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A Process to Guide Decision Making for Development Activities in Language Programs

by Larry Yost and Hugh Tracy

Reprinted from Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work 26:1-17
© 1997 Summer Institute of Linguistics


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Development policy of SIL

We are concerned with development in all aspects of human life: physical, economic, social, cultural, and spiritual. Our primary involvement is in the area of communication and education, especially linguistic (including cultural) investigation and analysis, translation, and literacy. By these means we aim to facilitate development relating to physical and economic needs through partnership with others involved in these fields, and, where appropriate, through our own efforts.

1. Community development

We view community development as the process whereby a community strengthens itself so that it can creatively meet its needs (spiritual, mental, physical, social) through expansion of awareness, increased interaction within and outside the community, and the development of effective use of available resources.

2. Program focus

We emphasize communication and education in order to encourage people to recognize their potential to solve their own problems. Dialogue is central to people-centered development, both among local people and with external change agents. Therefore, we seek to promote communication in minority languages in linguistically diverse communities. Basic education is initiated through literacy, both in local languages and in languages of wider communication, drawing material from the local context. Our approach is always based on the local language and culture and addresses the technical, social, and educational problems associated with it.

3. Methods

In the pursuit of common interests, we seek to cooperate with other organizations such as government agencies, NGOs, and academic institutions. We make a long-term commitment to the communities in which we work in order to become proficient in the language and culture of our hosts. At the same time, we seek to promote self-sustaining local organizations by offering training in the areas of education, problem solving, organization, and training trainers. If local infrastructures do not already exist, we facilitate their formation.

4. Ethical concerns

The pursuit of material goals without accompanying attention to ethical issues is counterproductive. Our programs, therefore, include material designed to foster positive moral values so that development processes will not undermine or destroy social controls.

5. Special concerns

  1. Women and development. We give special attention to women's needs, using literacy in the local language (frequently the only one women know) to foster self-confidence, basic education, and further their knowledge in health, hygiene, nutrition, and child care.
  2. Environmental concerns. Our programs will foster an ecological awareness and sensitivity to the problems of land planning and natural resource management. We are eager to identify and encourage traditional methods of resource management where these methods have demonstrated stewardship of the earth's resources and a sustainable relationship between people and land. In areas where those methods result in exploitative practices and unsustainable relationships, we will seek to
    1. promote the development of educational materials on the environment that relate to the climate and culture of the community, and
    2. encourage local capacity to take initiative in addressing environmental concerns.
  3. Income generation. One of the ways we promote sustainable programs is to enhance the income generating potential of families for solving their own problems of nutrition, health, and education.

6. Guidelines for program development

  1. Needs assessment will include interaction and consultation with communities involved, government officials, and potential funding agencies.
  2. Program planning will specify project goals, resources, responsibilities, and strategies. Programs will look first to local resources before seeking external assistance, and they should eventually be self-sustaining. Program teams will consist of partnerships between expatriates and nationals. Appropriate social impact assessments will be part of both the planning stage and the ongoing program evaluation.
  3. Program teams will be sensitive to, and integrated into, appropriate national, regional, local, and community networks having jurisdiction over and participation in the programs. Management assessments of program teams will be made periodically.

7. Funding

  1. Most of our funding comes from individuals and other organizations. Trusts, foundations, and governments also contribute to some programs. All of our programs are financially accountable internally. Our financial reports are a matter of public record and undergo a periodic external audit.
  2. We believe that our primary focus on the importance of language in culture and community will achieve significant results. The ongoing communication of such results contributes to the broadening of our financial resource base.
  3. Programs are promoted in ways consistent with our goals.

8. Evaluation

The involved community and our personnel do an ongoing evaluation of the programs. The results of such evaluation, then, become a community resource for further planning and implementation. Besides making these evaluations available to other communities, our International Project Review Board evaluates our involvement in the light of current policy.

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