Critical thinking is a concept which we have all heard but rarely understood. Critical thinking can be argued to be particularly important when it comes to a context of development. This does not mean that critical thinking is always embraced, however, quite often it is rather something aspired to put into practice rather as opposed to concrete action. Many actors in the field of development are often too busy providing services and aid to focus on a more thoughtful and holistic approach; and therefore forget to ‘hunt for assumptions’ . (Brookfield, no date). There are a number of factors that can enable true transformation in a development context to occur and several pitfalls which more often than not prevent this from happening.
Critical thinking can be defined as “the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment” (Edwards Glacer 2017).Critical thinking of any given situation can lead to critical analysis. To think critically it comes down to facts, what you know and the ability to make a decision based on the analysis of the facts you know. The more you now allows to to make better well-informed decision overall. Critical thinking can and should be applied to every situation in life, when attempting to think critically it is important to keep in mind a number of questions namely: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How. (Lee Watanbee-Crocket,2016)
The questions mentioned before should be applied in a development context in a number of ways:
- Who – Who will this action harm/benefit, Who will be directly affected, Who should be consulted, Who will implement this action.
- What – What alternative approaches are there, What is most/least important, What is the best/worst case scenario, What obstacles may be faced.
- Where – Where has similar action been carried out before, Where to find capital, Where is this needed most.
- When – When is the best time to implement this, When could this cause problems, When will we know if it has been a success or failure,
- Why – Why should we be doing this, Why is this relevant to us, Why has this not been addressed before, Why have we allowed this to happen
- How – Will we approach this safely, How does this affect us in the long run, How does this benefit/disrupt us, How do we see the affects in the future.
The questions outlined above are questions which should be applied to any given situation in development. This ensures that the most vulnerable can be protected. Thinking suspiciously is important as it allows actors to prepare for the worst-case scenario. This is not to say that pessimism should be encouraged in development planning but rather to be prepared for any situation from the ground up. This is why it is also once again to reiterate the importance of viewing development practitioners as facilitators and not as experts. Development practitioners need to be placed in situations where they can develop their critical thinking, this can be done through ‘hunting assumptions’, Brookfield defines ‘hunting assumptions’ as “Trying to discover what our assumptions are, and then trying to judge when, and how far, these are accurate, is something that happens every time critical thinking occurs.”. (Brookfield, no date). Assumptions must be found, identified and analyzed; it must be found how far they stretch and how valid they are. Our assumptions are built into our upbringing, they are not however solid, they adapt and change as we do, often through adolescence or becoming part of new social groups and surroundings. For example, if you were brought up in the UK, you would have certainly built-in assumptions of patriarchy, or in India, certain assumptions about other castes.
There are a number of factors that can prevent or hinder critical thinking. Critical thinking is something that we would all like to put into play every day but often do not because of various hurdles specific to development. Actors tend to rely on traditional education to aid them which falls short in many scenarios by being far too linear. Academic and technical knowledge is far more accessible, however, is limited due to the specific contexts where it was/can be applied. Rather actors should build up a base of knowledge from exposure to multicultural environments, Work experience, life experience and so on. Most actors in development rather are too busy trying to busy spending limited time and resources to bring about change than to think about a situation in a truly critical and analytical way. Critical thinking takes time, money and resources, factors quite alien to the development industry.
Critical thinking is integral to implementing effective and holistic development. Actors must look at situations, taking all factors and contexts into account. This can be done by continually applying the critical thinking questions outlined above. It is true that there are numerous factors contributing to the prevention of critical thinking. This is why specific critical analysis training should be given to all involved. One factor contributing to the prevention of critical thought practice is the lack of resources, this would, of course, be for the benefit of all parties involved in the long term as investing in the pursuit of critical thinking would lead to saving in numerous ways, including assets.