The diffusion of knowledge and skills is a normal social process that has gone on within and between nations at all times. But since World War ii particular effort has been made to stimulate this diffusion. The idea that the prosperous nations might aid the poorer ones through technical assistance has become the basis of large-scale international programs. In December 1946, the United Nations General Assembly instructed the Economic and Social Council to study the problem of furnishing economic, social, and cultural advice to member nations desiring such assistance, and since 1948 the United Nations has allocated a part of its regular budget to technical assistance. The Expanded Program of Technical Assistance under the United Nations and a major program of the United States government followed the 1949 “Point Four” address of President Harry S Truman. In this famous address President Truman said, “Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace. And the key to greater production is a wider and more vigorous application of modern scientific and technical knowledge” ( 1964, p. 115). Confidence that there were reservoirs of scientific and technical knowledge which could bring economic development to the poorer parts of the world was strong at the time and received further expression in the Colombo Plan for Economic Development in south and southeast Asia, which grew out of a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers held in January 1950. Programs of technical assistance have since spread widely and have grown substantially both in money expended and in numbers of people involved.
Estimates of the size of technical assistance programs are notoriously subject to international competition and depend, of course, on definitions of what may properly be included. Commonly, technical assistance is taken to include the supplying of expert and professional personnel to the developing countries; the training of nationals of these countries at home and through fellowship aid abroad; and research on scientific and technical problems undertaken by the aiding countries for the developing ones (as in research on tropical diseases or agricultural products). For 1961, expenditures by various nations have been estimated as follows: United States, $185 million; France, $138 million; Great Britain, $79.7 million; Germany, $42.6 million; Belgium, $39.7 million (France . . . 1963, annexe 12, p. 181, table 4). These expenditures typically are parts of aid programs which include substantial expenditures of other sorts. In the French government’s program in 1961, for example, about 21 per cent of the expenditures were devoted to “technical cooperation,” 61 per cent to capital equipment, and the remaining 18 per cent to other forms of financial aid to development, such as direct subsidies to foreign governments’ budgets (ibid., table 3). In U.S. government expenditures on aid, technical assistance has been a considerably smaller part of the total.
Table 1, based on information collected by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for European Cooperation and Development (OECD), gives estimates of the total numbers of persons working on technical assistance in the developing countries in 1962. These data yielded an
|Table 1 — International technical assistance by supplying country or organization, 1962|
|Number of persons|
|* Not available.|
|Source: Maddison 1964, p. 186.|
|France (including Algeria)||53,887|
|U.S.S.R. and other Sino-Soviet bloc||8,475|
|European Economic Community||457|
estimated world total of over 102,000, of whom about forty thousand were teachers.
Technical assistance through programs that bring students and trainees from developing countries for shorter or longer courses is extensive. An OECD estimate of the minimum number of such student-trainees in all countries in 1962 was 170,000. About a third of the students were on government or United Nations grants; the others were privately supported. Most of the training provided is at the post-secondary school level. In Great Britain, for example, it has been estimated that there were about fifty thousand full-time students and trainees in 1962/1963, and of these, about two-thirds of those helped by technical assistance programs were in universities, technical colleges, or teaching hospitals (Williams 1964, pp. 89-92).
Expenditures on research, consultation, surveys, and equipment are usually included in the total of expenditures on technical assistance, but it is not easy to get reliable comparisons or totals. A suggestion of the scale and character of this form of technical assistance may perhaps be given by noting that the British Department of Technical Cooperation had a total of £2.2 million in its 1963/ 1964 budget for those purposes, of which about £1.2 million was for expenditure in the developing countries (ibid., p. 101).
Not all of the diffusion of knowledge and skills from prosperous to poorer countries is dependent on official governmental or international programs, and not all of what in actual practice is called technical assistance is the diffusion of knowledge and skills. There is an important body of technical assistance by private organizations, religious and secular, which has a considerably longer history than do governmental programs and which continues on a large scale. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, pioneered technical assistance in the development of public health programs from the first decades of this century, and missions have played a major role in developing the educational systems and health services of many countries. It is also obvious that private business investment in developing countries provides considerable diffusion of skills and knowledge. Angus Maddison has estimated that there were perhaps 115,000 people brought by religious, philanthropic, and other private organizations to work in developing countries in 1962, and that business organizations brought another 50,000 executives and other highly qualified personnel (1964, pp. 12-14). Only a fraction of the efforts of these people can be regarded as technical assistance, but the numbers are considerable and the total effect may not be far from that achieved by governmental programs.
