Top-down versus bottom-up development: where does evidence fit in?

As a student of Development Studies, something I find provocative to think about.


I recently enjoyed reading this speech by Owen Barder in which he describes his gradual transition from a belief in ‘top-down’-/’pre-fab solutions’-based development to a model based on ‘bottom-up’ struggles to find appropriate solutions to problems.

The importance of the process of finding a solution was really hammered home to me when I did a diploma in management studies a few years back. My favourite module was ‘Organisational Development’ – or OD for short, which turns out to be an entire academic discipline (complete with textbooks, experts and internal factions – who knew?) concerned with how organisations can struggle, innovate and adapt to deal with their own problems and how managers can help to facilitate this process. The philosophy of OD is in sharp contrast to the dictatorial view some have of management where those at the top diagnose problems and forcibly implement solutions. In OD, the aim is…

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