Dec 30, 2011

Is Debate a right model for development process or is it a drain on resources?

By Anoop Jha

Understanding the structure and psychology of debate and its assumed relevance in planning process

They think that debate can solve the planning and development issues!! You must have seen some of the so called “eminent intellectuals” fighting with each other on air, on some news channel, defending their stubborn, idiosyncratic ideologies and opinions towards some development issues or other. Debate has become such an obvious routine event across the span of media that nobody cares for anybody’s opinion anymore. You already know what its likes. It appears that these intellectual guys on air have started taking “on screen debate” as a freelance job option or a tool to be in limelight rather than taking these development issues seriously and really getting involved in it with an intention to bring forth a plan which can solve the given development and planning issue and will help fuel the growth of region and nation.  

On air debate vs dissertation panel 
What is wrong with debate? Let’s try to understand the structure and psychology of debate. The moment we go for a debate our available resources gets split in two visible contradictory parts one “for” and other “against” the issue at discussion, while both groups start investing their time, energy, efforts in collecting evidence to justify their stand, meanwhile issue for which they are fighting starts losing its significance only being replaced by individual’s monumental idiosyncrasies and group’s ego. Ego manifesting at its best and expertise either being channelized in an unconstructive direction or being exhausted, this is what the structure of “debate” has been from time immemorial. They don’t mind debating at all because they have been taught and brought up like this in school. What they teach in school is to take a stand, right or wrong and defend it, in this much celebrated phenomenon called “debate” where more cunning and smarter guy would be awarded, isn’t it? The smarter orator will always win, no matter what side of debate he or she is on, it’s like that most of the time.

Now let’s take another example with a similar discussion platform with similar expert panel, but having a totally different approach towards any given issue. Let’s see ideally what happens in a design, architectural or planning dissertation jury. This jury process involves an identified design, development, planning project or issue which they want to structure and resolve as a final outcome, within a given time frame with a panel of diverse expertise having focused intention to arrive at some solution with consensus. These jury members of dissertation or thesis panel might also have their own idiosyncratic view toward any particular issue or design project which might be totally different from other co panel members like in the case of “those experts, debating on air”, but their approach and efforts towards any particular issue is totally and fundamentally different from those of “on screen debating intellectuals”.  Unlike the experts and politicians in on air group discussion and talk shows, these panel members are here with an intention to make that project work, these experts are here to give feedback, they are here to give a positive direction to the project, they are here to invest their expertise in the success of project and resolving the issues in a constructive way keeping their ego aside, they are here functioning together cohesively in spite of their ideological differences because their intention is to “resolve the issue” and “make this work” .

Of course every development project or planning issue has some externalities associated with it both positive as well as negative; every economic activity has some kind of social and environmental cost to pay. We often tend to forget that there are grey shades as well; it’s not always completely black or white. We don’t always have to take a stand for either black or white. Let’s think collectively without being prejudiced toward a new or old idea, listening to each other, paying attention to every voice, where no one feels excluded, trying to reach at consensus where everyone is a winner.

It takes a group effort, involvement of experts as well as community and stakeholders on same platform to take development work forward and to resolve planning issues; they have to work and think cohesively to arrive at some unanimous decision in spite of varied individual’s opinions. Then only we can create a society were majority of population is satisfied, not like debate which divides society, were even after the resolution of issue half of the segment still feel that there has been injustice because other segment of society has won in debate. It takes constructive criticism not the aggressive debate to build a vibrant society and strengthened nation. 

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