Whatever the importance of diffusion of knowledge and skills through nongovernmental activities, the character of modern technical assistance is fundamentally shaped by contemporary definitions of the relations of nations. Programs of technical assistance belong to an era that has seen ideas of popular sovereignty, self-determination, and equality extended to all mankind. These ideas have become a part of the accepted pattern of relations between richer and poorer nations. Although it is manifest that some nations are much richer and more powerful than others, these differences in wealth and power are no longer taken as inevitable, or even proper. The right or destiny of all nations ultimately to share in the prosperity displayed by the richer nations is an axiom of modern ideology, and the obligation of the richer to help the poorer is strongly urged and widely accepted. In the contemporary etiquette of international comparisons, one thus speaks of “developed” and “developing” nations, and careful efforts are made to avoid affront to the intrinsic worth of the “developing” nations. Indeed, the titles of governmental aid programs commonly avoid emphasis on “aid” and favor “cooperation”; the United States has had the International Cooperation Administration; France, the Ministry of Cooperation; and Britain, the Department of Technical Cooperation. In particular, references to “civilized” and “backward” nations are avoided, and doctrines of cultural relativity have more than social scientific currency. It is recognized that changes must be wrought in the developing countries to bring them the advantages of the developed countries, but a course is sought which does not obviously affront their cultures or civilizations. If it cannot be assumed that changes will be brought about merely by injections of capital, it can be represented that other importations are essentially technical—that is to say, not peculiarly and indelibly a part of the culture from which they are drawn or implying that the receiving culture must become a client of the donor. It is obvious that such a context invites stretching conceptions of what is “technical.”
The firm emphasis on the purely technical role of those who provide technical assistance that is found in United Nations doctrine and in other public discussions of the subject arises from other concerns as well. “Experts” are to refrain from political, commercial, and other self-interested activities, and their contributions are to be made on the initiative of the governments of the receiving countries. These requirements derive in part from sensitivity over past domination by colonial powers and fears of exploitation or indoctrination by business or other foreign interests. Colonialism has been, of course, a major vehicle for diffusion of knowledge, skills, and institutions from economically advanced to poorer countries. In the nineteenth century, men like Palmerston, Gladstone, and Livingstone envisaged the spread of trade as a prime vehicle of cultural diffusion, and they explicitly preferred it to the extension of political domination or outright colonialism. Their philosophy of “civilization by trade” had some merits, but it is hardly more popular in the developing countries today than is colonial domination. In important ways contemporary programs of technical assistance are attempts to secure the benefits of older forms of diffusion while avoiding domination and intrusion, and the character of these programs is shaped by reactions against past experiences.
The right of self-determination has, particularly in recent years, gained ascendancy over the notion that countries should meet certain conditions before they are ready for self-government and independence. Particularly in Africa, this has meant that many countries have come to independence before they had sufficient nationals trained to take over the governments, schools, and businesses that had been established in these countries during the colonial era. A notorious case is the former Belgian Congo, which at independence had a sophisticated array of industries and a complex government, but only about a score of Congolese university graduates. If many of these newly independent countries are to maintain existing institutions, continued use of foreign personnel for considerable periods is necessary. Measures to provide these personnel have been a regular feature of British, French, and Belgian policies of colonial devolution; in greater or lesser measure, the former colonial power has paid the costs of these people and has regarded them as part of its technical assistance program.
A notable result of this situation has been that large numbers of the people supplied to developing countries are not directly engaged in the new applications of technical knowledge for increased production which were envisaged in President Truman’s Point Four doctrine. They are carrying on as engineers, policemen, tax collectors, doctors, veterinary or agricultural officers, etc., much as they served under the colonial regimes. Many of them do not “advise” or “train counterparts”; they “do the job.” Thus, about half of the British government’s technical assistance expenditure of £25 million in 1962/1963 was spent on the Overseas Service Assistance Scheme, which pays part of the costs of British personnel employed in regular posts by overseas governments; in east Africa 90 per cent of British technical assistance in 1962/1963 was of this sort. [See Planning, Economic, article on development Planning.]
