Breaking out of echo chambers: Expanding constituency conversations


Rebecca Hanshaw and Barry Knight


Our consultations about the future of international development show that responsibility for deciding how money is spent should be transferred to people who receive the money rather than retained by those who give it.  This reversal also needs to be reflected in language, so grant recipients and their communities are recognised as change agents and key constituents rather than implementers and beneficiaries of someone else’s strategy. This perspective is at the heart of the #ShiftThePower campaign, which suggests that local people should be the architects and builders of the communities they want, not those who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

During our consultations, we have been repeatedly (and rightly) challenged that we are only talking to part of the constituency – those who speak English and are in receipt of salaries for their work in development. Having a consultation based on the views of a well-educated elite who already have some degree of power and influence runs the risk of becoming an echo chamber. This will damage the integrity of the process. To build the momentum needed to drive and sustain this work, all voices must count, and different parts of the ecosystem must see their priorities reflected in the co-created document. Without this, it will be doomed to failure and another opportunity to reform international development will be lost.

To avoid this, we must hear from those typically excluded from international development consultations – the people we claim to work for – those oppressed by discrimination, marginalised by living in war zones, or those who lack the resources to participate in conferences or Zoom calls. Communities have the real knowledge. They know what they need, and we need to create spaces so we can hear and learn from them. Without this, we run the risk of cosmetic change and of replacing one elite with another.

To extend our reach, we need to work through our networks and ask people like you to involve the community groups, leaders, and activists you know. In turn, we hope they will engage their broader networks and contacts, so the pool of perspectives increases and becomes more inclusive and diverse.  In that way, our work can be more truly reflective of voices we need to hear if we are to produce an international development system that works to produce flourishing lives for all.

To do this, we have produced a Reforming International Development Crowdsourcing Invitation which is available in several languages here. This sets out what we want to achieve and why.

We have set out five questions as a rough guide as follows:

  1. What is the society or community you want?
  2. How well does the formal external funding system enable you to work towards such a society/community?
  3. What kind of system would enable you to be more effective in contributing to the community or society you want?
  4. What reforms would you like to see in place?
  5. If applicable, how would you describe your group? For example, non-governmental organisation; community group; or social movement

We appreciate this isn’t perfect, but we don’t want ‘perfection to be the enemy of progress’ and to hamper efforts to hear as many voices as possible. A democratisation of the constituency conversations is essential if we are to co-create a system which centres dignity, supports the needs and priorities of communities, and promotes international solidarity.

For further information and initial replies and questions, please be in touch with us at We will share further insights and learning via the Reforming International Development portal.

Rebeca Hanshaw is an independent consultant and philanthropy advisor and a co-convenor for the Shift the Power UK Funder Collective. Barry Knight is secretary to Centris trustees.

Tagged in: reforming international development

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