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Lessons from Kampala on Reflexivity in Development Practice

YasmineKherfi20 July 2018

The international field trip is an integral component of the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). After months of desk-based research in London, our cohort traveled to Kampala, Uganda, to understand how development initiatives are formulated and implemented in a specific context.

DAP students visiting the Decent Living Project, supported by the Shelter and Settlement Alternatives.

 

What is “the field”?

Before embarking on our trip, we were challenged to question our assumptions and conceptions of “the field”. While the term in itself is a construction rooted in anthropology, sites of fieldwork largely remain overlooked and taken for granted in the discipline’s methodology and practice (Gupta & Ferguson, 2013). Similarly, the way we come to know “the field” remains under-researched and seldom questioned in literature on international fieldtrips (Patel, 2015). Our group reflections stemmed from a pedagogical need to address the lack of attention given to dominant narratives that underpin fieldwork research. In much of the literature on fieldtrips specifically, “the field” is still evoked through an orientalist lens, as a place designed “to produce exotic encounters” to maximize students’ learning experience (Patel, 2015).

 

While students and researchers are temporarily interjected in “the field”, frequently treating it as a neutral place, we should not disregard its politics, history and context, in our quest to find answers (Patel, 2015). Given the thematic focus of development programmes, fieldtrips inevitably introduce students to development initiatives that address social inequalities, which often involve working with vulnerable and marginalized communities (Patel, 2015). For practitioners committed to ‘development’ fieldwork, it is important to understand the different power structures and dynamics in the local context, as well those that stem from the history of fieldwork practice. Our module ‘Development in Practice’ served as a space for collective inquiry on our positionality, research ethics, as well as assumptions, stereotypes, and behavior that we wanted to avoid perpetuating. The assigned readings and conversations with peers also prompted me to reflect on the different kinds of institutional partnerships in the field of development.

 

DAP students walking during the city orientation tour, in Kampala.

 

Team Work Experience

Our class was divided into seven groups, each focused on learning from a specific initiative implemented by an NGO or CBO in Kampala. Our team partnered with Action for Community Development – Uganda (ACODEV-U), a CBO that focuses on community empowerment through a wide range of programmes. We chose to learn from ACODEV’s comprehensive adolescent sexuality education project, ‘Keep It Real’ (KIR), which ran from 2013 to 2015, and addressed the lack of reliable information on sexual and reproductive rights.

 

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Our group was curious about the different pedagogical approaches available to support Kampala’s youth in accessing information about sexual health. I also wanted to learn more about the ‘projectification’ of public health in the field of development, considering the relationship between foreign aid and the country’s management of health epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS. Overall, ideas about public health, development, and planning, fermented in my head during the trip, and what I learned in Kampala helped inspire my dissertation topic. I benefited from evening lectures delivered by development practitioners and academics, and gained important insights from Peter Kasaija, a researcher at the Urban Action Lab of Makerere University, who supported us throughout the trip.

 

We conducted interviews with different project stakeholders and beneficiaries, who drew attention to the strengths and weaknesses of KIR’s implementation, with school students and out-of-school youth. Interviewees included a teacher from the Old Kampala Secondary School, current and former ACODEV employees, as well as staff members of SOMERO, a youth community centre located in the neighborhood of Bwaise in Kawempe. Interviewees welcomed us to their respective work spaces, and explained different aspects of their experience with KIR. They addressed the impact of various power dynamics on the transfer of knowledge between different actors involved in the project, the difficulties in maintaining KIR’s sustainability, as well as challenges that arose from intra-organisational structures. Fieldwork did not always go as planned, and we did not get the chance to meet everyone we wanted to interview. This experience taught us how to adjust our plans and expectations, given our time limitations.

Our team with ACODEV staff members.

 

After working with my team members intermittently in London, and daily throughout the trip, we became more open and comfortable with each other. We were able to constructively voice disagreement, frustrations, as well as share and reflect on personal and collective moments experienced during the trip. The conversations I had with teammates sometimes related back to how we navigate our privilege as students coming from the United Kingdom, and explored how we made sense of our multi-layered identities in relation to the new geographic context we were in.