In actual practice, then, technical assistance programs are neither exclusively concerned with clearly technical matters nor only with teaching and advising. Their effectiveness does, nevertheless, depend on the skills and knowledge that can be transferred or developed, and these skills and knowledge must at some stage be acquired by nationals of the countries being assisted. Two fundamental concerns in technical assistance are thus with the marshaling and increase of relevant knowledge and expertise, and the devising of effective training programs. These subjects are discussed in the two following sections of this article. The possibilities of technical assistance also depend on social and political considerations, some of which derive from the international character of technical assistance, and others from the social changes that any innovation requires. The final section of this article deals with these questions.
Diffusion and increase of knowledge and skills The basic assumption of modern technical assistance is that there is a body of technical and scientific knowledge which can be effectively transferred across national boundaries, to the benefit of the receiving countries. An impressive effort to assess the potentials of existing knowledge for development was made at the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology in Development, held at Geneva in 1962; unfortunately, the conference papers were voluminous and no summary report was issued.
The technical assistance programs of various countries have also from time to time organized special investigations of the possibilities scientific knowledge offered for the benefit of particular areas or for the solution of special problems; thus, for example, in 1959 the American aid program financed a committee to seek possible scientific “breakthroughs” that could benefit African development. In general, the result of such assessments has been to point up the need for additional research to bring existing scientific knowledge to bear on the concrete problems of developing countries. Technical breakthroughs which are usable anywhere without significant adaptation—like the recent development of intrauterine devices as cheap and effective contraceptives—are rare. In this sense, the stock of usable scientific knowledge for development is often disappointingly small, and there is scope for technical assistance programs that may increase it.
Because of its overwhelming importance in most of the developing countries, the improvement of agriculture has been a major focus of technical assistance, and it offers an obvious field for the application of scientific and technical knowledge. While it might appear that there would be great reservoirs of immediately applicable knowledge in this field, there is a long history of overconfident and misguided efforts to improve traditional forms of agriculture. Studies like that of Pierre de Schlippe (1956) on the agriculture of the Zande tribe in the northeastern Congo have been needed to make clear that a large amount of valid knowledge on local agricultural possibilities may be accumulated through the empirical methods of non-literate societies, and that it is often difficult to provide anything better through existing scientific knowledge.
Because of the great variety of climates, soils, and ecological conditions found throughout the world, agricultural technology needs local adaptation. Most modern agricultural science has been developed in the north temperate zones, and the results are usually not directly applicable to the tropical climates, where a great part of the population of the developing countries lives. There are, indeed, many areas for which scientific agriculture has no prescriptions that can significantly increase agricultural productivity without inputs which are clearly beyond the resources of the people.
An appreciation of these facts is essential to understanding that some of the resistance to agricultural innovations which technical assistance programs have encountered is not due to blind traditionalism or apathy. Various recent studies have indicated that the adoption of improved practices is characteristically inhibited by the fact that they involve risks for people who have very low incomes and resources. Losses that would be tolerable at higher levels of income can be disastrous for subsistence cultivators. As long as there is an appreciable probability of such disastrous losses, it must be considered rational behavior for cultivators to proceed cautiously. McKim Marriott (1952) has suggested that one source of resistance to improved varieties is that they may involve the loss of the secondary advantages of the established varieties. In a study on India he found that higher-yielding varieties of wheat were resisted by the peasantry because they had a less usable form of straw as well as other disadvantages, and these secondary uses were important to peasants at such low levels of living. An accumulating body of experience now strongly suggests that new practices in agriculture must give very markedly superior results over established practices if quite rational resistance is to be overcome. It has been suggested, for example, that crop yields which are not less than 50 per cent greater than traditional yields are necessary for rapid adoption of improved but more expensive varieties of seed and for the introduction of fertilizers. Fortunately, research can sometimes meet such severe challenges and produce leaps forward.
The need for agricultural research in tropical conditions has been recognized for a long time and was fostered by the colonial powers through such organizations as the British Colonial Research Council and the French Organisation pour la Recherche Scientifique et Technique d’Outre-Mer (Hailey  1957, pp. 1600 ff.). Support of research stations at various places throughout the world continues as part of the technical assistance programs of former colonial powers. It has also been prominent in the work of private foundations; the successes of the Rockefeller Foundation’s maize and wheat improvement programs in Latin America have encouraged similar ventures elsewhere, notably in the combined Rockefeller and Ford Foundation support of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.
