Last week, physicists at the CERN Large Hadron Collider announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, a long-sought particle that helps explain why all things have mass. The boson, first theorized by Peter Higgs in the 1960s but heretofore unproven, has been dubbed the “God particle” because it appears to be the sine qua non of matter—without this thing, there is nothing. Scientists and slightly befuddled laypersons everywhere heralded the event as a new opportunity to further explain and explore the world around us.
This discovery got me thinking about the underlying forces at work in development. Why do programs work in some locations and not others? Why are some organizations more consistently successful than others? Why can’t all the well-meaning and very smart people in the field figure this out? Of course, human behavior can be (seemingly) less predictable than that of atoms and quarks. Countries have divergent social histories, political systems, and cultural norms. NGOs and state agencies vary widely in their competence and intentions. Even still, there has to be something tangible that gives weight to successful efforts.
One tantalizing possibility might be one of the most obvious. It is simply this: local institutions. It makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? The people who live in a place know it best. They understand its peculiarities, its history, its moral compass. Where civil society is unrestrained, it flourishes. And where it flourishes, it can strive for profound, positive change. Certainly in CIPE’s long experience, local partners have made all the difference in whether a project succeeded brilliantly, or less so.
The scientists at CERN searched through more than 15 million gigabytes of data per year, analyzing trillions of data points to find the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, there’s nothing like that (yet?) in the development field to give us the answer. Until then, we can only looks for clues and test our assumptions. What do you think is the God particle of development?