The Role of Reflexivity in Development Practice

 

I was committed to documenting my reflections every day in the fieldwork diary, in an attempt to bear the fruits of radical vulnerability; “to write vulnerably in the service of creating new understandings” that would ultimately benefit me and the people I interact with (Norander, 2017). This personal assignment required us to engage in reflexive practice – a mental exercise that operates on two levels, in which the person writing is the unit of analysis (Cunliffe, 2016). First, the exercise corresponds to the process of examining our assumptions, actions, and feelings that social interactions prompt in us (Cunliffe, 2016). Secondly, the practice requires us to think critically about the broader structures of power and knowledge that inform how we think (Cunliffe, 2016). Most importantly, critical reflexivity is characterized by a relational understanding of the self –the ways in which I not only relate to others, but also how others relate to me (Cunliffe, 2009). It is an exploration of the implications of this two-way process (Cunliffe, 2009).

 

While often overlooked, reflexivity ought to play an integral part in research, and should be foregrounded in development practice. It helped me gain a deeper understanding of team dynamics throughout my group project, as well as the importance of effectively deconstructing the mystique of “the field”. I learned how to be more proactive in questioning my assumptions, and adjusting my behavior accordingly. While no one is immune to mistakes, reflexive practice allows us to better account for our positionality and strive towards a higher caliber of research quality and integrity.

 

References:

Cunliffe, A.L., 2016. “On Becoming a Critically Reflexive Practitioner” Redux. Journal of

Management Education, 40(6), pp.740–746.

 

Cunliffe, A.L., 2009. The Philosopher Leader: On Relationalism, Ethics and Reflexivity—A

Critical Perspective to Teaching Leadership. Management Learning, 40(1), pp.87–101.

 

Gupta, A. & Ferguson, D., 2013. Discipline and practice: “the field” as site, method and location in anthropology. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 6, pp.3–44.

 

Norander, S. 2017. Embodied moments: revisiting the field and writing vulnerably. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 45(3), pp.346–351.

 

Patel, K. 2015. Teaching and Learning in the Tropics: An Epistemic Exploration of “the Field” in a Development Studies Field Trip. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 39(4), pp.584–594.

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Yasmine Kherfi is a Master’s candidate in Development Administration and Planning, at the Development Planning Unit. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the University of Toronto, and is a recipient of the Bartlett’s Refugee Cities Dissertation Fellowship at UCL. Her current research looks at the adaptation of systems of health governance to protracted displacement.

 

 

MSc Development Administration and Planning 2017 Fieldtrip. Recount of the visit to the Bujjuko Low Cost Housing Demonstration

LilianSchofield15 June 2017

The international field trip is an integral part of the MSc Development Administration and Planning Programme (DAP) and this year, the students travelled to Kampala, Uganda for their field trip.  This is the second year running that the MSc DAP programme has been working with development partners in Kampala, Uganda. This year, the MSc DAP programme partnered with eight NGOs and CBOs which included; Community Integrated Development Initiatives (CIDI), ACTogether, Community Development Resource Network (CDRN), Children’s Rights and Lobby Mission (CALM Africa), Living Earth, Uganda, Kasubi Parish local Community Development Initiative (KALOCODE), Action for Community Development – Uganda (ACODEV- U). The 8th partner, Shelter and Settlement Alternatives (SSA), gave a site visit in which they showed the students one of their current projects – The Decent Living Project.

 

Cover pic

 

Development in Practice

The city of Kampala is experiencing rapid urbanisation. A city, which was originally built on seven hills, has now expanded to that on more than twenty hills, with informal settlements sprawling up in different parts of the city.  Infrastructure in the city has not expanded on par with the rapid urbanisation and access to amenities is a challenge for the millions that inhabit or the thousands that troop into the city for employment. The city of Kampala is also going through massive regeneration and this is visualised through the many construction works going on in the city. As developers and inhabitants contest for the urban space, those who cannot afford to live in the city are forced to move to peri-urban areas and some are even forcefully evicted. However, some of the community members are establishing cooperatives and also working with non-governmental organisations to have access to land.

The central theme for this years’ field trip was examining how a development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, and the MSc students worked with their partners in understanding how Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) in Kampala, Uganda, approach the planning and implementation of ‘development’.

