Contents - Previous - Next


This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu


Uncertainty revisited: what are the critical gaps in knowledge?

The task of the panel was approached in a deliberately general and nondisciplinary way. Our view is that it is not necessary to define the research strategy in terms of its specific contents, as if it were a box full of apples. Rather, research is a process - an ever-rolling stream - and our task is to discern the change in its direction that appears to be desirable (perhaps inevitable) in light of the new thinking that we have tried to promote. That there has been a significant change in direction we have no doubt but we are, at present, less certain as to exactly what that change has been.

The general feeling is that there is much progress to be made at present through a continuation of the process of systematic questioning of unquestioned assumptions. Since this, of course, was a major component in the strategy for the Conference itself, we are pleased to see that it did indeed catalyse many of our discussions; never have we seen so many cherished assumptions evaporated into so many despicable myths! We feel that all this must have some central strategic relevance for thinking about the future direction of research. But the trouble is that such turmoil - such wholesale demolition - creates an awful lot of dust. In consequence we feel that, though we can already begin to discern some of the more prominent features of the new direction for research, things will become much, much clearer once the dust has settled. A small working group charged with this clarificatory task, and coming together in months rather than years, is what is needed. That is our first recommendation.

In the meantime, it is possible to set out (in a rather disjointed and tentative way) what we feel are some of the discernible features of this new direction. Some of the points we list are abstract guiding principles; others are quite specific proposals for future research inputs. We have taken the liberties of fleshing out some of these points, of making some connections between them, and of filling in some of the more obvious gaps in the hope that this report can then serve as some sort of initial orientation for the proposed working group and for more widespread questioning and response.

1. Anticipation Versus Resilience

There are two very different ways of coping with this apparent antithesis. We can try to anticipate future events and then make specific preparations for their arrival; in contrast we can resist this anticipatory urge and, instead, increase our generalized resources so that we will be well placed to absorb or exploit whatever the future brings. The first mode tends to lead us into planning, hierarchical patterns of organization, and centralized information; the second tends to give us markets, myriad autonomous agents, and diffused information. In consequence, much research ends up by being 'captured' by the institutionally generated assumption that anticipation is the right (indeed, the only) mode. The danger here, however, is that not everything in this world can be anticipated, and this means that there will always have to be some tradeoff between the two modes: anticipation and resilience.

Resilience is the generalized ability of a system to cope with the unexpected. When the bridges along a 40-km stretch of the Dudh Kosi, in Khumbu Himal, were swept away by the lake break-out from the Langmoche Glacier, they were re-built by the local people in a few weeks, despite some shortcomings. By contrast, the Austrian-funded hydroelectric project at Thame (which was also destroyed) was not replaced. That is an example of the lack of resilience. It is important to realize, however, that resilience, for all its grass roots and diffuse nature, is never something that is just there. It can be fostered (by institutionally appropriate development) and it can be discouraged (by institutionally inappropriate development).

All of us acknowledged familiarity with a particular breed of forestry expert that is much given to pronouncing that the only way to ensure establishment of a good forest in the Himalaya is to station armed guards all around it. Such a solution, which defines the local farmer as part of the problem, is a perfect example of institutionally inappropriate development. And it is revealed as such by the many forests that are now flourishing without any armed guards, or even without wire fences around them. These forests grow because the local people want them to grow, and because they have succeeded in securing (with the help of development projects) the generalized resources to ensure that they do grow. These institutionally appropriate developments succeed because they have been able to conceive of the local farmer as a part of the solution (Griffin et al., 1988).

So anticipation (the 'outside' designation of a village forest, for instance) and resilience (the capacity of the villagers to recognize and manage a renewable resource, for instance) are alternative modes, each of which will be more or less appropriate in specific physical and social contexts. The trouble is that anticipators (institutional agencies, and national ministeries, for instance) fund research while local farmers tend not to. There is always the risk, therefore, that research will become so tightly harnessed to anticipation that it will lose all sight of this crucial and multi-levelled trade-off between itself and resilience. In contrast, if we (as researchers and practitioners) insist that these two modes must always be weighed against one another, then the kind of finegraining so essential for successful implementation will come about quite naturally as specific contexts variously induce their appropriate weights.

