We had a discussion today among colleagues of INTRAC and other leading organisations on decolonising consultancy. Here are some thoughts about it. Please follow INTRAC and join the discussion: https://www.intrac.org/tag/decolonising-consultancy/
Is international development consulting colonial?
In certain ways, international development consulting can be characterised as colonial, however it is crucial to emphasize that this definition is not generally applicable and may vary depending on unique situations and techniques. Here are some examples of how international development consulting can be colonial:
- Power Imbalance: Colonialism historically involved a power imbalance between colonisers and colonised nations, with the former exerting control over the latter. In international development consultancy, a similar power imbalance can exist, with Western or more economically powerful countries and organizations taking the lead in providing advice, funding, and expertise to less developed nations. This can reinforce the perception of a paternalistic relationship where the consultancy providers dictate the terms of development.
- Cultural Insensitivity: Colonialism often involved a disregard for, or suppression of, local cultures and traditions. In international development consultancy, there can be instances of cultural insensitivity or a one-size-fits-all approach that does not consider the unique cultural, social, and historical context of the recipient country. This can lead to projects that are disconnected from the needs and aspirations of local communities.
- Economic Dependence: Colonialism often resulted in economic dependence on the colonizing power. Similarly, some international development projects and consultancy arrangements can create dependency relationships, where recipient countries become reliant on external aid and expertise, undermining their self-sufficiency and long-term development prospects.
- Resource Extraction: In colonial history, resource extraction was a common practice, where colonizing powers exploited the natural resources of colonised territories. In the context of international development consultancy, there can be instances where consultancy projects prioritize the interests of donor countries or organisations over the sustainable development of the recipient country, leading to resource extraction in the form of land grabs, extractive industries, or exploitative trade agreements.
- Lack of Local Ownership: True development should involve local ownership and participation, where communities and governments have a say in shaping their own development agendas. In some cases, international development consultancies may sideline local ownership and decision-making, imposing externally driven solutions that may not align with local priorities.
- Reinforcement of Inequalities: Colonialism often exacerbated social and economic inequalities within and between nations. In certain cases, international development projects and consultancies may inadvertently reinforce existing inequalities by focusing resources and benefits on particular regions or groups, neglecting marginalized communities.
It’s important to acknowledge that not all international development consultancies exhibit these colonial characteristics, and many organisations strive to adopt more equitable and collaborative approaches. Nevertheless, a critical examination of power dynamics, cultural sensitivity, economic sustainability, and local ownership is essential in ensuring that international development efforts are genuinely beneficial and not replicating the negative aspects of colonial history. Contemporary development practices are increasingly moving towards more inclusive and participatory models that prioritize local agency and self-determination.
What does decolonising consultancy mean?
Reducing colonial aspects in your consulting services is a commendable goal and involves a shift in mindset, practices, and approaches. Here are some practical steps you can take to decolonise your consulting services:
- Critical Self-Reflection: Engage in critical self-reflection to identify your own biases, assumptions, and cultural blind spots. Recognize how your background and experiences may influence your consulting approach.
- Cultural Competency and Humility: Invest in cultural competency training to better understand the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the regions or communities you work with. Approach your work with cultural humility, acknowledging that you may not fully grasp the complexity of local cultures and perspectives
- Center Local Voices: Prioritize the voices, knowledge, and expertise of local communities and organizations in the consulting process. Actively listen to and engage with local stakeholders to understand their needs and aspirations
- Participatory Approaches: Adopt participatory methodologies that involve local stakeholders in decision-making processes, from project design to evaluation. Encourage communities to co-create solutions that align with their specific context and priorities.
- Equitable Partnerships: Seek out and build equitable partnerships with local consultancies, organizations, and experts. Share decision-making power, responsibilities, and resources with local partners
- Cultural Sensitivity: Ensure that your consulting services respect local customs, traditions, and worldviews. Avoid imposing Western or external models that do not fit the local context.
- Resource Redistribution: Advocate for and support the equitable redistribution of resources and benefits within development projects. Challenge resource extraction or exploitative practices that may harm local communities.
- Long-Term Commitment: Shift away from short-term, project-based approaches in favor of long-term, sustainable development initiatives that empower local communities.
- Transparency and Accountability: Establish transparent processes for decision-making and project implementation. Develop mechanisms for accountability, including regular reporting and feedback loops with local communities.
