Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doers and Thinkers?

"...[T]here were [are] two types of people in the development universe: thinkers and doers. The doers were out in the real world, doing the best they could -- but they were essentially blind. Meanwhile, in the halls of academia, thinkers were doing interesting analytical research -- but they were often mute when it came to talking with doers"

Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel. More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World's Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy.

This dichotomy is neither accurate or helpful. And the depiction of "doers" as "essentially blind" is a typical economist conceit. Another MIT invention of the 1970s and 1980s was the "reflective practitioner" who occupied a middle ground and bridged the two worlds. William Foote Whyte's participatory action researchers likewise provided a model for researchers who wanted to escape muteness and the "halls of academia." I rarely meet practitioners in the U.S these days who aren't somewhat conversant with, and frequently curious about, evidence and evidence building. I'm sure my sample of practitioners is skewed, and more work certainly needs to be done. And, for better or worse, there are plenty of academics and think tankers with their fingers in practice. I think the issue may be more about the mindsets and priorities of investors and donors, and Karlan and Appel make this point.

1 comment:

Mike Powell said...

Hi there Bob. We met back in Rochester NY when i was working for Ken Reardon and finishing up my planning masters at cornell. We facilitated a symposium on neighborhood planning/development and resident-led community improvement efforts. I wrote up a few of the case studies and helped Ken pull off the conference. Boy those were the days!

Long story short, i've deeply appreciated your work and insights since graduate school and have recently become the new executive director for continuing ed/workforce development at Passaic County Community College in New Jersey. Because of your encyclopedic knowledge of workforce development, politics, and related fields, i was wondering if perhaps we could talk sometime about what I'm trying to accomplish here and hear your perspective on best practices, pitfalls, opportunities, innovations, and things to stay as far away from as humanly possible!

Ken might introduce us by email, but i googled you and found your blog. In an effort to both "do" and "think", i thought I'd write a quick note!

many thanks in advance and I hope this note finds you well,

--Mike Powell