The WIDE research questions

The research domain is modernisation, continuity and change in Ethiopia’s rural communities since 1991, with a focus on the roles played by development interventions since 2003.

Research questions

  • Key features of the communities at the time of the research
  • Continuities and changes since the mid-1990s
  • Longer-term community trajectories  – where have they come from and where might they be going in the next few years?
  • Differences made to community trajectories by development interventions since 2003
  • How did impacts of interventions vary among different types of community and why?
  • How social interactions, relationships and processes across the development interface affected the implementation and achievements of government & donor programmes
  • Impacts of modernisation as a whole, and recent development interventions in particular, on the lives of the different kinds of people who live in the communities?
  • How did what happened fit with government and donor models of how development should happen?
The WIDE research approach

Since 1994 the WIDE research approach has been characterised by:

  • a long-term perspective;
  • a focus at community level;
  • a qualitative and case-based methodology;
  • a complexity social science approach read more.

were conceptualised as open and dynamic complex socio-material systems moving through time and co-evolving with other nested, encompassing, and over-lapping complex systems read more.

This complexity social science approach encouraged attention to:

  • what the communities were like and how they worked in 1994/5, 2003, and 2010/13;
  • change and continuity in the trajectories of each community in the period 1995-2010/13;
  • the potential different trajectories of the communities into the future.
Complexity approach – seven perspectives on the evolving communities

Complex systems can be described from multiple perspectives; we used seven to guide the questions that we asked. One looked at the community as a whole, and another at the community in its wider context. The other five ‘de-constructed’ the communities in different ways:

  • the evolving community eco-system: the socio-material system of place and people read more;
  • five evolving and inter-penetrating functional sub-systems which are simultaneously domains of power, institutional settings and fields of action – family, society, economy, culture, politics read more;
  • different kinds of open and dynamic complex household system following household life cycles read more;
  • different kinds of open and dynamic people – genderaged biologically-constituted social actors growing older read more;
  • different kinds of social interaction in the context of durable structures of inequality read more.

Complex systems evolve through time and their past is co-responsible for their current state; in interpreting and analysing the longitudinal data we used synchronic and diachronic perspectives

The synchronic approach to communities
  • Theoretical frameworks arising from the seven perspectives were used to design the set of research instruments, the choice of fieldwork respondents, and the analytic frameworks for interpreting and analysing the qualitative data.
  • Each research visit to the WIDE communities produced ‘snapshots’ focusing on a short period of time, providing thick descriptions of each of the communities, and the chance to use comparative case-based analyses of the data.
  • In comparative analyses we have explored similarities and differences in a range of community features, allowing us to (1) identify common mechanisms at work in all the communities; (2) classify the communities into different kinds or types depending on the topic of interest; and (3) pick out the factors underlying the differences among the types.
  • The data were also used to consider the way the communities worked as a whole under the influence of community-specific configurations of internal and external control parameters . see below for more
  • The synchronic analysis of the WIDE3 data has also produced many policy relevant research outputs available on the Publications page.
The diachronic approach to communities
  • Communities are spatially, economically, politically, culturally and historically located in wider complex systems. Community trajectories can change direction as a result of internally-initiated changes, linked internal and contextual changes, or big changes in context.
  • Control parameters of complex systems are those aspects of its internal structure and context which, working together as a configuration, have a governing influence on its state at a particular point in time. Different parameters are dominant in different kinds of communities and can change through time. A significant change in one parameter is likely to lead to adaptation in others.
  • We identified ten control parameter areas as important for guiding the trajectories of these rural communities and used the WIDE data from 1995, 2003 and 2010-13 to assess the trajectories of each of the communities read more.
  • We used the framework to draw some conclusions about how significant rural social change happens read more.
  • The data from the three rounds have also been used to explore many aspects of community change and continuity between 1995 and 2010/13.
  • For example, changes in the family, society, economy, culture and politics; changes in people’s ideas and practices; changes in development interventions see the three Final Reports for more.
Development interventions

were conceptualised as dynamic open complex socio-material systems which are inserted into fluid community systems with the intention of bringing changes to people, institutions and the physical landscape.

In 2013 we identified 103 different interventions potentially entering the WIDE3 communities see list here.

Development interventions combine macro-level design and monitoring and evaluation with an implementation chain which fans out from the Federal Government, through Regional Governments, zones, wereda and kebeles.

