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International Development Ideas Hype Cycle for 2014

By Guest Writer on January 17, 2014


The Gartner Hype Cycle is a wonderful conceptual framework for understanding how technologies move from initial invention to widespread application.

The basic path is simple: whenever a new technology comes along, it usually gets hyped to the point of inflating expectations about how much it will revolutionize your life, then reality will sink in and we’ll all be disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises, after which it finally rises to a level of productivity.

The application to development highlights one major problem with Gartner’s Hype Cycle: there’s only one path. (Also, it’s not really a cycle, but we’ll let that slide.) The path in the chart leads from invention to application. We know this isn’t the only path for ideas. Many are discarded or recycled — as they should be. If our ideas markets don’t produce failures, it means we’re not taking intellectual risks and thus we’re probably missing potential rewards. Some ideas should fail. Unfortunately, in our sector, some failed ideas get implemented anyway.

I am David Algoso and I want to do two things here. First, I want to amend the hype cycle framework to make it work better for development ideas. Second, I want to plot out where various popular ideas currently sit.

So many routes down from the hype peak

Though the path up is roughly similar for all kinds of ideas, the path down doesn’t always lead to Gartner’s Plateau of Productivity. In the development sector, I see three other routes:

  • First, the Trash Heap of Failures is the final resting place for ideas that have been killed, forgotten, or shamefully hidden away. Chief candidates: the Washington Consensus, structural adjustment.
  • Second, the Swamp of Continued Use is an ongoing, zombie-like state for projects and approaches that everyone knows should probably be killed, but which continue to limp along anyway. There are countless market failures in the development and aid sector, allowing failed ideas to limp along for years. Chief candidates here: voluntourism, buy-one-give-one.
  • Finally, the Roundabout of Repackaging rescues faltering ideas and sends them back up to the peak. This framing is a bit cynical, while also recognizing that there’s value it intellectual iteration. As Linda Raftree has noted, many of the new ideas in development are re-mixes of old ideas. That’s only a bad thing if we’re mindlessly recycling failures.

That leaves us with a refined hype cycle framework we can apply to development .

The Development Ideas Hype Cycle – 2014 Edition

I took a stab at placing a few of aid and development’s hot topics along the framework. Whatever Gartner’s methodology may be, I assure you that mine is far less rigorous. This is an informal synthesis of what I’ve observed from following the discourse of the sector, watching how ideas intersect, and trying to understand how they gain or lose traction. I offer some meager justifications on the original post, but I’d be curious to hear reactions/push-back.

It’s worth emphasizing the different speeds at which each of these ideas moves. As in Gartner’s framework, two ideas that are currently close to one another on the path might be moving along it at very different rates. Tied aid is a good example of that: it’s on the way to the trash heap, but the politics mean that it’s in no rush to get there.

Similarly, not every idea reaches the same heights or depth: PDIA is just too wonky to peak the way microfinance did. Admitting failure as a concept stayed inside the sector, while the much broader connections of CSR mean higher hype. Much more than just apples and oranges here. Still, it’s an interesting fruit basket of ideas.

This is an excerpt from David’s full post, Hype cycle for development ideas: 2014 edition

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