- Capacity Building: Invest in building the capacity of local organizations and individuals so that they can take on leadership roles in development initiatives.
- Advocacy for Change: Advocate for systemic changes in the development sector that address power imbalances and prioritize local ownership and self-determination.
- Education and Training: Continuously educate yourself and your team on decolonization principles and practices. Encourage ongoing learning and capacity development among your colleagues.
- Evaluate Impact Differently: Rethink how success is measured in consulting projects. Prioritize outcomes that genuinely improve the well-being and self-determination of local communities.
- Community Engagement: Establish mechanisms for continuous community engagement and feedback throughout the project cycle.
- Network and Collaborate: Collaborate with organizations and individuals who are also committed to decolonization efforts. Join networks and communities dedicated to this cause.
- Advocate for Systemic Change: Use your influence within the consulting industry to advocate for and promote decolonization principles, both within your own organization and in the broader sector.
Remember that decolonizing your consulting services is an ongoing process that may require adjustments, learning from mistakes, and adapting to different contexts. It’s also important to approach this work with humility, acknowledging that decolonization is a collective effort, and that change may take time. By taking these steps and consistently prioritizing the empowerment and self-determination of the communities you work with, you can contribute to more equitable and respectful consulting practices. Most importantly, stay honestly committed to social change.
How does decolonising consultancy come to practice?
Decolonizing consultancy in the context of international development refers to a set of practices and principles aimed at challenging and changing the traditional dynamics and power structures that have often characterized the relationship between consultants or experts from developed countries and the communities and organizations they work with in less developed or marginalized regions. The goal is to create more equitable, respectful, and culturally sensitive approaches to consulting that empower local stakeholders and challenge the legacies of colonialism. Here are some key aspects of what decolonizing consultancy means in practice:
- Centering Local Voices and Knowledge: Decolonizing consultancy emphasizes the importance of valuing and prioritizing the knowledge, perspectives, and voices of local communities, organizations, and individuals. It involves actively listening to their needs and ideas and incorporating them into project planning and decision-making processes.
- Cultural Sensitivity and Contextual Understanding: Consultants should invest time and effort in understanding the cultural, social, and historical context of the region they are working in. This includes respecting local customs, traditions, and worldviews to ensure that interventions are culturally sensitive and appropriate.
- Participatory and Inclusive Approaches: Decolonizing consultancy promotes participatory methodologies that involve local stakeholders in every stage of the consultancy process, from problem identification to project evaluation. This ensures that projects are responsive to the real needs and aspirations of the community.
- Shared Decision-Making and Ownership: Consultants should work collaboratively with local partners and organizations, sharing decision-making power and ownership of projects. This helps prevent a top-down approach and ensures that the community has agency in shaping its own development.
- Equitable Partnerships: Decolonizing consultancy emphasizes building equitable partnerships rather than hierarchical relationships. It involves recognizing the expertise of local organizations and individuals and treating them as equal partners in the consulting process.
- Redistribution of Resources: Consultants should advocate for and support the equitable redistribution of resources, benefits, and opportunities to ensure that marginalized communities and regions benefit from development initiatives.
- Critical Self-Reflection: Consultants and organizations should engage in critical self-reflection to examine their own biases, privileges, and power dynamics. This involves acknowledging the historical and contemporary roles of international actors in perpetuating inequalities and working to address them.
- Capacity Building: Decolonizing consultancy includes efforts to build the capacity of local organizations and individuals so that they can eventually take over and sustain development initiatives independently.
- Transparency and Accountability: Consultants should be transparent about their goals, methodologies, and funding sources. They should also be accountable to the communities they work with, providing regular updates and feedback mechanisms.
- Advocacy for Structural Change: Beyond individual projects, decolonizing consultancy may involve advocating for broader structural changes in development policies and practices to address systemic inequalities and injustices.
Decolonising consultancy is a complex and ongoing process that requires a shift in mindset, practices, and institutional norms. It challenges traditional power dynamics and seeks to create more just and inclusive approaches to international development. It recognizes that sustainable development can only be achieved when local communities have agency, control, and ownership over their own development paths.
What are the biggest challenges for decolonising consultancy?