One of the projects that the students visited was the Bujjuko Low Cost Housing Demonstration, which is a component of the Decent Living project implemented by Shelter and Settlements Alternatives SSA.  The beneficiaries include the Kwefako positive living women’s group, who were previously living in an informal settlement in Kampala city centre and ended up being displaced. The group were living under poor conditions and with the fear of eviction before they were identified as a potential partner. The group were encouraged to form a cooperative because it was the best way to have the community organised. SSA and WaterAid initiated to assist the group. Hence, the Kwefako Housing cooperative was conceived and registered in 2014.

Pic 1

Participatory approach

Participatory approaches have been heralded in the development discourse as crucial in achieving sustainable development (Parfitt, 2004, Cleaver, 1999). However, it has also come under criticisms and raised questions about its effectiveness in truly empowering those in the grassroots (Parfitt, 2004).

Pic 2

 

 

The visit to the housing project offered an opportunity to understand how the beneficiaries influence the planning and implementation of development project from the start of the project to its completion. According to the SSA project assistant, participatory process was utilised in all phases of the housing project from the planning to the implementation stage. The project assistant stated that there were several consultations with the members of the cooperative on several issues ranging from what they wanted as a group to the location of the housing. On the question of location, a feasibility study was conducted with the input of the members of the cooperative. The members were then brought to the site of the proposed housing to see for themselves. The members agreed in relocating to the area because of its proximity and accessibility to markets, schools and places of worship. There are 34 members in the cooperative. 24 families are presently occupying the houses and 10 houses are going under construction for the remaining 10 members.

The Cooperative members were also given the ‘liberty’ to draw their dream homes and after several consultations, came up with the current design.  Not only did they come up with the design, they also constructed the houses themselves using the blocks that they made. Each Unit costs 26 million UGX to build. The residents pay an upfront of 10 million UGX and then 70,000 UGX monthly giving them about 30 years to complete the payment. However, they can pay up before the 30 years period. The amount they pay for these homes were said to be similar to the rent they paid in the informal settlement.  On defaulting in payment, the group stated that if a month’s payment is defaulted, members could go to SSA and come up with a payment plan agreement.  Although, the residents stated that paying is a challenge, they have several sources of livelihoods such as making and selling crafts. SSA was also said to have carried out some capacity building workshops with the cooperative members and trained them in different income generating activities. And according to the residents, future plans of generating income include acquiring machines to make and sell blocks and also, start giving training workshops.

 

Pic 3 House Plan 1 unit

 

Pic 4 House plan for 2 unit

 

Transferring ownership. The cooperative members stated that members could not just sell their houses to anyone. There are agreements between all of the members when it comes to the transfer of ownership, especially if it is through selling of the house. To sell a house, a member must go through the following regulation:

  1. The person buying must be a member;
  2. The person selling must consult all the other residents and members of the cooperative;
  3. A member can buy

 

Appropriate Technology Transfer

Apart from capacity building, SSA also engages in appropriate technology transfer with the group. For instance, the interlocking soil stabilizing blocks that were used to construct the houses were made from the soil in the land. Further, the materials they use in sifting the soil is mostly made from local materials.

 

Pic 5 Appropriate technology

 

It was also mentioned that cultural and social issues were taken into consideration for this project. The use of interlocking soil stabilizing blocks was appropriate technology, which was suitable for the members. The site of the housing was suitable for the members and did not alter their social lives, rather enhanced it as they stated.

 

Residents now enjoy amenities that they did not previously have. Each house has a water tank and each family pay what they use.

 

There have also been other benefits from the project such as the national water extending water pipe to the community that the project is located in.

 

 

 

 

References

SSA: UHSNET Newsletter 2016.

 

Demonstrating Decent Living – A Publication of Shelter and Settlements Alternatives and Uganda Human Settlements Network.

 

Cleaver, F. (1999) Paradoxes of participation. Questioning participatory approaches to Development. Journal of International Development. Vol 11. No 4. Pg. 597

 

Parfitt, T. (2004) The ambiguity of participation: a qualified defence of participatory development. Third World Quarterly. Vol 25. Issue no 3


Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She has over five years experience working in Higher Education Institutions in the UK as well as experience in the development field having worked with development consultancies and NGOs in Nigeria. Lilian Schofield has a PhD in Construction and Property Management and investigated the role of stakeholders in housing development projects in poor communities in Nigeria.

