The Otis Redding Problem in Conservation

Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

-Otis Redding, (SITTIN’ ON) THE DOCK OF THE BAY

Why do Integrated Development and Conservation Projects (IDCPs) usually fail to deliver? The problem is what Bob Sutton calls the Otis Redding Problem. Too many objectives.

If a project in a poor country is designed to save endangered species, build local NGO capacity, fight infectious diseases, develop sustainable use of forest products, promote gender equality, and develop ecotourism, it has been designed for failure.

Why the proliferation of badly designed projects where nobody is individually responsible for doing anything for any one result?

Overly complex projects work well for intermediaries and middlemen, including the people who design and manage them. They get to spend the money. And on one hand, IDCPs are attractive to donors, who can say that they are promoting a lot of good things. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to pin failure on any one person, so nobody will ever be held accountable.

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