region would be “learning” how to improve itself.

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