Agricultural research represents a type of technical assistance in which a relatively small number of highly qualified experts may affect the performance of large numbers of productive units, from peasant holdings to plantations. Lack of trained scientists typically has meant that many of the developing countries are unable to carry out such research for themselves, although in the future they intend to do so, and training programs to this end are normal complements to research programs. Numerous difficult problems exist in devising organizations and career patterns which make possible the attraction of good research talent into technical assistance of this type; organizations that existed under colonial regimes have broken down in the subsequent period of independence because it is impossible to staff them satisfactorily, and it is probable that considerably less technical assistance has been available in this field than is needed.
Research on tropical diseases and public health problems is another classic field in which effective aid to development has had to be based on the accumulation of new knowledge. Technical assistance continues to provide staff and support for medical research organizations, some of them established during the colonial era and others—notably in the field of population control—of more recent origin.
In industrial, as in agricultural, development, the concreteness of effective techniques raises barriers to the easy transfer of knowledge. S. H. Frankel has remarked in his Economic Impact on Under-developed Societies: “Technical knowledge, the machine and capital goods in general never exist in the abstract but always only in the relatively fleeting form suited to the momentary situation and to that complex of unique problems to which they have been adapted. . . . That is why they cannot be readily transferred from one situation to another” ( 1959, p. 24). Thus, as with agriculture, the effective growth of industry in developing countries requires extensive study of local conditions and the adaptation of techniques; therefore, feasibility studies—surveys of resources, facilities, and markets—are needed if prudent investments are to occur. It is commonly the case that developing countries lack the specially trained manpower to carry out such investigations. The United Nations Special Fund for Economic Development was established to meet this need, and there are numerous private consulting organizations which have been employed by the technical assistance programs of various countries to perform these functions. They are, indeed, often a necessary preliminary to successful applications for financial aid. Engineers, agronomists, hydrologists, and the like normally dominate the composition of such teams, although economists are increasingly employed. Many of the questions which will affect the success or failure of development projects are essentially sociological, but it is not usual to depend on professional social scientists in assessing such matters.
While technical assistance can unquestionably supply much relevant knowledge for development, either through new research or by drawing on accumulated stores, it is also normal that there are residual uncertainties against which no expertise is infallible. Even in precise technical fields these uncertainties may be significant. They grow very large in many of the subjects on which technical assistance is sought. Development programs commonly call for land reform, settlement schemes, the development of cooperatives, reorganization of taxation systems, and new budgeting or personnel procedures. All of these subjects are ones in which expertise of various sorts exists in various places, and it is rightfully sought and used by technical assistance programs. But it is usually not the sort of expertise that is based on exact scientific knowledge or firmly secure principles. Obviously, a great part of the effective functioning of the developed world rests not on clear deductions from general scientific principles but on an accumulation of experience from pragmatic efforts. Even precise techniques based on exact knowledge depend on much less precise considerations as to what a viable context for their application may be. The ironies that commonly surround the use of the word “expert” thus have abundant justification. But imprecise competence is not incompetence, and that part of the practical planning of technical assistance programs which is concerned with devising selection procedures, orientation, placement, and sufficient lengths of service to maximize the effective transfer of expertise is not futile. The growing literature on the process of technical assistance is providing an accumulation of ideas and case material on these diffuse but vital matters (Bock 1954; Erasmus 1961; Foster 1962).
How effective aid by an expert will be depends on his capacity to make generalized use of his competence. Among the familiar forms of failure in technical assistance are efforts to transfer concrete forms and methods from the expert’s home country to a new one. An effective performance must be adapted to the new scene and must in this sense be a creative achievement, broadly comparable in character to the efforts of scientific researchers in technical assistance. An adequate supply of people who are capable of such achievements in the multifarious fields that technical assistance attempts to serve, and who are available for such service, is not easily found. Indeed, the economist I. M. D. Little, in a recent survey of aid to Africa, has concluded that the developed countries are “scraping the bottom of the barrel” (1964, p. 56).
Better recruitment methods and more ample rewards may increase the supply, but even with the best of experts the over-all difficulty and obscurity of the development process remain as barriers and limitations to the possibilities of technical assistance. Technical improvements in special fields are obviously not enough to bring development. Institutions must be built and the whole interdependent system of a society’s functioning shaped to sustain higher levels of performance. As long as there is no precise understanding of the total process of growth, there must be limitations on the possible effectiveness of technical assistance. The optimism that has infused the setting up of technical assistance programs must thus be tempered by realization of the evident limitations on what even the most highly developed countries can supply.