This is a very general principle that reappears in more specific form in many of the points that follow. In a strategic sense, therefore, we can use it as the leitmotif for the explication and development of the new research direction.

2. What is the Problem?

When people talk about the environmental problems of the Himalaya (even, or especially, when they talk quantitatively) they are not talking about the same thing. During the Conference we heard speakers from governments and agencies pinning 'tine problem' on increasing population, and showing signs of exasperation when people from the Chipko Movement insisted that population increase was little more than a symptom of the real problem: a lack of control over local resources by local people. In much the same way, the planting of trees was seen as the solution by some whilst others were adamant that the only answer was better land-use management.

The inescapable conclusion is that there are plural problem definitions and plural solution definitions and, more importantly, that they do not go away. If we insist on just one perception of the problem then inevitably we will be excluding many of the people and, in the process, committing investment to a development path that, sooner or later, will prove to be unsustainable physically, socially, or both. 'Single problem/single solution' approaches (which, again, are prevalent at present) inevitably foster wrong thinking. Right thinking requires us to develop and strengthen 'multiple problem/ multiple solution approaches.

3. What is a Resource?

Those who speak of 'natural resources" locate resources in the physical world; those who speak of 'raw materials' see resources as flowing from the successful interaction of those raw materials with culture - with such essentially intangible assets as human skill, knowledge, and enterprise.

Time and again we slipped into the easy assumption that for the Himalayan people to have enough food it is essential that the Himalayan land produces enough to feed them. To be precise, this basic need is satisfied once the people are in a position to command enough food. Increasing the productivity of the land is, of course, one of the ways of achieving sufficient command over food, but so too is the sort of service- or manufacturing-based economic growth that has occurred, for example, in Ladakh, in the Khumbu, and in the Kathmandu Valley.

Deepak Bajracharya, Dipak Gyawali, and Hementa Mishra were not convinced that the Chipko ideal of land-based self-sufficiency was appropriate for Nepal and argued that Nepal was always a country of traders and that trade was the very foundation upon which their nation had been built. The slogan 'Trade not Aid' neatly expresses this clash of resource perceptions, although it can be argued that the majority have always been members of the 'cautious cultivator' community.

Again, each of these contradictory definitions will have to be incorporated into research and legitimated in policy debate if the decision-making process is not to be captured by sectional interests. Here, in the crucial distinction between land-based and non-land-based development opportunities, we can see, perhaps more clearly than in the 'too many people/not enough food distinction, the positive advantages of striving to maintain the legitimacy of contradictory definitions.

Points 2 and 3 together begin to suggest research strategies for explicitly recognizing and dealing with the political economy and political culture dimensions (both local and geopolitical) that often underlie what, at first sight, look like merely technical questions.

4. Who is the Client?

As Sunderlal Bahuguna repeatedly pointed out, the interests of the researcher's non-paying client (the villager, in most cases) are not always consonant with those of his paying client (the agency that sponsors his research). A researcher who identifies himself with the interests of just one of these clients ends up doing both of them (and his science) a disservice. The debate between Shah and Schreier (1985) and Messerschmidt (1985) in the pages of Mountain Research and Development is very much to do with this question of client ambivalence, and much of the discussion during the Conference (David Griffin's Participatory Action Research, for instance, and Sunderlal Bahugana's Head, Heart, Hands) can be interpreted as appropriate methodologies' for ensuring the visibility of both clients.

5. Problems know no Boundaries

The research apple is already sliced (by disciplines, by institutions, by departments) but problems tend to be unsliced. There is a crucial need to make the system connections across the slices (and this is not achieved just by including the word 'integrated' in the project title). There are deep philosophical implications to this systems approach and it is something that has to be worked at hard - practically and conceptually.

