I regularly amuse myself, especially in other countries, with making observations about people’s behaviour.
Everybody makes these observations. And are often eager to share them with compatriots or other expats: “Can you believe what I saw them do!!??!!”.
But have you ever been thinking that such observations may be useful to your work?
That they may be just as good a guideline as any country report?
Such observations can be even more useful when you compare countries. Making you understand why what worked in one country may not in another.
Observed Differences Between two “C” Countries: Colombia and Cambodia
In Colombia, most street vendors and taxi drivers have change. In Cambodia never.
Walking the streets in the city centre of Phnom Penh meant you constantly had to look down, wading in garbage, dog’s pooh, and other “unnameable” that had been lying there for a long time. Colombians litter too, but many more do actually use the litter boxes.
In Colombia they have recycling, in Cambodia not.
Cambodia, like other Southeast Asian countries, is tremendously noisy. Music or TV in homes, shops or restaurants is always extremely loud. Not to mention the local karaoke bar. In Colombia, despite its inhabitants’ love of music, I never experienced that kind of noise. I even read an article in a local newspaper warning about the negative health effects of constant noise.
Specific Observations versus General Mentalities
These observations say a lot about general mentalities, that may have a bearing on any sector you work in.
Having change or not says a lot about the ability to plan ahead, and being prepared.
Setting aside a small amount of money for change generates more income.
Generally, littering can be a parameter for how well the population understand or care about the consequences of their actions for themselves or others. The same regards high level of noise.
More specifically, littering increases the risk of catching a disease, or ground water pollution. High levels of noise may lead to high blood pressure, and will have a damaging effect on your hearing, especially in young children.
Considering Cambodians’ inability to handle their waste, it is no surprise they do not have any systems for recycling. Hence, a recycling campaign that may work in Colombia, is less likely to succeed in Cambodia.
Furthermore, a country wading in garbage, have little awareness on environmental issues. At all levels. Talking about taking care of the environment is not easy when people are less capable of taking care of themselves.
This does not mean that everything on Colombia is rosy and that all Cambodians are self-centred polluters. Or that they do not have the potential to improve.
Plan According to Where People Are
But this observed behaviours could give you guidance on how to frame a project and what to expect in terms of results. You need to plan according to where people are, not where they should be, mentally. Or where they will be in the future.
That can be very costly, and end up in the graveyard: “here rests another unsuccessful project.” Let it not be one of yours.
The examples above were just an extract from a long list. I have previously written an article about traffic behaviour as a parameter for development.
What could you add to the list? Sharing food from the same plate? Always being late ? Others?