Technical assistance in manpower training
Since the aim of the developing countries is not merely development but development executed by their own people under their own control, technical assistance is inherently concerned with education and training. It must not only apply modern knowledge but teach it as well. While technical assistance programs in fact supply large numbers of people in operating posts where they often have no explicit responsibilities for training (or innovation), this is not regarded as a satisfactory situation by either donor or recipient countries. An Asian study group on technical assistance, composed of leading figures from Asian planning organizations and meeting at Bangkok in January 1965, declared that technical assistance had a dual purpose: to develop self-sufficiency in the manpower required for national development and to develop institutions that would accelerate self-sustained growth.
This emphasis on self-sufficiency sometimes leads to conflict with desired standards of achievement and efficiency when experts and technicians are brought into a country to start an institution or execute a development project. David Lilienthal has described the conflict as follows: “If . . . the foreign managers and technicians must . . . place increasing reliance on local people in planning and carrying out the work, it will, as they see it, be virtually impossible to make a physical success of the project by any standards of speed, economy, and quality of work they are accustomed to. Too often, therefore, lip service is given to the principle of training, but actual training is ignored. . . .” In accordance with the dominant principles of thinking about technical assistance, Lilienthal denounces this tendency and argues: “If in fact a project cannot be planned and carried out with this kind of local participation and training of human skills without actually jeopardizing the physical work, then it must be seriously questioned whether the project is worth doing at all, worth doing for the country, for the foreign lender, or for the foreign business venturer. . . . This is a bitter lesson to learn, but one that experience is forcing us to learn” (1964, p. 13).
The techniques and processes that a nation can make use of at any given time and the institutions it can effectively operate depend on the state of development of that nation’s manpower. Similarly, the pace and character of the future development it can achieve depend on the prospect of improving the competence of its manpower. Although foreign aid agencies, as Lilienthal regrets, sometimes push projects that go beyond the readiness of the country’s manpower, inherited institutions and impatient ambition also encourage nations to maintain or develop undertakings before they can be effectively manned by their own people. The need for temporary operational technical assistance is one consequence and may not be repugnant to national pride if its early end is foreseeable. Realistic schedules for the retirement of such operational assistance require that development be planned in accordance with the anticipated growth of trained manpower. Assessment of the manpower sources of a country is now generally regarded as an essential part of national planning and a basis for sound technical assistance programs. India, the United Arab Republic, Tanzania, and various other countries have gone far in the manpower budgeting of development plans, drawing heavily on technical expertise from Western countries, particularly that which grew out of experience in coping with manpower shortages during World War n. The provision of experts in this field has been an important part of the work of the International Labour Organisation, the Ford Foundation, and other technical assistance agencies.
The needs for manpower development of a country can be roughly divided into the need for training and the need for education. Training is here conceived as the preparation for a particular functional role, and it presumably has to be based on some minimal levels of general education and experience. Precisely what levels are satisfactory minimums for profitable training are not easy to determine, and lively controversies over them seem to inhere in the struggles for self-confidence and rapid progress in the developing countries. These controversies are unlikely ever to be resolved by rational argument, although one important function of manpower analysis is to provide guidance on the issues involved. Technical assistance cannot avoid these issues, since it must seek to provide training where it can be effective and must turn to more basic educational preparation where that is deficient.
There is a sense in which the ideal forms of technical assistance are ones that involve a minimum of training. If an innovation brought by an expert is intrinsically valuable and well adapted to the skills of the society, a demonstration or a plan may suffice for large-scale results—a new variety of seed may be widely adopted because of its demonstrated results, or an organizational proposal may be accepted and put into effect. More commonly, however, a substantial measure of training is required. If technical assistance is to be rationally deployed and to have a significant effect on the nation’s functioning, this training has to be carefully planned. The number of acceptable foreign experts likely to be available in fields like peasant agriculture is far too limited for them to be the direct agents of innovations that require training. Technical assistance must then turn to “training the trainers,” as it often does.