Shifting Perspectives – A reflection on the use of video in the field

DavidMcEwen23 August 2016

The lens is an eye. Video and photography offer a unique opportunity to represent or share a situation, an event, a person, a moment in time. Within the context of academia and research, where it can be far too easy to dilute a point through a mass of text or statistics (or big words), these mediums serve as infinitely powerful and diverse tools to reflect on a particular subject (or no subject at all).

IMG_4423

Through my experience on the field, I have viewed the capacities of video in a few different, interrelated ways: as a documentary, evidence gathering tool; as a democratising force, a platform with which to share hidden or silent perspectives; as a tool for advocacy, support and ‘legitimisation’. As three broad categories, these ultimately refer to the opportunity to craft a certain narrative to, one that engages with the senses on a scale that other mediums cannot. You see the sights of the cameraman, you hear what and who they hear, you feel what they feel.

Working with local communities on our field-trip to Cambodia (as part of the BUDD masters), we used video to document the results of participatory design workshops we ran alongside community members. This proved valuable as a resource to draw from during presentations in front of key local and national government officials, demonstrating the success of our participatory planning pilot and suggesting a potential future for participation within the planning system. Similarly, while on the field in Uganda, I worked alongside local NGO ACTogether to document community planning meetings in which participatory exercises were conducted to attempt to address the issue of flooding. The video and media content produced as part of these meetings is invaluable in not only sharing the general aims and methodology of the NGO, but in legitimising its efforts, providing firsthand evidence of its work, efficacy and influence.

IMG_5407

The value of crafting a narrative is particularly felt when viewing video as a democratising tool, as an amplifier for those voices unheard. Within the context of London, I have used documentary films as a platform with which to express and elucidate the concerns of various community groups fighting juggernaut developers and regeneration proposals. The typical structure for participation within the planning system does not offer many opportunities to voice objections and concerns, and where present, they remain particularly formal and confined. Creating films and sharing them online, we were able to share and voice our views to a much wider audience than would otherwise be available and generate greater opportunities for discussion than standard methods for participation would allow. This felt particularly empowering as we were able to craft a message within boundaries set by ourselves, rather than an outside agent.

IMG_5200

The freedom offered by the last case is something that deserves greater reflection as it is not something that will necessarily be available in situations where video and media is tasked with representing the views of others in research and academic work. There is an inherent bias and degree of manipulation involved in the creation of video/film/photography; this is its greatest asset and weakness. In an academic or research context (perhaps in every context), it is important to meditate on the role of the photographer/videographer, how they may be shaping or influencing their surroundings and the material they record, and consequently the role of the editor or curator, tasked with weaving a particular narrative or message. Questions of fidelity and authenticity are necessary at each of these stages to avoid the potential of misrepresenting or distorting a subject. I am afraid I have no concrete answers though; the ultimate beauty of the medium lies in its ability to be interpreted in many different ways: to portray the right and the wrong, the easy and the hard, the simple and the contradictory, all at the same time.

 

My final advice:

 

Think, record, then think again.


David McEwen is a filmmaker and architect, a recent graduate of the BUDD masters programme, with an interest in design and democratic spatial practices. His work has included the production of documentaries on development processes in Cambodia and Uganda and more recently the representation and advocacy of minority ethnic interests in urban design and planning practices in London.

Development Administration and Planning – Understanding how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda

LilianSchofield20 June 2016

Over the last two decades, Uganda has attained a remarkable record of delivering development in the areas of growth and poverty reduction. The country has also seen a significant increase in the involvement of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in the development process. The MSc Development Administration and Planning field trip to Kampala was focused on exploring how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda, as well as examining the role of the practitioner and observing the tools and approaches that are used to conceptualise, design, manage, monitor and evaluate development interventions.

Kampala

Kampala

Kampala city tour

The field trip commenced with a guided city tour of Kampala, which was organised not only as an introduction to the environment but also to elicit and encourage observation and reflection in terms of spaces in the city, forms of social and cultural life.

