This article investigates the interaction between the processes of building development theory and development practice, arguing that theory must start with practice – and should not be top-down, starting with the ‘outside gaze’ of a supposedly detached academic or policy maker. The questions posed point to critiques of mainstream development narratives and notions of innovation through the diffusion of new technologies. The authors suggest that the assumptions embedded in mainstream development processes lead to unequal access to global and local markets, and that when they are imposed from the outside without a real understanding of the context, the development project is bound to fail. Parameters for assessing and evaluating outcomes also need to be based upon a close understanding of context – and this often comes through active involvement within it and not through being ‘detached’ and outside it. The assumption that an outside gaze is ‘objective’ is based in an implicitly colonial discourse, while building theory by being involved in the practice produces better methodologies for action and development.
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