Widespread and significant effects may also be achieved through the training of those who determine policy or give executive direction to organizations. This sort of training may sometimes be carried out in specially arranged courses, but there are obvious advantages in relevance and directness if it can be done on the job. Where an expert is brought in to set up or direct an organization or institution, it is normally the desire of both the supplying agency and the recipient country that the replacement of this expert by an identified national be foreseen. Hence the pattern of counterpart training, which has been orthodox technical assistance practice. Ideally, the counterpart is taught directly on the job, but if no suitable candidates are immediately available, prospective ones may be identified and given preliminary courses. The difficulties in carrying through this ideal pattern of counterpart training are, however, considerable, and experience has often been discouraging. There seem to be several reasons. In the first place, the selection of suitable counterparts depends on the existence of a reasonably ample supply of people with a basis in education and experience onto which the specific training can be added in a limited time. Where such supplies are thin, as is often the case, mediocre or only partially qualified people have to be taken, or if good people can be obtained, they are likely to shift to other opportunities after a brief time. Some of the most discouraging experiences in technical assistance have occurred when sets of counterparts were repeatedly trained, only to transfer to other jobs. Moreover, it is probably only in the most narrowly specific technical functions that a counterpart can learn to do as the expert did. The expert is operating in a new setting, and even if he makes a creative response and adapts accordingly, the counterpart taking over from him will have to make adjustments simply because he is a member of the society and not a visiting expert. And finally, the difficulties of inserting substantial numbers of experts into the operative functioning of a country (for reasons discussed more fully in the next section) mean that only rather limited amounts of on-the-job counterpart training can be effectively provided. There is, of course, an earnest effort to see that experts are placed at points of strategic consequence, and hence it sometimes occurs that counterpart training has an importance quite out of proportion to the number of people involved.
The difficulty of counterpart training is one of the various difficulties that have been experienced in trying to develop effective organizations in milieus that are generally short of trained people. Efforts to develop segments of a government (frequently, a plan of organization) or stages in a production system have often been frustrated by the fact that other sectors lacked trained people. This acts as a stimulus for technical assistance programs to be more broadly concerned with the total supply of a nation’s manpower and the basic educational attainment on which specialized accomplishment must be built.
The figures given earlier indicate that a large part of technical assistance goes into the provision of university courses for exchange students and that teachers make up the largest category of people supplied to the developing countries. Some of these teachers give instruction in technical subjects, but the largest numbers are engaged in secondary school or university teaching and thus are involved in broader forms of education. In many African countries and a few others this concentration of technical assistance in education is clearly related to the manpower needs of development. Many countries are grossly deficient in the numbers of educated people required to meet the high-level manpower needs of development, and they have lacked sufficient teachers to staff the institutions that might produce qualified people. The large programs of educational assistance provided by the United Nations Special Fund, the U.S. Peace Corps, the French government, and other agencies have their rationale in these considerations, and they are supported by capital programs of the World Bank, the European Common Market, Fonds Européens de Développement pour les Pays et Territoires d’Outre-Mer (FEDOM), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other agencies.
The development of education at the appropriate pace and of the right quality to supply the manpower needs of a developing country is one of the most difficult and uncertain tasks of development strategy. Frederick Harbison and Charles H. Myers, W. Arthur Lewis, the various experts associated with the Mediterranean development studies of the OECD, and others have attempted to assess the numbers of educated people needed at various levels of development and to chart courses of growth for individual countries (Harbison & Myers 1964; 1965; France . . . 1963; Lewis 1961; 1965).
But not only is sound strategy difficult to discern; it is also obvious that there are heavy pressures to expand education in the developing countries that arise more from individual ambition than from national need, and that there is a readiness of supplying countries to give educational assistance because it is relatively straightforward, acceptable, and a means of cultural influence, rather than because of its indisputable priority. There is thus some danger that technical assistance to education may be unduly favored, leading to the neglect of more difficult forms of assistance and to the aggravation of the unemployment problems that afflict the developing countries.
Social and political problems
We have seen that what technical assistance can do depends on the knowledge and skills it can bring and on the state of development of the receiving country’s manpower. It also depends on what the peoples or governments of supplying and receiving countries are willing and able to accept in obligations and mutual relationships.
Learning and adopting the techniques of the modern world typically involve costs in the abandonment of old ways and in the recognition of superior foreign skills. It has been stressed above that much resistance to innovation is based on reasonable doubts about the superiority of the recommended innovations. But whatever the scope that must be given to the rational calculation of advantage in resistance to change, it is clear that social and cultural patterns pose many obstacles too. A considerable part of technical assistance programs has consisted of the direct attempt to improve the livelihood of people in traditional rural settings, and the complex problems encountered in such efforts have been studied by many social scientists. A large and growing literature displays the detailed meaning of the proposition that technical innovation means social and cultural change (Spicer 1952; Erasmus 1961; Foster 1962).
