Sustainable development projects: explicit and acroamatic story telling as part of a new ‘project ethnography’

Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen (2005). Sustainable development projects: explicit and acroamatic story telling as part of a new ‘project ethnography’. In: 11th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference, 2005, Helsinki, Finland.



This paper constitutes an attempt to find a means to represent multiple stories in the strong narrative of conventional sustainable development (SD) projects. The author’s experience of such projects in various parts of the world indicates that they have a tendency to arise from and reflect a dominant mindset, placing the SD project in what can be a working environment which is inimical to the very ideals which SD is supposed to represent. Short termism and value for money drive project formats and objectives whilst counter narratives and alternative stories arising from stakeholders in such projects are often ignored. Yet these alternative threads often contain strong SD messages of their own and could, if effectively utilised, enhance the SD project process. This paper sets out the case for a new field – ‘project ethnography’ – allied with the growing use of meta analysis to compare project ‘stories’. The paper presents preliminary findings using an analytical framework to facilitate an ethnographic analysis and draw out the stories that those working in such projects can tell. The analysis focuses on some SD projects in the Mediterranean which reinforces the view of the authors that the conventional model of SD project organisation and delivery often contains within itself alternative understandings – understandings which the authors regard as stories in collision with the presenting and accepted project narrative, but at the same time valuable in richness of experience and perspective which can be drawn upon for informing SD project design and implementation.

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