Decolonising consultancy is a complex and multifaceted effort that faces several significant challenges. These challenges often stem from deeply ingrained historical and structural factors within the field of international development and consulting. Some of the biggest challenges for decolonising consultancy include:
- Power Imbalances: Power imbalances between consulting organizations or consultants from developed countries and local communities or organizations in the Global South are deeply entrenched. Addressing these imbalances requires a fundamental shift in the way resources, decision-making authority, and expertise are distributed.
- Cultural Sensitivity: Balancing the need for standardized consulting methodologies with the imperative of respecting local customs, traditions, and worldviews can be challenging. Striking the right balance while avoiding cultural insensitivity or superficial tokenism is crucial.
- Resistance to Change: Many established consulting practices, organizations, and donors have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Decolonization efforts may face resistance from those who benefit from existing power structures.
- Lack of Local Capacity: In some cases, local organizations and communities may lack the capacity and resources to fully engage in development projects or take on leadership roles. Building local capacity is a long-term process that requires sustained investment.
- Short-Term Funding and Project Cycles: Donor funding often prioritizes short-term, project-based approaches, which can hinder the development of sustainable, locally-driven initiatives. Shifting the focus to longer-term, community-led efforts can be challenging.
- Measurement of Impact: Traditional metrics for measuring the success of development projects may not capture the nuanced and long-term impacts of decolonised initiatives. Developing new assessment methods that prioritize community well-being and self-determination is a challenge.
- Resource Redistribution: Advocating for the equitable redistribution of resources and benefits within development projects can be met with resistance from those who are accustomed to benefiting disproportionately from the status quo.
- Institutional Inertia: Large international development organizations and consultancies often have deeply entrenched institutional cultures and practices. Changing these structures to align with decolonization principles can be slow and challenging.
- Complex Regulatory Environment: Navigating the complex regulatory and legal frameworks of international development, including compliance requirements for donors, can be a barrier to implementing decolonised approaches.
- Capacity Building: Building the capacity of local organizations and individuals to take on leadership roles in development projects requires resources, mentorship, and time.
- Measuring Progress: Measuring progress in decolonization efforts can be challenging, as it often involves qualitative changes in mindset and practices that are not easily quantifiable.
- Global Economic Inequities: Broader global economic inequities and trade practices can contribute to the exploitation of resources and labor in marginalized regions, making it difficult to fully decolonise development.
Overcoming these challenges requires a sustained and collective effort from all stakeholders, including consulting organizations, donors, local communities, and governments. It involves advocating for systemic changes, fostering cultural humility and sensitivity, and committing to long-term partnerships that prioritize local ownership and self-determination. Decolonizing consultancy is a process that demands continuous learning, adaptation, and a commitment to justice, equity, and the well-being of marginalized communities.
What are the biggest opportunities and actions to decolonise consultancy?
Decolonizing consultancy presents significant opportunities for creating more equitable and just development practices. To achieve this, various actions can be taken by consulting organizations, practitioners, donors, governments, and communities. Here are some of the biggest opportunities and actions to decolonise consultancy:
|Empowering Local Leadership:||Recognize and empower local leaders, organizations, and communities as drivers of development solutions.||Prioritize local ownership and leadership in project design, implementation, and decision-making.|
|Cultural Sensitivity and Respect||Embrace the rich diversity of cultures and perspectives in development contexts.||Invest in cultural competency training, develop cultural sensitivity guidelines, and ensure that projects respect local customs and traditions.|
|Equitable Partnerships||Create mutually beneficial and equitable partnerships between consulting organizations in the Global North and the Global South.||Share resources, power, and decision-making authority with local partners, avoiding top-down approaches.|
|Community-Led Initiatives||Promote community-led development initiatives that empower local communities to shape their own development paths.||Collaborate with communities to identify their priorities and co-create solutions.|
|Resource Redistribution||Advocate for the equitable distribution of resources and benefits within development projects.||Challenge resource extraction and exploitative practices, ensuring that marginalized communities benefit.|
|Long-Term Commitment||Shift away from short-term, project-based approaches to sustainable, locally driven development.||Advocate for funding models that support long-term commitment and community-driven initiatives.|
|Transparency and Accountability||Foster transparency and accountability in development projects.||Establish clear reporting mechanisms and feedback loops with local communities. Be transparent about project goals and funding sources.|