Particular attention has been given to the problems of introducing new health practices or medical treatments and new methods of economic production. It has been found again and again that innovations of these sorts encounter existing definitions of the situation which they must supersede or with which they must be meaningfully reconciled. Moreover, change affects prestige, leadership, and vested interests. For example, in the Ivory Coast an improved method of extracting palm oil caused a change in the distribution of income between men and women, and was therefore resisted (Boutillier & Dupire 1958, pp. 83-87).
Successful innovation may bring improved living standards and status to some individuals and not to others, who feel they should share the same rewards and status. Charles Erasmus tells how Haitian peasants have feared to change their farming methods or living standards, lest they arouse the envy and jealousy of their neighbors (1961, pp. 80-81).
The difficulties of isolating the benefits and incidental effects of a technical change are particularly pronounced in traditional settings, where economic activities are deeply enmeshed in kinship and community ties. This enmeshing is one important reason why subsistence economies have been more resistant to change than economies where money exchange plays a large role. But although social and cultural patterns pose particularly formidable barriers to change in traditional, rural settings, basically similar resistance occurs in all developing societies. Even in the “modern” sectors of those societies, there are institutionalized patterns and distributions of rewards that are affected by innovation. For example, the improved functioning of a civil service or a system of taxation is normally not a purely technical matter; the effectiveness of new technical procedures is almost invariably tied to new performance standards which may require demotions or dismissals for some and new levels of effort for others. The exaction of these costs and losses must ultimately be the responsibility of nationals of the country; but the costs and losses also pose problems for the foreign technical assistance expert and contribute to the difficulties of maintaining an over-all political context in which technical assistance is possible.
It is evident that programs of technical assistance involve delicate political and psychological relationships between the supplying and the receiving countries. In official doctrine, as described above, the initiative in requests for technical assistance must lie with the governments of receiving countries. The Expanded Program of Technical Assistance of the United Nations has been very literal in its interpretation of this doctrine. Priorities are left to the requesting countries, and broadly scattered assistance has been supplied to many countries. A purely responsive policy of this sort has been criticized on the grounds that it leaves the difficult questions of development policy to governments that, by the very fact that they need technical assistance, are dubiously equipped to analyze the questions. If technical assistance is to be more than a gesture of international good will or a pursuit of short-run political advantage, the suppliers must be concerned with maximizing the effectiveness of their assistance in development. If they act on this concern, they cannot be unselectively responsive to the requests they get.
The obverse situation, in which the receiving country does not dictate what technical assistance will be supplied but passively accepts what is offered, is little recognized in official doctrine but is in fact a significant problem in aid programs. A familiar basis of misgivings about aid programs, and about technical assistance in particular, lies in the fear that poor countries will become permanent wards of richer countries and will not in fact strive tor the selfreliant independence they claim. Normally, the suppliers of assistance seek something between supine receptivity to and truculent disregard for their aims and judgment. This is the substantive basis for the theme of “technical cooperation,” which indeed is much more than a flattering label for an essentially asymmetrical relationship. If a technical assistance program is to have more than trivial or ephemeral effect in a developing country, it must be based on intimate cooperation. There must be good understanding of the country by the suppliers of assistance and sympathetic appreciation of the aims and competence of the nationals. An admission of the need for technical assistance is in some measure an admission of inadequacy by the receivers, and if this admission is not to generate resentment or irresponsibility, it must be accompanied by a balancing self-confidence and trust that assistance will work toward ultimate autonomy, not subjugation.
The actual practice of technical assistance, of course, shows many departures from the ideal of continuing technical cooperation. The delicacy of the relationships of dependency that are inseparable from technical assistance commonly makes for unrealistic haste and demoralizingly short perspectives. Operational technical assistance is particularly vulnerable to quick termination; its only ready defense is its effectiveness, and effectiveness is hardly as easy to demonstrate as is manifest dependence on foreign competence. Figures cited earlier showed that the largest numbers of people engaged in operational technical assistance in the early 1960s were the French and British in their former colonial dependencies, and most of them had been held over from the colonial era. The policies of France and Britain, like those of their former dependencies, have had to be that this operational assistance should be brought to an end as soon as possible, but not necessarily very rapidly where trained nationals are scarce. In fact, the decline in the number of such personnel has typically been more rapid than was planned or expected or, indeed, than has been optimal for development. It would seem that, despite much optimistic planning and relatively amicable negotiations over independence, it has been difficult to hold to the expected withdrawal schedules for former colonial administrators and professionals.