They intersect and co-evolve with government bureaucracies at different hierarchical levels, and with other development interventions, community sub-systems, and in some cases with donor and NGO bureaucracies.

The complexity social science approach to development interventions encouraged attention to:

  • ways in which interventions are intended to change community control parameters;
  • the development interface where paid government officials, unpaid volunteers in official government positions, and different kinds of ordinary community members interact in relation to each intervention;
  • the ways in which at the community level each development intervention system inter-sects and co-evolves with the community system, relevant functional sub-systems, and the other development intervention systems operating in the community;
  • how interactions among different interventions can involve synergies and antergies;
  • how the success of an individual intervention depends partly on how well it connects with the place, people, and functional sub-systems in the particular community; development interface disconnects may be material, cultural and/or related to time rhythms;
  • how theories of change implicit in an intervention include assumptions about: what social actors will do; institutional contexts; the human, material social and cultural resources available; which mechanisms of change will be effective; what the outcomes will be;
  • why development interventions are never implemented as planned.

Read more

Research instruments and fieldwork
  • The theoretical frameworks for place, people, family, economy, society, culture, polity were used to produce a list of modernisation variates which were the focus of the research instruments see list here.
  • The instruments were organised in modules which in all three stages of WIDE3 provided wereda and kebele perspectives; community histories since 2003; in-depth household interviews; interviews with young people; and interviews with key informants. Other modules varied across the three stages. The modules will be available on the website in due course
  • In each community trained male and female social scientists conducted separate interviews, many providing different perspectives on the same questions. Interviewees included rich, middle-wealth and poor men, women and youngsters, government employees working in the wereda and kebele, government volunteers from the community holding kebele Cabinet, Council, Committee and other official positions, leaders of community-initiated organisations, elders, religious leaders, clan leaders, model farmers, investors, traders, other business people, skilled workers, daily labourers, returned migrants, ex-soldiers, traditional health workers, and various kinds of vulnerable and excluded people.
Case-based data interpretation and analysis

Examples of different kinds of case include:

  • complex social systems as cases: e.g. communities; households; people; iddir; clans;
  • domains of power/fields of action/functional sub-systems as cases: e.g. livelihood systems; cultural repertoires; community management systems;
  • complex social processes as cases: e.g. female circumcision; migration;
  • modernisation features as cases: e.g. irrigation; urbanisation;
  • development interventions as cases: e.g. internal road programmes; local education interventions.

The interpretation and analysis process began with the writing of individual book-length community case studies find the community reports here.

Comparison of community and other types of cases involved sorting them into types on the basis of the data about the case of interest. This process produced many interesting findings about similarities and differences among the communities and the factors lying behind them.

A further step was to look for patterned connections with parameters identified as potentially important through theoretical argument, for example community remoteness, livelihood system, religion, household poverty, etc.

Research answers

Over the three Stages these have included:

  • many empirical conclusions – as the three Final Reports show;
  • many policy discussion documents and powerpoint presentations find here soon;
  • new theoretical frameworks see the Methodology Annexes in the three Final Reports.
  • some new conceptual directions – for example in Stage 2 considering policy-relevant variates such as irrigation and internal roads as cases which can be typed and taking this insight further in Stage 3;
  • establishing the importance of durable structures of inequality in these rural communities;
  • the development of substantive theory in relation to rural social change;
  • improvements to research methods and fieldwork practice after each Stage;
  • new research questions.

The trajectory of Ethiopia WIDE 1994-2019: where has it come from? and where might it be going?

WIDE Methodology 2016 – which contains

Stage 3 Final report Annex on Methodology April 2014

Stage 3 Inception Methodology paper April 2013

Stage 2 Final report Annex on Methodology February 2013

Stage 2 Inception Methodology paper January 2012

Stage 1 Final report Annex on Methodology August 2010

Stage 1 Inception Methodology paper December 2009

Book chapter 2014 ‘Researching Social Change and Continuity: a Complexity-Informed Study of Twenty Rural Community Cases in Ethiopia 1994-2015’ P. Bevan.

Powerpoint presentation 2014 ‘Change and continuity in rural Ethiopia 1994 (and before) to 2013 (and beyond): a longitudinal study of twenty communities using complexity methods’ ESRC seminars