World 3.0: Reimagining development for a turbulent planet

Jon MorisLast summer, Jon Moris gave a fantastic STEPS seminar entitled Reimagining Development 3.0 for a Changing Planet. Now an IDS and STEPS Working Paper is available that offers his argument in depth. It is a big-picture view of change from someone with an extraordinary overview of a huge range of issues and literatures.

The paper shows Moris’ polymath capacities, and his ability to connect, synthesise and analyse in ways that many stuck in disciplinary and institutional silos cannot. Jon has around 50 years of experience of development to draw on, much of it in Africa, and now engages in development issues in the world’s richest country from his base in Utah, where he is Professor (Emeritus) of Cultural Anthropology at Utah State University. So this paper comes with much experience and thought.

I am not going to attempt to summarise the argument. It’s far too multi-layered and complex, and Moris presents it much more effectively in his typical engaging style. But for those working on themes that the STEPS Centre is concerned with, the paper offers some challenging insights.

He argues that we are now in ‘World 3.0’. This is characterised by rapid change and complex dynamics with inherent deep uncertainties. Climate change, footloose capitalism, massive migration, rising inequalities and changing demographic patterns all radically reconfigure the way we must think and act. This requires, he says, a reimagining of the development enterprise, a ‘Development 3.0’.

Migrants at the border of Haiti and the Dominican RepublicImage: Migrants at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Flickr / proimos)

Unfortunately, he argues, we remain ill-equipped to respond. Our analytical approaches, our institutional arrangements, our professional incentives all prevent us from seeing complexity – and where the ‘wild things are’; so far existing beyond our cognitive and organisational boundaries.

We don’t therefore seen the big ‘elephants in the room’ – notably climate change, but many others, including such phenomena as the growth ‘conflict entrepreneurs’, the illegal shadow economy and more, and bring them centrally into our responses. We thus miss the impacts of ‘feral capital’, and the way capitalism has restructured itself with dangerous consequences, especially for the poor and marginalised. Speculative investment, resource grabbing and ‘leveraged living’ are all largely unrecognised threats.

The trouble is that such risks do not come predictably – uncertainty, indeed ignorance, dominates. This means that standard approaches to prediction and planning are out (even with the best of models), and instead we must ‘swim with tides’, navigating in ways that are always responsive and adaptive, as we don’t know what we might meet en route. Apparent stability may suddenly shift, with potentially catastrophic tipping points, ‘sandpile events’ or unexpected ‘mash-ups’. This complex and dynamic World 3.0 therefore requires new ways of thinking about economy and environment, and the ability act upon the ‘unthinkable’ before it happens.

But the existing development infrastructure is not geared to this, more to the predictable and planned patterns assumed in Worlds 1.0 and 2.0. The paper therefore concludes with a list of 13 challenges ahead. Many of these are familiar, but they exist in new circumstances, and require a new frame of thinking and action. Sustainability, and its politics, is essential, Moris argues, but we – including IDS and the STEPS Centre – need to pay more attention to organisational sustainability: the type of solution focused network arrangements that allow us to embrace and respond to the dynamic complexity of World 3.0.

It is not going to be an easy task, but it is vitally important. This paper will hopefully keep the conversation moving forward.

Reimagining Development 3.0 for a Changing Planet
by Jon Moris
STEPS/IDS Working Paper (IDS WP435)