In project management-speak, “implementation” is the Normandy of intervention. Needs assessments have been made, goals have been distinguished from objectives and anticipated outcomes have been translated into numbers. Most important, budgets have been procured and everyone is assured that the benefits will be sustainable forever. Pick the date and count to three.
Etymologists trace the word “implement” to its Latin roots and the meaning of “filling up”. Evidence from the 1530s show the word drifted from the filling to the tools to do so. So commonly used in development work, the present use of “implementation” beautiful describes institutional mechanisms of using tools to fill something up.
Maybe it refers to the tired axiom of handing out fishing rods rather than serving the fish. Don’t create dependence. Create instead the means for an independent livelihood. If you really want to effectively implement, you need something to fill and you need some tools because procurement comes in hard numbers and creates deals with fishing rod vendors.
If our underlying concerns are not about budget procurement and the use of them, we could pay more attention to check if the recipients want our methods of fishing and if they actually use them after we leave. Rather than implementing, the proper word might be “adoption”. Parents have to like the new children and have to be committed for more than the length of a budget. Adoption by force is illegal. It requires consent and commitment. Sustainability is a given because the opposite is abandonment and child abuse. Good intentions don’t always translate into happy endings, so we need miles of red tape and piles of documents to keep adopters in check. Be reminded that the children don’t really have a choice.
Children, like developing countries, shouldn’t be choosy. They shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them. To be wily, it might work to play the field and be adopted by several parents at the same time. The trick is to use dependence to one’s advantage. It’s kind of like borrowing dad’s car while not filling the tank, or more accurately, to not get a job.
If implementation or adoption doesn’t really work, maybe we should look at agreements between consenting parties as something more comparable to marriage. After all, both contracts begin with the letter “M”. A memorandum of understanding sounds rather weak as we’re rarely held accountable for what we’re supposed to understand. It’s always easy enough to say, “I didn’t know”. Neither is a legal marriage very legal though it’s culturally, socially and religiously sanctified in ways that still attract true believers. Imagine if a marriage approval process included background checks on past behavior, letters of reference from all past trysts and testimonies from siblings. In many ways, Marriages Of Understandings are less about what we’re bound to but more at what we promise to overlook.
Development parlance beautifully reflects its deeper nature, from Memorandums of Convenience, to unspoken adoptions. From interventions to implements for filling up. But in all fairness, these are only words.