Visiting Your Development Project Does No Good




Morgan Ames, an anthropologist studying a technology initiative in South America, wrote an article in Ethnography Matters about the misleading effects short term visitors have on NGO technology projects. Ethnography, Ames states, is a more sustained form of research which “last long after the novelty effect of the visitor” wears off.


During her time spent in Paraguay she was present during the visitations of two separate Americans to a local school. They had come to get real world experience with the school that had received computers as part of a One Laptop Per a Child (OLPC) non-governmental project (NGO). The first visitor spent very little time at the school giving a speech to the students and faculty in English and leaving soon after. The next visitor got a slightly better idea of how the OLPC venture was playing out by visiting a classroom the laptops were being used, but even then wasn’t able to see all the setbacks in the project and the things that needed to be improved.


During Morgan’s time with the school she observed that the novelty effect of these visitors only hurt the projects. Projects set high and sometimes unattainable goals to get sponsors. When visitors come in to see the progress of these projects recipients often over exaggerate the progress being made. This leads the investors to believe that the project is complete stopping funding from coming in but never fixing the problems that have arisen over time. Projects that seem to have enormous success get more funding while slower moving projects on average get less. Through ethnographic research NGO’s can see how well their projects are actually fairing and ongoing fix problems hopefully making the project more sustainable.