2016: Volume 47
This issue of the IDS Bulletin focuses on the role of foresight in policy-oriented international development research and seeks to draw attention to the opportunities and challenges associated with the wide range of foresight approaches and methods that help individuals and groups to think about and prepare for different possible futures.
From its systematic origins in the private sector – where the interest was in developing strategy, understanding implications of present and future trends and events, facilitating better decision-making and improving risk management – so governments and public sector bodies subsequently embraced foresight with similar objectives.
Looking to the future is – or certainly should be – at the core of development studies. While the benefit of ‘looking back to look forward’ is well recognised, foresight is more akin to ‘looking forward to look forward’. It is striking that foresight approaches and methods do not figure prominently in policy-oriented development research. Why might this be so? This IDS Bulletin suggests two possible explanations. First, most social science disciplines are more comfortable with the analysis of the past and the present than the future. Second, the model of the large, well-funded public sector foresight programme simply does not reflect the realities of much policy-oriented development research.
A principle concern of this issue is whether foresight approaches and methods can be usefully integrated into small-scale, exploratory research of relevance to the international development community.
Perhaps more than any other region or any other period of post-Cold War history, the Middle East since the Arab Spring constitutes a significant challenge to established ideas about development and its relationship with conflict. The failure of democracy movements, the collapse and rebirth of authoritarian regimes, the regional conflagration around Syria, new experiments with Islamism, and the return of geopolitics all, in one way or another, challenge these established ideas. The Middle East has always been something of an outlier within development thinking and practice: both the discipline of development studies and development policy have always taken sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America as their central reference points, not the Middle East. But with so much international attention currently on the Middle East, it is worthwhile examining what recent trends and events there tell us about development and the role of conflict therein; this is what is done in this IDS Bulletin.
Broadly, the articles consider myths around conflict and development about the Middle East region. These include: that there is a unilinear model of development; that low development and violent conflict are natural bedfellows; that there is an alternative rentier path of development; that fragile statehood is the main institutional cause of violence; that environmental scarcities are an increasingly important contributor to conflict; that countries need to pass a number of milestones on a democratisation pathway; that more humanitarian aid will contain the Syrian refugee crisis and that, following a period of ‘Arab Spring’, people’s agency has been defeated.
‘How does change happen?’ and ‘How should change happen and how can it be enabled?’ are key questions analysed in this IDS Bulletin, drawing on the Institute of Development Studies’ reflections on States, Markets and Society as a theme of its 50th Anniversary year.
The year generally, and this Bulletin issue specifically, looks back in order to look forward to future challenges and how to meet them. While the first part of this IDS Bulletin draws on a selection of archive articles to highlight key debates over the decades, the second part looks forward by drawing on contributions to IDS’ 50th Anniversary conference, which took place in July 2016. The roles and relationships of the public and private sectors and civil society have been central themes in analysis and action around the social, economic and political change that constitutes development. However, articles in this issue suggest that over-dominance of market forces over government, business and civil society accounts for many of today’s development challenges, and suggest a rebalancing of the current States–Markets–Society triad to give greater weight and influence to state and societal forces to those of the market. An agenda is also considered for new alliances and relationships, suggesting that cross-cutting themes and inter- and transdisciplinary approaches will be required – by international partnerships – to integrate high quality research with the knowledge of people working in state, business and civil society organisations, mobilising evidence for impact. In such ways, this IDS Bulletin charts some contours of a future map of development studies, in a new era.
At 50 years old, the Institute of Development Studies is ‘looking back, in order to look forward so too this IDS Bulletin aims to trace the history of certain topics in development studies by bringing together two generations of scholars – Research Fellows and students – to provide insight to our rich past and promising future. The nine articles in this issue represent this collaboration and consider the larger picture: Where is development studies today? Where has it come from? And what role have specific fields of research played in the development of development studies? Such an issue is certainly an ambitious task, since ideas in development theory and practice cannot be divorced from the broader assumptions, aspirations and beliefs of any given era.
Each article in this IDS Bulletin speaks to how topics in development studies have critically challenged the existing paradigms, particularly on expanding the focus of development from the ‘South’ to a universal approach. They all explore the intersectionality of different aspects to development, say the intersection of climate change and poverty, race and inequality, cities and violence. And also, reflective of the multidisciplinary approach to development in this issue, a wide range of topics are presented – from gender to urban violence to agriculture input subsidies – documenting how each of these have been tackled using a wide range of research tools, from ethnographies to econometric analysis.
With the formulation of the first ever internationally agreed stand-alone goal on gender equality, debates around women’s empowerment are at a critical juncture. This IDS Bulletin makes a timely contribution to our understanding of how ideas around empowerment have evolved and how we can move forward to expand women’s opportunities and choices and realise women’s empowerment in a meaningful way.
Even though the importance of women’s empowerment is widely accepted, it remains a complex concept that defies precise definitions and easy measurements. Together, the articles in this special Archive Collection demonstrate the depth and breadth of a nuanced analysis of empowerment that has come out of academic scholars writing at the cutting edge of this field.
The editors reflect on the interconnectedness of the economic, social and political components of empowerment. In doing so they highlight the significant gaps in policy and programming aimed at furthering processes and outcomes for women’s empowerment. Casting an eye to the future, they draw our attention to two relevant debates that merit further unpacking – that of inequality, and the question of how the Sustainable Development Goals can contribute to furthering processes of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Ultimately this IDS Bulletin reminds us that empowerment – implying an expansion of opportunities and the power to make choices – can only be realised through a collective, rather than individualised notion of empowerment that focuses on addressing structural inequality and inequitable power relations, and gives primacy to women’s agency in negotiating and challenging these structures.