6. The Heterogeneity of Problems and Capabilities

Maps (in the widest sense of the word) are a particularly apt way of respecting and making the most of the heterogeneity that, we all agree, is such a key feature of the region. 'Trouble spot' maps, for instance, readily capture Romm's elusive idea that '90 percent of the damage may be caused by 10 percent of the lend' (Jeff Romm, personal communication, December 1983). Such gradations of red colouration help focus remedial action where it is most needed, but they should also be accompanied by 'opportunity maps' in which the gradations of green colouration tell us where local enterprise (tourism in the Khumbu, for instance, agricultural productivity in the Kathmandu Valley, and the Tibetan carpet industry in a number of locations) is headed for 'take-off' under its own steam (that is, without development aid).

7. Everything is Not Getting Worse Everywhere

Point 6 (above) feeds into a related question. Research in the Himalaya, at present, has a marketing problem. Problems ('supercrisis', for instance, and ubiquitous 'vicious circles'), are being overplayed whilst capabilities (genuine external concern, for instance, the fact that no interested party is intent on destroying the Himalaya, the potential of the International Park idea ... the presence here and there of 'positive sum pockets) are being correspondingly underplayed. Only martyrs (and Oxford men) are attracted to hopeless causes. Since our main conclusion is that the problems of the Himalaya are serious but not insoluble, our research strategy should strive to rectify this negative bias.

8. The Usable Synthesis of 'Hard' and 'Soft' Science

By putting the emphasis on all the uncertainty the Conference rightly emphasized the complementarily of two seemingly contradictory questions: 'What are the facts?' (the banner under which the 'hard' sciences, such as physics, biology, and physical geography, traditionally advance) and 'What would you like the facts to tee?' (tine question that enables 'soft' end subjective sciences, such as anthropology, cognitive psychology, and the sociology of perception to move ahead). Problems, though they do involve all sorts of real physical processes, are not defined by those processes. They are defined by people - people, moreover, who are embedded in very different social and cultural contexts and who naturally define their problems very differently. The system, in other words, is a system of mountains and people and we must do everything we can to avoid treating it as if it were two separate slices.

9. Research is Driven by Perceived Information Needs

The exploration of uncertainty and its institutional origins, and the accompanying conversion of many facts into myths, suggest that we should try to identify two sets: facts that would be useful to know, and facts that we are likely to be able to know. The intersection of these two sets would then provide both the focus for our 'herd' science research efforts and a framework that will tell us where further research is likely to be unsuccessful, or unnecessary, or both (Figure 10.1).

Figure 10.1 A framework for 'hard' science research (prepared by Michael Thompson in Ives et al., 1987: 335).

Another way of saying this is that we should go for problems that are: (1) soluble; and (2) worth solving. For instance, the downstream impact of upstream human activity is probably not a problem we should be tackling, although it may be deemed politically and practically desirable to lay down a process whereby the lowland water-resources manager has a better understanding of mountain-plains linkages than is presently available.

Many of our deliberations could usefully be mapped on to this simple diagram (Figure 10.1). Many of us are concerned with redefining this strategic focus for 'hard' science research. It would be well worth while to go through this mapping exercise, discipline by discipline, to provide detailed before and after descriptions of this research focus.

10. Making Room for the Home-grown Wisdom

This has been a recurring theme: Jack Ives, for instance, stressed the astonishing level of restorative work that, within several years, completely removed landslide scars but which was simply not visible within the short timescale of expert scientific studies. This effort, in turn, depended crucially on all kinds of ethno-science and ethno-risk assessment (as the UNU Kakani Project's work on indigenous land-use categories, hazard perception and riskhandling strategies made clear (Johnson et al., 1982; Kienholz et al., 1983)). A nice insight, in other words, into resilience and its micro-social origins, and one that, alas, is too easily missed.

Sunderlal Bahuguna pointed out that, often enough, the local people know exactly what needs to be done (often better than do outside experts) and, moreover, are quite capable of doing it. External aid directed at resilience enhancement, therefore, should be concerned simply with making it easier for them to get on and do it (by paying their taxes while they do the work, for instance, or by providing food for labour, and so on).

