International Development Planning Review

Best practice? Bare bones planning in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

International Development Planning Review (2015), 37, (2), 143–164.

Abstract

The Democratic Republic of the Congo – a country the size of Western Europe – has suffered from years of kleptocracy, warfare and civil strife. As a result, development has suffered enormously: governance and the rule of law are weak, there are few roads and many facilities are dilapidated. A United States Agency for International Development project working with twelve local governments provides a useful example of the applicability (or lack thereof) of best practice in local planning, financial management and citizen involvement, and how sources of best practice potentially applicable to the project were identified and evaluated. This is contrasted with the objective of making development support replicable within the local context and therefore providing a sustainable model. Details are given of the practices finally adopted and implemented – preparing action plans for local government, introducing improved financial management practices with citizen participation and introducing participatory budgeting and Citizen Report Cards. The analysis considers the difference between the additive nature of ‘best practice’ and the pragmatic methodology adopted, which is essentially reductive – reducing, that is, practices to the bare minimum to achieve the required result. This approach cannot be presented as best practice, but it worked. When procedures are developed to achieve certain objectives, they have to be considered from the point of view, and financial capacity, of the users. What works for this particular constituency may fall far short of best practice, but it may nevertheless be effective in enabling real change and development.

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Martin, Richard