|Capacity Building||Build the capacity of local organizations and individuals to take on leadership roles in development initiatives.||Provide training, mentorship, and resources to empower local partners.|
|Advocacy for Systemic Change||Advocate for systemic changes in the development sector that address power imbalances and prioritize local ownership.||Collaborate with like-minded organizations and engage with policymakers to drive change.|
|Research and Knowledge Sharing||Support and promote locally generated knowledge and research.||Collaborate with local researchers and institutions, and share knowledge within the development community.|
|Educational Initiatives||Incorporate decolonization principles into educational curricula for development professionals.||Advocate for curriculum changes at universities and training institutions.|
|Global Solidarity||Foster international collaboration and solidarity among organizations and countries.||Collaborate with global networks dedicated to decolonizing development practices.|
|Advocacy and Awareness||Raise awareness about decolonization issues and advocate for change within the development sector.||Join or support advocacy groups and engage in dialogue and education on decolonization.|
|Diverse and Inclusive Teams||Form diverse and inclusive consulting teams that reflect a range of perspectives and backgrounds.||Prioritize diversity in hiring and ensure that consulting teams include individuals with relevant local knowledge.|
|Community Empowerment||Empower communities with the knowledge and tools to advocate for their own interests and rights.||Provide training and support for community-led advocacy initiatives.|
|Measuring Progress Differently||Develop new assessment methods that prioritize community well-being and self-determination.||Rethink how success is measured in development projects, focusing on qualitative changes.|
Decolonizing consultancy is a collaborative and ongoing process that requires a collective commitment to justice, equity, and the well-being of marginalized communities. By seizing these opportunities and taking meaningful actions, the consulting sector can play a vital role in promoting more equitable and respectful development practices.
What roles do actors need to play differently?
Decolonizing consultancy and international development is a collaborative effort that involves various actors, each with a unique role to play. Here’s how different actors can contribute to the process:
- Consultancies in the Global South:
- Local Expertise and Leadership: Consultancies in the Global South have a critical role in providing local expertise, context-specific knowledge, and leadership. They should take the lead in projects that involve their regions and communities.
- Cultural Sensitivity: These consultancies should promote cultural sensitivity and ensure that development initiatives respect local customs, traditions, and worldviews.
- Community Engagement: Actively engage with local communities, involving them in decision-making processes and co-creating solutions that align with their needs and aspirations.
- Capacity Building: Invest in building the capacity of local organizations and individuals, helping them take on leadership roles in development projects.
- Advocacy for Change: Advocate for systemic changes in the development sector that address power imbalances and prioritize local ownership and self-determination.
- International Consultancies:
- Cultural Competency and Learning: International consultancies should prioritize cultural competency and invest in continuous learning about the regions they work in. This includes understanding local contexts and respecting cultural diversity.
- Equitable Partnerships: Actively seek and build equitable partnerships with consultancies and organizations in the Global South. Share decision-making power and resources.
- Capacity Transfer: Focus on transferring skills and knowledge to local partners, ensuring that they are equipped to take on leadership roles in development projects.
- Critical Self-Reflection: Engage in critical self-reflection to recognize and address biases and power dynamics within the consultancy and the projects it undertakes.
- Advocacy and Education: Use their influence to advocate for decolonizing practices within the broader development consulting industry. Educate their staff on the importance of decolonization.
- Ethical Funding Practices: Donors play a crucial role in promoting ethical funding practices. They should prioritize funding models that empower local organizations, respect local ownership, and ensure long-term sustainability.
- Policy Advocacy: Advocate for policies and frameworks that support decolonization and equitable development practices. Encourage recipient countries to have a say in the design of development projects funded by donors.
- Transparency and Accountability: Promote transparency in funding decisions and the use of funds. Ensure that accountability mechanisms are in place to monitor the impact of development projects.
- Flexibility: Allow flexibility in project design and implementation, recognizing that context-specific solutions may require adjustments to project plans.
- Capacity Development: Support capacity development initiatives in recipient countries to build the skills and knowledge needed to manage and lead development projects effectively.
- Local Communities and Civil Society:
- Active Participation: Local communities and civil society organizations should actively participate in decision-making processes and project implementation, holding all other actors accountable.
- Voice and Agency: Advocate for their rights, voice their concerns, and assert their agency in shaping their own development trajectories.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: Engage in monitoring and evaluating development projects to ensure that they genuinely benefit the community and uphold local values.