Deepak Bajracharya showed us how the widespread Nepalese institution of the 'go-between' internalized a micro-level negotiating wisdom that, even now, is lacking from many research and aid programmes.

David Griffin showed us how effective a candid admission of ignorance on the part of the expert (e 'blank street' rasher than a fully specified blueprint) was in harnessing the outsider's injection of resources to the local expertise.

Hementa Mishra, in reflecting on his experiences in the Royal Chitwan National Park, teased his way through the viable and unviable ways of making the relationship between the local tigers and the local people less antagonistic and more symbiotic.

Learning, of course, is the crucial ingredient of all these success stories (many of which are implicitly highly critical of much large-scale development work). This suggests that the time is now ripe for a specific research effort aimed at pulling together the valuable experiences of individuals with 'hands-on' focal expertise and then tabulating what they have learned into general Principles for Good Practice. This 'learning-from-success' exercise would then complement the 'learning-from-failure' exercises that will be proposed presently.

11. How to Promote Flexibility?

Long before the hydroelectric project at Thame in the Khumbu was physically swept away, most of its institutional supports had been extensively eroded. It was extraordinarily difficult to find anyone who could speak up enthusiastically in its favour, either in Nepal or in Austria (the aid donor). Concern in Austria had developed to such a pitch that even the then Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, was convinced of its inappropriateness, yet nothing could be done physically to stop it. This required the actual catastrophic outbreak of a glacier lake with its attendant loss of resources (Ives, 1986; Vuichard and Zimmermann, 1987).

This is a particularly vivid example of a widespread and inevitably wasteful phenomenon and there is a real need to develop and apply techniques for distinguishing at an early stage between inflexible and flexible development paths. This is the now familiar problem of entrenchment through institutional, financial, and technical commitment: the pathology, it could be said, of the anticipatory mode (Collingridge, 1981).

The techniques for minimizing entrenchment, both in technical and institutional terms, do now exist and they should be applied to many of the existing and proposed developments in the Himalayan region.

12. Problems of Scale

Much debate over the appropriateness or inappropriateness of projects (and much of the concern over the inadequacy of the evaluation they at present receive) centred on scale. Indeed, considerations of scale permeated our discussions to such an extent as to suggest that it (like the anticipation: resilience trade-off) should become one of our major organizing themes.

In the course of a casual conversation, on the way to the airport after the Conference, one of the World Bank delegates commented that he had managed to visit the Khumbu in connection with the World Bank forestry project that was his responsibility. He was asked, 'where exactly in the Khumbu is your forest?' Patiently he explained that the visit had been something of a selfindulgence, since the Khumbu was really rasher 'out on a limb' so far as the project was concerned. One may have assumed that his forest was in the Khumbu when, in fact, the Khumbu was in his forest!

It is assumptions - assumptions with which we are unwittingly supplied by our prior institutional and professional involvements - that are currently driving so much of the decision making on scale. 'Big-is-best' versus 'small-isbeautiful' seldom receives the attention it deserves because the answer has already been given by the very organizational nature of the agencies involved. In such settings scale decisions are not debated; they come with the job!

Hydroelectricity projects, for example, come in all shapes and sizes: from the micro- and mini-hydel schemes in the Khumbu that have been the subject of so much evaluative debate between their protagonists (and so much natural destruction), through the existing medium-sized dams like Kulekhani and Bhakra, to the projected schemes such as the Karnali High Dam and the Arun Cascade that are among the largest, most expensive, and most novel engineering undertakings ever seriously contemplated by man. Yet they receive only a tiny (and biased) fraction of the expert evaluation and institutionalized assessment that is accorded even such relatively routine and modest engineering ventures as the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station in California or the Sellafield Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant in Britain.

The diverse expertise necessary for adequate evaluation, and the institutional development required for that evaluation to be constructively focused, simply are not in place in the Himalayan region. However, recent government actions in the Doon Valley, and the fact that the Chipko Movement has been able to take the Tehri Dam proposal to the Indian Supreme Court, show us that they could easily be put in place. Rectifying this omission, surely, must be one of the main aims of future research.