Kampala is the biggest city and the capital of Uganda. It is also the administrative and commercial centre of the country.  Kampala has undergone changes within the last few decades and with rapid urbanisation and population growth, the city has had to deal with challenges congruent with urbanisation. Kampala, a city, which was originally built on seven hills, has now expanded to one on more than 21 hills.  The town formerly designed for 500,000 is said to now have a population of more than 2 million with migrants coming in from outside Kampala to work and find work in the city. This appears to have had a huge impact on the infrastructure.

Kampala faces a number of challenges, which is typical of urbanised cities in developing countries – aside from improving basic necessities; these challenges also include the lack of infrastructure and population increase. NGOs in Kampala are seemingly filling in some of the gaps in government provisioning such as being involved in service provisioning. The upward trajectory of NGO prevalence seems to demonstrate that NGOs in Kampala will continue to be involved in service provisioning as the city continues to grow and government struggles to fulfil their responsibilities.

 

Field site visit

The students were divided into eight groups with each working with one of our eight partner development organisations in Kampala. The students spent two weeks visiting their partner organisations and observing first-hand the processes and tools involved in carrying out development projects. Through employing research strategies and appropriate methodology, students utilised various theoretical frameworks and research methods to explore and understand the phenomenon under investigation.

 Field site visits were also organised for all the students to observe development projects in action. One of the field sites visited was a project supported by Shelter and Settlements Alternatives (SSA) called ‘Decent Living Project’. SSA is a Ugandan based NGO involved in advocacy and sharing information for better housing policies, programs and practices towards sustainable improvement of human settlements in Uganda.

Decent living project

Decent living project

 

Decent Living Project – Kwafako Housing Cooperative

The Decent Living Project, which is one of SSA’s projects, supports its beneficiaries by providing affordable and eco-friendly houses as well as improving the lives of people living in informal settlements in Kampala. One such beneficiary of this project is a group of individuals living with HIV and formerly inhabiting an informal settlement. They came together and formed their own cooperative called the Kwafako Housing Cooperative. The students were introduced to some of the beneficiaries of the housing project and were also briefed about the history of the housing cooperative, which was said to be the idea of one of the beneficiaries known as Madam Betty. She was said to have noticed the lack of help for people living with HIV within her settlement and convinced them to come together and seek help. The cooperative is currently made up of 34 members who are mostly women, except for four males who upon the death of their spouses became members automatically due to the cooperative’s policy which states that once a female member dies, their husbands become members.

Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

SSA supports this community group through advocacy, providing capacity building through workshops. The members of the cooperative group were trained in the art of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick used in constructing their houses. Strategies used by SSA in meeting objectives include transferring affordable, sustainable and environmental housing technology.  For example, the materials used in making the interlocking soil stabilised brick are dug from the same soil found within the housing project environment. This ensures maximum utilisation of land, keep costs at a minimum and affordable whilst also being environmentally friendly. They also encourage making bricks without the need of burning wood which they explained was not environmentally friendly and as such not supported by one of their funders.

The project which has 24 units which are almost completed is said to be also partnering with Water Aid who plan to provide water facilities to the project. Madam Betty stated that they participated in the design of the houses as well as making the bricks and helping with the building construction.

The members of the cooperative demonstrated how the interlocking stone brick technology is made. This gave us the opportunity to observe the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised bricks as well as encouraging deeper understanding of the capacity and hard work involved.

Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

Apart from the quotidian activities which involved field site visits, collecting data and frequent group meetings, the students prepared presentations of their findings to tutors, peers and the partner organisations.

The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

Reference:

Golooba-Mutebi, F., & Hickey, S. (2013) ‘Investigating the links between political settlements and inclusive development in Uganda: towards a research agenda’ (No. esid-020-13). BWPI. Manchester: The University of Manchester.

Lambright, G. M. S. (2014), Opposition Politics and Urban Service Delivery in Kampala, Uganda. Development Policy Review, 32: s39–s60. doi: 10.1111/dpr.12068

Matagi, S. V. (2002) ‘Some issues of environmental concern in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda’, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 77(2):121-138


Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She joined the students on the overseas field trip to Kampala.  Each year, the MSc Development Administration and Planning students embark on an international research field trip. In recent years, the MSc DAP students have visited several countries including Ethiopia and Uganda.