- Academic and Research Institutions:
- Research and Knowledge Generation: Academic institutions can contribute by conducting research that addresses the impact of development interventions and informs decolonization efforts.
- Curriculum Development: Integrate decolonization principles into the curriculum of development studies and related disciplines to educate future professionals.
- Civil Society and Advocacy Groups:
- Advocacy and Awareness: Civil society organizations and advocacy groups play a critical role in raising awareness about decolonization issues and advocating for change within the development sector.
- Community Empowerment: Work directly with communities to empower them with knowledge and tools to advocate for their own interests and rights.
Decolonizing consultancy and international development is a complex and multifaceted process that requires collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders. It involves dismantling historical power structures, respecting local agency, and promoting equitable partnerships. Each actor has a unique role to play in driving this transformative change and ensuring that development efforts prioritize the well-being and self-determination of local communities.
12 doors to a change of mind
Decolonizing consultancy and international development requires systemic changes in various aspects of the field. Achieving these changes involves a collective effort from governments, organizations, practitioners, and communities. Here are some key areas that need to change and strategies for making these changes happen:
- Power Dynamics:
- Recognize and Address Power Imbalances: Acknowledge and actively work to rectify the power imbalances that exist between consultants or development agencies and local communities. Ensure that decision-making is shared and that local voices are central to the process.
- Equitable Partnerships: Foster equitable partnerships with local organizations and governments, treating them as equal stakeholders rather than passive recipients of aid.
- Local Leadership: Promote and empower local leadership within development initiatives, enabling communities to take ownership of their own development.
- Cultural Sensitivity:
- Cultural Competency Training: Provide cultural competency training for consultants and practitioners to enhance their understanding of local customs, traditions, and values.
- Cultural Adaptation: Adapt development programs to respect and incorporate local cultural practices and worldviews, ensuring that interventions are culturally sensitive.
- Participatory Approaches:
- Community Involvement: Involve local communities in the entire project cycle, from needs assessment and project design to monitoring and evaluation.
- Co-creation of Solutions: Encourage communities to co-create solutions that are context-specific and align with their aspirations and needs.
- Resource Redistribution:
- Resource Allocation: Advocate for more equitable resource allocation in development projects, ensuring that marginalized communities receive a fair share of resources and benefits.
- Local Economies: Promote initiatives that strengthen local economies and reduce dependency on external aid.
- Policy and Funding:
- Policy Change: Advocate for policy changes at the national and international levels that promote decolonization and equitable development practices.
- Ethical Funding: Donors and development agencies should adopt ethical funding practices that prioritize local ownership and sustainability.
- Evaluation and Accountability:
- Impact Assessment: Reevaluate how success is measured in development projects, focusing on long-term impacts that enhance local well-being and self-determination.
- Transparency and Accountability: Implement transparency measures and mechanisms for accountability to ensure that funds are used effectively and that communities have a say in project decisions.
- Education and Training:
- Curriculum Change: Incorporate decolonization principles into the curriculum of universities and training institutions that produce development professionals.
- Capacity Building: Offer training and capacity-building programs for consultants and practitioners to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for decolonised practices.
- Research and Knowledge Sharing:
- Support Local Research: Invest in local research capacity and prioritize locally generated knowledge over externally imposed solutions.
- Knowledge Exchange: Encourage knowledge exchange and sharing of best practices among development practitioners and organizations.
- Advocacy and Networks:
- Advocacy Initiatives: Engage in advocacy efforts and support networks dedicated to decolonizing development. Collaborate with like-minded organizations and individuals.
- Long-Term Commitment:
- Sustainability Focus: Shift away from short-term, project-based approaches in favor of long-term, sustainable development initiatives that prioritize local empowerment.
- Global Solidarity:
- International Collaboration: Foster international collaboration and solidarity to collectively work toward decolonizing development practices on a global scale.
- Community Empowerment:
- Community-Led Initiatives: Support and invest in community-led development initiatives that allow local communities to drive their own development processes.
Achieving meaningful change in international development consultancy involves challenging deeply ingrained practices and mindsets. It requires a commitment to justice, equity, and the empowerment of marginalized communities. Collaboration among stakeholders, continuous learning, and a willingness to adapt are key to making these changes happen. Ultimately, the aim is to create development processes that prioritize the dignity, agency, and self-determination of all communities involved.