13. Economic Development for Whom?

This very general question was asked in many specific contexts. Jayanta Bandyopadhyay stressed the need to understand the social, physical, and economic interactions between upland and lowland - the wanted stuff and the unwanted stuff. For example: the political economy and political culture of soil erosion; the need to relate widespread processes, such as monetarizationleading to cash crops-leading to forest degradation, to fluctuations (in terms of resilience) in the effectiveness of the classical wisdom of the people. Bandyopadhyay urged that the appropriate unit for this sort of analysis was the major river basin as a whole.

14. Ivory Towers Versus Green Fingers

Janos Hrabovszky confessed to schizophrenia between pure science, social interventionism, and doing, and urged a three-fold research package aimed at: (1) improved land and water management; (2) institutional change; and (3) cash flow to mountain people. Such a package, he conceded, would be full of all sorts of myths and those myths would have to be confronted. Myths, he argued, should be dealt with by the policy actors agreeing, and agreeing to differ. The apparent paradox here could be resolved by new approaches that sought to stimulate, rather than eradicate, perceptual pluralism. (A plea, in other words, for the adoption of the 'multiple problem/multiple solution' approach.) A small example might help explain how this explicit mythconfronting can advance both the formulation and implementation of policy (and alter the kind of research that they call for).

The cash flows to the mountain people - through military service in the Indian and British armies, through tourism, through certain cash crops, and so on - is not disputed. What is disputed, however, is the consequence of all this economic activity. It is at this interpretive level that the myths begin to assert their contradictory influences. Those who subscribe to Adam Smith's 'hidden hand' see it all in an optimistic light: markets are springing up everywhere and, if we can just remove the dead hand of bureaucracy, self-help will do the rest. Others see this influx of cash as the instrument by which the developed world secures its hold on the undeveloped fringe: marginalization, not self-help, is the name of this all-too-familiar game. Still others are convinced that upward progress is possible, provided the cash flow is managed: the free-for-all must be brought under control and the whole process pulled within a planned and integrated framework of development. So Hrabovszky's 'package' (pp. 256-272) will simply fly apart if these myths are not confronted and unless each of them is granted its legitimacy as one institutionally valid mode of interpretation.

15. Uniting Problems with Solutions Through Intervention

Ijaz Hussain Malik expanded on Hrabovszky's plea and explained his own experiences and successes with the Aga Khan's Rural Support Programme, in terms of the 'garbage-can model of decision making' (cf. Thompson and Warburton, 1985b).

Total pluralism would entail a garbage-can in which all shapes and sizes of problems met up with all shapes and sizes of solutions in a totally random way. In Malik's experience, the pluralism is more structured than this, and the distinctive social and cultural perspective of the mountain farmer ensures that only some of these problems and solutions 'belong' to him. Intervention, again in Malik's experience, is a /earning process in which these particular conflations of problem and solution are gradually revealed. Aid is then the exploratory process by which resources are transferred in such a way that the farmers become more able to solve their problems to their satisfaction.

Since this intervention and aid (and, in particular, the process by which the resources are actually transferred) brings into existence local organizational arrangements that, until then, were only latent within the village culture, there is a marked increase in self-confidence (that is, resilience) across the entire mountain region. Malik's idea of helping the villagers to help themselves is, therefore, remarkably similar to Bahuguna's. What differs, however, is the assumption about the direction in which such village-level improvement is to be found. Bahuguna's villagers want to pull back into self-sufficiency; Malik's want to get out into the global marketplace (and, since Hunza apricots can be purchased in local shops in Britain, it would seem they are quite capable of doing this).

