Is “development 2.0” the same as “agile international development”?

Learn from others how to be more agile (picture copyright Luca5 on flickr)

I’m not sure. But it does sound very similar. As a response to my earlier post about agile international development, Mitchell Toomey of UNDP invited me to join their discussion forum around “development 2.0” which basically looks at what development projects can learn from the way that successful web 2.0 start-ups work. Mitchell wrote a more elaborate post about how human development projects can become more agile, which shows that he is much more familiar with the technical side of agile and programming in general than I am. Other interesting stuff I read in the same direction is the development 2.0 manifesto by Giulio Quaggiotto and a response by Ian Thorpe who points out (and rightly so) that development 2.0 is more than tech, it’s remaking an industry. His view is closest to what I was thinking of, because when I apply agile concepts to international development, I am also thinking of projects that have no cell phones or computers or internet involved, or that, at least, don’t have those tools at the core of their mission. You could have an agile basked weaving project or an agile breastfeeding support project, where the core of what you do is: People interacting with people and natural things. But still you do this in an iterative, participatory, learning oriented manner. You might use cell phones to support the project. But you don’t start out with a cool app that you have to somehow build a project around…

One issue where I am sure the development 2.0 people could learn a lot from agile coaches (and not just from web 2.0 start-ups) is how to institute these radical changes in large hierarchical organizations. As I hear, even the US Department of Defense is flirting with becoming agile. I am sure that people who help a large command and control organization like this become more flexible would have some experience to share that would be useful for people who are interested in changing the way they work with or in the UN, USAID or gtz.

11 Responses

  1. Those of you interested in this may want to check out this article by Thompson, M. (2008). Ict and development studies: Towards development 2.0. Journal of International Development, 20(6), 821-835. doi:10.1002/jid.1498

  2. Thanks for the mention – your point about agile being totally appropriate to “low-tech” or “no-tech” projects is exactly right – the idea is to take effective work patterns (like iteration and agile) from one domain and attempt reuse in other domains.

    Clicking over to read the Thompson piece now…

  3. Eva, when you first posted about agile software I was struck by the similarities between that and Patton’s developmental evaluation approach. When I looked at the Manifesto the agile software folks put out, I thought it wouldn’t take much tweaking to have it apply to developmental evaluators. I see a number of aspects to it, but two that stick out are 1) the ongoing collaboration between/among experts from different fields rather than those different experts working in parallel and only crossing over now and then; and 2) the willingness to expect and respond to changes in the environment or resources or outcomes rather than having a definitive plan from the beginning that takes precedence over day to day reality.

    Su Flickinger

    • Thanks Su,
      Can you tell us a bit more about the challenges and solutions to actually implementing this in the international development domain? When meeting with the agile coaches I had this strong feeling that the usefulness of their approach was obvious (at least to those in the room) and the big question was really: How do we move organizations and people in organizations to embrace change and be open to the less scripted way of doing things? Have you used developmental evaluation?

  4. Interesting concept. I work in “agile” software development projects for large command and control organizations, and have some previous experience in the non-profit world through AmeriCorps. I can see the agile manifesto and corresponding principles translating nicely to the development world – the main challenge is cultural. Most people are not used to working that way and have to change their habits…and there will be resistance to that. It takes a lot of time and patience, and fundamentally the team needs to understand why it’s in their benefit to work differently. In the software world, the key is – we’ll provide a more valuable product (working software) if we change how we operate. Most of us have worked on enough painful crappy software projects to be open to change 🙂 I’m not sure about what the corresponding value statement (aka – how do we measure success) is for the dev world, but it’s important to define that up front and achieve consensus.

    The Santeon Group does some Agile coaching ( if you are interested in learning more. I have taken their Fundamentals of Agile course and found it really helpful. The first day or two are spent immersing yourself in the philosophy, so that you can internalize it. Then, they teach you tools and techniques (e.g. team chartering process).

    Also – it’s funny to see ‘change management’ tagged for this post. Technology fundamentally is change management…Which is probably why agile translates so well to the development world!

    • Thanks for your comments. I can immediately relate to your experience of “having worked on enough painful crappy software projects to be open to change”. Everyone I know and respect who works in international development for more than a few years meets the challenge of getting absolutely cynical because you have been part of and observed so many development projects which have anywhere from little to no to negative impact. Those of us who stay committed and neither naive nor cynical are yearning for more impact, less waste and projects that make more sense to the end users. At least that is what I observe in those people who work in the field or have close connections to the project implementation. I think the people who are much more difficult to convince that change is needed are often found in the leadership and administration of these organizations. They tend to be a number of steps removed from the frustrations of the ground (they just read nice evaluation reports) and fear the chaos of less predetermined approaches.

  5. Hi folks, I found this article through a friend of mine who shares a common interest in applying agile methods outside of software. I have been working with a small non-profit group on a method called OpenAgile which is designed to be used for non-software environments where teamwork, learning and responsiveness to change are critical. It is based, in part, on the Scrum framework which is used for product development and the method that the Baha’i International Community does development work at the local and regional scales around the world. (It also has elements from other methods as well.) It is based on three important foundations: Truthfulness, Consultative Decision-Making and Systematic Learning. There is a very good introductory document at (The OpenAgile Primer).

    • Hi Mishkin,
      This looks really interesting, I am amazed to see how there is a dispersed community out there trying these things out already. It would be so great if at the next agile coach camp there would be a whole group of people from the non-tech agile world and we could exchange experiences with each other and the tech guys and see what we can learn from each other.

  6. As I hear, even the US Department of Defense is flirting with becoming agile.

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