The Intervention Problem

As we’ve travelled across the country, sat down and discussed with multiple folks working on the ground, with folks in/working with government schemes, we realised that very often, problem solving today looks akin to this : a restaurant supplies vendor teams up with a donor working with a neighbourhood good Samaritan, turn up at the home of a local resident selected on some parameters decided between the vendor, donor and offers/convinces the resident to start a restaurant. This person happened to need solutions for their kids’ education, really. At the same time another individual in another village who actually wanted to start a restaurant is unable to find finance or vendors.

Worse, the restaurant doesn’t run too well and is abandoned post the trial run where initial curiosity and some discounts supported by the funding got some traction and, but the ‘entrepreneur’ was never interested in good food or service to start with and had another day job! Obviously, s/he was not too keen on trying a second iteration since it wasn’t his/her goal, and the donor and vendor had already left post their “success” in the initial phase.

Imagine that happening at scale with livelihoods training, solutions for drinking water, and so much else that keeps getting solved.

What if the livelihood option, or commons management need, or other gaps were identified by the village and the ecosystem of solutions providers, donors and Good Samaritans responded to those realized needs? Of course, they could also help with tools to help arrive at the needs through good, honest and fair frameworks that made good/bad trade-offs across social, ecological and economic outcomes apparent and enabled better decision making, while staying away from prescribing and pre-deciding what any place or person needs.

One would iterate through the solution(s), and try multiple things, if the goal was one’s own! In that itself the likelihood of good outcomes in the long run increases dramatically.

Can we move from the current instinct and default of “intervening” which pre-supposes much, to “responding” which is initially a tougher journey, but a lot more effective, efficient and sustainable in the long run? It’ll need us to collaborate on a lot, to deal with uncertainty and complexity and be ready with a large ecosystem of methods, ideas and solutions as people identify specific needs ground up. It’ll stick a lot more, and enable demand led change at scale if/when we start to get it right.

For something as large as the climate problem, we cannot afford small, even if great, pockets of change across the landscape. We need it to go mainstream, be long term and be done with many, many better trade-offs made in the process - biased towards the ecology and biodiversity, and thus long term benefits of a place.


I think we should also celebrate those who have shown the way.

Jean Dreze on Research and Action
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Dr. Rani Bang on understanding development through people and action research

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Sure, but we are seeing this is action, except for a few very good exceptions, and this is a blocker towards solving something as large as climate, so shared the observation. The questions aren’t necessarily leading to outcomes in terms of nuanced responses - indeed many are unaware of the larger body of work and innovation available across the country, hence end up working with limited tools and solutions. Programs do get designed with pre-decided methods even before questions are asked, sometimes by actors sitting at a distance from the problem. Otoh, many are indeed working on strengthening PRI, ward level governance and so on, and that could be an excellent vehicle to care better ground up governance and change.

@sameershisodia Responding is certainly a more sustainable option v/s intervening. It’s a more inside out process which will stick for longer.

I do want to add though that basis my experience on ground, there is facilitating needed for most communities to arrive at those responses. Because they have been excluded in growth for long, there is a gap when it comes to knowing possibilities. They do need help with ideation, there needs to be cross pollination, learning from what’s happening in the mainstream and most importantly, they need loads of encouragement & inspiration. They often underestimate themselves terribly. Their almost immediate response to most suggestions is “oh we can’t do THIS!” but, if they have someone pushing and handholding, they come out with flying colours in just a month and they end up loving it too.

And I do fully believe that this facilitation by other parties needs to be done by being on ground. Not sitting elsewhere. Each response comes with a set of roadblocks, complexities which need unique iterations, real time. Then there some things spoken and there are some things observed. This can only happen if the facilitator is on ground living among the communities.

Also, the facilitation process needs to follow principles of co-creation as that alone will pave the way for transfer of ownership in the longer run. Needless to say, the facilitator needs to become part of the community.

I’d like to state an example :
We recently were discussing The Good Gift range with the senior members of the community and from them came an idea. We have rag dolls as part of the conscious gifting range that we are about to launch. The women from the community felt we should have a version of this doll made to suit the local market because every household with a child needs this doll irrespective of the household income. The market is flooded with Chinese / plastic dolls which anyways isn’t good for the planet. Plus the selling can be decentralised so clusters can be enabled to sell directly in their respective regions.

Now, to think of it, the need for dolls or the doll making process isn’t an extraordinary innovation. It’s something that has always been in the awareness of these communities. But, this particular idea and the confidence they have in them now to execute this idea has come after a long drawn process of facilitating. They have evolved through this process to start seeing possibilities, have confidence in their abilities, some amount of risk appetite, etc.

Sorry for the longish reply but this has been on my mind for sometime now. Your post resonated and pushed me to write.


We tried mapping the various sets of problems and gaps from a climate pov - the community up need identification and place lens, the need for a larger, more nuanced solution set, the need to unbundle finance and (a tiny set of) solutions and avoid limited scope pilots in pre-selected geographies using these coming in top down.

One of the strong needs is that of ecosystem creation and support for contextual, need/pull based problem solving, and funding for such ecosystem wide efforts and consortia.


Absolutely resonate with our work at GroundUp. This is perhaps the only way forward to address the crisis at scale. But if such bottom up approaches are the answer then what is the question?

We discussed this with you. There are series of systemic challanges that requires paradigm approach, policy level shifts e.g. in the way financial allocations are made by the donors or by the government programs. We really need to understand fine language of PRI to understand how government funding can be pivoted to support bottom up approaches. In one of our discussion during financial sustainability of CCA with WWF’s work in Arunachal we met with the Block Development Officer, asking if the local tenders could be applied by Local CSO’s. Somehow such provisions are not clear and where they are clear the inherent pre- application eligibilty requirements systematically favours non-CSO applicants (contractors). While long term policy changes on fund allocations takes place, the short term answer might be to equip local CSO’s to first qualify. Second, build one CSO (preferably section 8) for every Panchayat. Might be a game changer!

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Facilitation: :+1:t5:
Ideation: :+1:t5:
Cross pollination: :+1:t5:
Encouragement & Inspiration: :+1:t5:
Hand holding: :+1:t5:
Co-creation: :+1:t5:
Transfer of ownership: :+1:t5:
Facilitator needs to become part of the community: :thinking: Need not be forever no? but more of a regular guest?

Problem with external facilitators becoming part of the local system is issue of dependency. Plus with time their value among the locals starts to diminish. We need to be clear with our exit plans that are tabled well before actual commencement of any work.

What if we change it to “facilitators should be from communities” How does this re-wording sounds?

In our work we have observed that there are homegrown talents, group of people with absolute desired to bring about change in their vicinity. These are often those who chose to stay back instead of migrating to the cities.

For a change to happen, we need a critical mass, and among 1000 community members would it not be possible to find 10-20 individuals who if given right resources, skills and motivation can accelerate the change?
Multiplying that with open playfields of thousands of landscapes, their communities across India waiting to be approached?

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Facilitators being from within the community or external facilitators becoming part of the community is really a situational question I think. Also the scope of facilitation can also vary. It could vary depending on where the community stands. Either ways, I fully agree that eventually the next gen of facilitators should come from within the community …that’s a future we should be working towards…

I am just vary of the consultative approach. I just haven’t witnessed a this approach work in this space … in this region. Facilitators should have their skin in the game… being from within the community or becoming part of the community is a great way to have skin in the game. Specific to where I am…. ‘Consultants’ have come and gone … but, nothing has changed.

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Agree and see the point you are making. Thanks!

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