16. Optimism and its Uses

Tom Hatleyexpanded on the Himalaya's marketing problem. Scientists are trained to define and solve problems rather than to identify and expand capabilities. They need to retrain themselves by deliberately developing a sense of possibility; mapping benefits, extolling project diversity, and overcoming their timidity in arguing for small-scale, optimistic, human-based projects. Alongside crisis there is opportunity. Opportunity is fostered through longterm, flexible, people-to-people co-operation - gift exchange. For example, the opportunities for the symbiotic development of the relationship between local Himalayan people and their local rare plants and animals have often been missed because of the colonial origins of the utilitarian science inherited by the nations of the region (and still sponsored by the major donors of development aid). Rectifying this bias - moving away from utilitarian science toward a more naturalistic science - has the following beneficial consequences:

(a) we begin to put ecosystems first in the design of rural development projects,

(b) biological conservation becomes the leader - the signpost - for sustainable development in general

(c) we are able, in many instances, to re-couple biotic values (rarity, diversity, interdependence, site-specificity) with the values of the marketplace (Halley and Thompson, 1986).

17. Honesty and Scientific Gift Exchange

Michael Warburton rephrased 'gift exchange' as 'working together' and pointed out that, for long-term success, working together called for honesty: for a continuous effort to give frank recognition to the patterns of interests, economic and political, that shape the contexts in which scientists have to work, and that so easily (and so insensibly) mould the facts that they discover.

The perhaps surprising consequence of this (and it is a consequence that we should take seriously) is that recent developments in the seemingly rarified areas of the philosophy and sociology of science are of central importance for applied scientific research in the Himalaya. One has only to glance at all the myths that were revealed through the hard questioning of hitherto unquestioned assumptions to realize the imperative of instituting some framework for selfawareness and quality control in the conduct and application of research in this most convoluted (physically and institutionally) of regions.

18. What's Wrong with the Shift from Land- to Manufacturing- or Service-Based Industry?

Sandhya Chatterji found the 'too many people' problem definition difficult to apply to Ladakh (Chatterji, 1987). 'Not enough food', however, helped her make more sense of the large and rapid shifts in population and occupation that have occurred (both recently and historically) in this remote and politically and ecologically sensitive region.

Tourism and defence-related employment, of course, can disappear as quickly as it can appear, but she pointed out that its stabilization is something that can be worked at, once it is seen as part of the solution rather than as part of the problem. The creation of international parks in such sensitive areas, for example, is one way in which this sort of stabilization might be fostered. If it is accepted that the land-based, petroleum-free economy of Ladakh is gone for ever (and many do not accept this), then Ladakh's shift straight across from subsistence agriculture to service industry, without any intervening manufacturing stage, can be seen as a leap into post-industrial development that would make most of the developed world green with envy.

Problems, of course, abound, but, unlike many areas in the Himalaya, they exist within a sea of opportunity.

(a) What about new energy technologies - bio-gas and solar, in particular?

(b) What about technology transfer? The ability to command resources (food, energy, transport) is increasing rapidly but the acquisition of the technologies appropriate to the taking of that command is lagging behind.

(c) What about the undesirable consequences of this booming economy corruption, for instance, and the markedly uneven distribution of opportunity? Again, institutional development, in some appropriate blend of central government regulation and local 'ways of doing things', is called for.

19. Are 'Normal Science' and the Himalaya Inimical?

Dipak Gyawali managed to link a wide range of seemingly diverse topics by posing this simple question.

(a) The uncertainties we have been uncovering have been generated by normal science by accepting the slices we are given (science, for instance, asks 'What are the facts?'; something else that is not science asks 'What would you like the facts to be?'). Slice the apple differently - that is switch to revolutionary (in T. S. Kuhn's (1970) sense of the word) science - and things begin to look quite different. 'Unimaginable projects,' Gyawali pointed out, 'are not very popular,' yet they are precisely what is needed.

(b) 'Anthropologists map all the variety and propose nothing; economists impose uniformity and propose everything.' again, this distressing and all-too-familiar dead-end can only be circumvented by imaginative power. A middle path between the debilitating extremes of anthropological and economic orthodoxies, is what we need and, in fact, we already have it in such notions as structured pluralism and the garbage-can in which the apparent anarchy is deftly organized by the distinctive perspectives of the various actors. Normal science would have to insist that just one of these perspectives was valid; the revolutionary science appropriate to the Himalaya would insist that there is something of value in all of them.