There is also likely to be imperfect agreement on aims and priorities between the suppliers and the receivers of technical assistance. What is a “felt need” to the receiving country may appear as misguided or even fatuous to the potential supplier. What the suppliers think the country needs and what they are ready to give may be resisted, for good or bad reasons; just as experts frequently have difficulty persuading peasants that they can improve their performance and that they need outside help to do so, so also do the experts meet difficulties in persuading governments that they are failing to do things as well as they could with competent help. While there is an evident convergence of interest between donors and recipients in wanting technical assistance to be effective and significant, the measures that are applied inevitably involve differences. Suppliers are under pressure to show tangible results, and this often leads, particularly among the smaller suppliers, to concentration on limited fields or specific projects that may not represent an optimal allocation of resources for the country’s development. The cynical observation that each supplier “has to have his monument” is frequently justified.
The effort to bring together the multifarious needs of a country with the possibilities of assistance has contributed to the emphasis on national planning that characterizes the developing countries. Under the Kennedy administration, it became the guiding doctrine of the U.S. government’s aid program to insist on national plans into which U.S. aid could be fitted. The importance and difficulty of national planning mean that technical assistance agencies favor the assignment of experts to national planning. For example, the 1963 review of French aid policy, known as the Jeanneney Report, recommended: “Outside of teaching, the only French technical assistance personnel who should continue are high level consultants.” The report went on to argue that three sorts of assistance were particularly to be recommended: advice in planning, the training of administrative cadres, and the study of industrial programs (France . . . 1963, pp. 82, 94).
These sorts of technical assistance, favored by other suppliers of technical assistance as well, raise many delicate problems. It is, of course, the common doctrine of technical assistance that policy should be determined by the officials and leaders of the receiving country and that the role of technical assistance should be essentially advisory. Thus, in an economic planning program, foreign economists may be used as technical experts, but decisions on the program are the responsibility of senior civil servants, a political minister, or a ministerial committee. It is, of course, difficult to draw a clear line between technical advice, advice on policy, and the actual determination of policy. As Chester Barnard and others have emphasized, the executive functions of an organization are in fact very extensively diffused, and unless there is reason to be concerned about this fact, it occasions no special notice. It may, however, be a serious point of sensitivity in a developing country. If officials are themselves inexperienced and unsure, they may be uncertain of their own capacity to determine policy. They may in particular find it difficult to take the initiative necessary to direct advisory services. This leaves initiative to the advisor, and great delicacy may be required to avoid the fact or appearance of manipulation. Repetitive emphasis of the principle that the foreign advisor works under the guidance of local people may be seen as an indication of the difficulty of these relationships.
Although the ideology of technical assistance puts emphasis on its dissociation from aims of political influence, there can hardly be such dissociation in actual practice if programs on a large scale are mounted. In fact, the distribution of aid and technical assistance follows substantially the established patterns of political relationship (French aid concentrating in its former colonies and British in the Commonwealth) or current political concern (American aid in countries bordering the communist world). Even if technical assistance personnel are not improperly attempting political influence, the presence of large numbers from a single country may be seen as lingering colonialism or as a threat of neocolonialism. In Vietnam, for example, concern with such impressions led to a policy of dispersing the American personnel throughout the country (Montgomery 1962, pp. 172 ff).
Suppliers of bilateral technical assistance frankly admit that their concentration on particular countries is dictated by political concerns. Similarly, policies of extending cultural influence through aid to education and exchange programs are openly avowed. Since it seems inevitable that the foreign policy of suppliers of bilateral aid will to some extent affect the direction of their aid, with resulting tension in their relations to the receivers, there has been pressure to put more technical assistance on a multilateral basis, through the United Nations or otherwise. Continued discussion of the relative merits of multilateral and bilateral assistance has left doubt about the wisdom and feasibility of making any sharp changes in practice. Where a concern with particular developing countries exists on the part of a developed power, it is open to question whether the costs of dependency are more serious than the sacrifices in reduced assistance that exclusive recourse to multilateral sources might entail. Policies are currently in flux and it is not easy to see how they may evolve, but it seems likely that the political acceptability of assistance programs, both in the supplying and in the receiving countries, will be a weightier determinant of the outcome than will the intrinsic advantages of the other policies for aiding development.
Francis X. Sutton
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"Technical Assistance." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 25, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/technical-assistance
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