Mind bending stuff...
By Laura Collins
Cobb: What do you want from us?
Saito: Inception. Is it possible?
Arthur: Of course not.
Saito: If you can steal an idea from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one?
Arthur: Okay, here’s me planting an idea in your head. I say to you, “Don’t think about elephants.” What are you thinking about?
Arthur: Right. But it’s not your idea because you know I gave it to you. The subject’s mind can always trace the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.
Cobb: That’s not true.
Saito: [to Cobb] Can you do it?
Cobb: Are you offering me a choice? Because I can find my own way to square things with Cobol.
Saito: Then you do have a choice.
Cobb: Then I choose to leave, sir.
I caught myself wryly smiling during the above exchange on a recent trip to the cinema. It’s a sad life, I know. For it struck me that Saito’s line of questioning might well be asked of ownership. Ownership, that first principle of aid effectiveness. Ownership that will, in Busan later this year, undoubtably be lauded as an idea but lamented as a target unachieved. Many questions haven’t been – but need to be – asked of ownership. So …
Saito: Ownership. Is it possible?
Me: (Scratches head) …. ….. Wait, slow down, what do you mean by ownership?
Saito: By partner countries of development strategies. To reverse the practice of conditionality-based agenda setting. It’s essential for development outcomes, you know.
Me: (Scratches head). But what is it? Leadership? Control? Power? Coordination? Responsibility?
Saito: We’ll plant the idea; how it becomes reality will differ upon how that idea is interpreted, understood, implemented…
Me: But then how do we know it’ll achieve what we want it to achieve?
Saito: Here’s me planing an idea in your head: Development Outcomes. What are you thinking about?
Me: Outcomes. But how can I know that the outcomes I’m thinking about look and are the same as your outcomes? If ownership’s inherently internal, how can this idea be an extra-national principle to be implemented by donors and partners?
Saito: Why can’t you plant an idea? Build ownership by training, by capacity building, by suggestion and support during policy development.
Me: Right, but then their not ‘owned’ ideas because we know we gave them to ‘them’. An idea from the outside can always be traced to being from the outside. True ownership of it is impossible to fake. Hang on, in whom are we planting this idea again? Paris says in ‘government’s', but Accra reckons ‘country’s’ and I have a feeling Busan’s going to say ‘inclusive’s'…
Saito: Can you do it?
Me: Are you offering me a choice? Because what if I think that the idea of mutual accountability fits better with the idea of partnership, that ownership doesn’t necessarily seem realistic given the financial relationship we’re in?
Saito: Then you do have a choice. On the condition that you have ownership of that choice.
Me: But I thought the choice was whether I would take ownership or not….? Oh, but if ownership is choice and I can choose whether I go along with what you plant or not? Then I choose to say no, sir, every time. Because that shows ownership.
I could go further: we could talk about how I could plant an idea to say no to the idea planted by Saito to say yes. Confused? Isn’t that the point?