(c) The Third World is everywhere. Marginalization is what it is all about, and margins form as readily in the inner cities of the First Two Worlds as they do along the Himalayan Divide. Prosperity and growth in parts of the Punjab far exceed that in Liverpool or Appalachia. Marginal problems demand marginal solutions, and this leads us to query the credentials of many development projects.

(d) Foreign aid; what does it do? To ask this question is to gain some useful insights. We see, for example, that socially irresponsible money wreaks havoc, and that experts who lack commitment do much the same. Nepal is awash with forestry money (as David Griffin pointed out); but this does not necessarily solve the problem of degradation of the quality of the remaining forests. Dipak Gyawali proposed two standards. The first, for the local expert, measures his willingness to go back to the village. The second, for the foreign expert, measures his commitment to those he is supposed to be helping. The unit of measurement of the first is the Gandhi; for the second, the Theresa. These are the absolute units; the practical units would be the milli-gandhi and the milli-theresa!

Points from the Floor

The research panel, by accident or by design, was largely packed with 'Young Turks,' impatient of the 'Old Guard,' their normal science, and their unimagination. One advantage of this was that it has been comparatively easy to link the panel's utterances together into a fairly coherent whole. The themes are broad and strong, they thread their way through the whole debate with a fine disregard for national and disciplinary differences, and they are fun - a rumbustious challenge to the familiar theses of the Development Community and the Environmental Establishment - theses that, over the years, have become as all-engulfing (and as unnoticeable) as is water to the fish that swims in it. The remarks (and, in some cases, the passionate speeches) from the floor, though more disjointed than those from the panel, help to redress the balance. The Young Turks certainly developed their antithesis but we would not wish to give the impression that they carried the day unopposed.

20. The Malthusian Hypothesis

K. G. 'Tej'Tejwani sprang to the defence of planning and of the research needs that it generates. He stressed that the problem was one of 'too many people'population out-stripping resources - and that it had to be tackled by effective long-term policy commitments. It was from this perspective that the crucial gaps in current knowledge should be identified. (However, it could be argued that the panel's presentations were implicitly hostile to a particular kind of planning rather than to planning per se. They can be seen as an argument against an old style, rigid/total control/complete knowledge, deterministic planning and for its replacement by a more flexible, more humble, and more strategic style.)

21. The Future Place of Historical Research

John Richards contrasted advocacy with detachment and argued for some division of labour that would enable historians to contribute in both ways. There was room both for dispassionate analysis (probably in the form of comparative regional research) and for collaborative team research (as, for example, in the Doon Valley Ecosystem Project) (Shiva and Bandyopadhyay, 1985).

Richard Tucker, taking up this collaborative aspect, stressed the value of chance - the serendipitous coming together of disciplines and interests that happened at conferences such as this. Follow-ups were needed if these growth points were not to wither.

22. Principles for Practice

David Griffin was unconvinced of the efficacy of the traditional two-pronged attack in terms of pure and applied research. The linkages between them were not right, and this led to serious and persistent problems of implementation. Participatory Action Research is a far more appropriate research methodology for fostering development (Griffin, 1987). It presented no problems of linkage and placed itself firmly in the context of implementation, rather than in analysis and policy formulation - the inevitable contexts of pure and applied research.

Most research, at present, is focused on the first differential - the trends. It should try to get beyond this - to higher-order differentials. If things have got about as bad as they can get perhaps they will begin to get better. Can we get at the trends in the trends?

23. The Gandhian Perspective

Sunderlal Bahuguna posed four simple questions: a) How does the professional become devotional? b) What is modern, what is primitive? c) Can we come up with a blueprint for survival? and d) Can we build self consciousness? There was much sagacious nodding of heads as Bahuguna spoke, which suggests that many of the scientists and administrators present, though they might not have put it quite like this, were quite familiar with these crucial nails that Bahuguna, in his inimitable way, was hitting fairly and squarely on the head.

(a) His first question, for instance, is echoed in Gyawali's plea for responsibility and for some means of measuring the expert's commitment.

