Stories in development

‘Instead of encouraging researchers to find out what matters to people, what their cares and concerns are, how they see their lives and what is happening in those lives that development can do something about, they seem to value only that which can be counted.

‘There’s nothing so real as a well-told story. Stories captivate, drawing the reader into a world in which they are totally entangled until the story releases them. The most powerful stories linger in the imagination, leaving something changed in their wake.’

Andrea Cornwall points out that it is not that development does not need numbers. ‘Counting the number of people living with AIDS, the number of women dead or maimed because they were denied safe abortions or the number of people unable to access safe water can make policy makers pay attention to issues they might otherwise not make a priority.’

But, she said: ‘It is time to speak back to the folly and the arrogance of those who try to reduce the complexities of life to proxies and metrics, and create with their numbers the emperor’s new clothes.’

This is Andrea Cornwall, on the Story project

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