(b) His second question resonates with the questions 'Who is the client?', and 'Development for whom?' In other words, it calls for the frank recognition of the political economy dimension.

(c) His third question ties the elusive concept of sustainable development firmly to the welfare of the poorest people of the region. If they are not to be raised up (in their own terms) what hope is there for the totality?

(d) His fourth question, translated into the esoteric language of the expert, calls for a more explicit awareness on the part of the scientist for the whole policy context in which, like it or not, he is working. And it emphasizes the all-too-easily neglected option of resilience enhancement.

24. The Agency Perspective

Attila Stersky, the representative from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), emphasized success and the importance of spotting it. In evaluating projects CIDA looked for a 'track record for success.' Its policy was to 'pick the wieners.' In following this strategy it had found that, on balance, it favoured small-scale projects. Small, it would seem from this learning process, was more successful than large.

Stersky was less forthcoming about the failures (associated, one presumes, more with bigness). Some members of the panel, while supportive of this commitment to learning from success, wanted to see the same learning principles applied to the failures as well. (A point that is taken up later.)

25. The Place of Glaciological Research

Gordon Young explained that there was no glaciological institute in the Himalayan region, despite both the importance of the pure science aspects of glaciology and the practical downstream consequences of the behaviour of the region's glaciers. He stressed the need for such an institute, the need to stimulate the transfer of information, and the need for a major glaciological conference in the early 1990s. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in Kathmandu, could possibly be the institutional niche for all these, and it would be best if the initiatives came from the region itself.

26. Science for Public Policy

Hementa Mishra explained how his research on tiger conservation did not stop there but was pushed right through to the decision makers. Research, he stressed, was a continuous process and had to be kept flexible and responsive to the policy process. Research should not be seen as separate from development.

On the question of setting up institutional channels for information transfer and dissemination he was sceptical. 'Information,' he felt, 'has to be gone and got.'

27. The Future Place of Hydrological Research

Bruno Messerli presented the outlines of a research strategy that built upon present work and that aimed to provide badly needed data from a small number of crucial points on four exemplary rivers across the region. Since water underpins everything else in the region, this understanding (which should be sought in a non-bureaucratic way) should be actively fed into the wider understanding of the biology, agriculture, and land-use patterns of the region.

28. The Research Consumer's View of Research

C. K. Sharma saw the Himalaya as a 'playground for researchers.' Researchers were having a wonderful time but few solutions were being offered to the problems supplied.

On the upstream/downstream question he agreed with Bahuguna that the Himalaya were vital to Indian culture and civilization and that this, rather than the more negative, scientifically dubious and potentially divisive argument about worsening flooding, was the international linkage that should be emphasized.

He wondered whether 'development' had done anything for Nepal. Did Nepal need development aid? Education, he agreed, was vital yet educational programmes had not resulted in economic uplift. Criteria for appropriateness and inappropriateness are what is needed.

29. The Villager's View of Research

D. N. S. Dhakal, speaking as a Bhutanese villager (rather than in his role as a postgraduate at the University of Colorado), wanted the research to be useful to him. Piles of papers in the university libraries of Oxford or MIT were of no use to him.

30. Failure into Success

The sea of uncertainty, the endless problems of implementation, and the many, many surprises that lie in wait for even the best-planned projects have rightly served to direct our attention toward learning; learning to be modest, learning that we do not know everything, learning from one another - expert-andexpert, expert-and-villager, researcher-and-client, and so on.

Many stressed the benefits of learning from success, though Janos Hrabovszky said that the FAO experience was that, since the success of a pilot project often turned out to lie in its leader and not in its contents, they were often disappointed when the same project format was applied in multiple locations: the singer, not the song! But, if failure is so widespread, why not learn from it too?

Frank Davidson said that engineers traditionally dissect their failures until they have extracted every ounce of learning they can. His own course on failure at MIT had been an enormous success. An Institute for the Study of Failure might well do more for the Himalaya than anything else!


Contents - Previous - Next