The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

An Anthropological Evaluation of Development Assistance

Joint Research Coordinator SUZUKI Motoi

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are first, to investigate the role that anthropology needs to play to promote development assistance through Japan’s ODA policies and NGOs. The second objective, based on the results of these investigations, is to design and promote methods and systems for introducing development assistance.
Special features of this research will be the emphasis on applied anthropological research regarding development assistance, and the assumption that the research results should be provided to those actually engaged in assistance work, not just to anthropological researchers. Anthropologists should carry out this applied research for two reasons. First, anthropologists will be fulfilling their responsibility to explain what they have learned to individuals outside their specialty. In so doing, researchers will be able to consider the special characteristics of anthropological knowledge and confirm their findings. Second, by making intellectual contributions to the social issue of development assistance, anthropologists can generally broaden the appeal of anthropology’s social utility.

Research Results

During the three and a half years that this research was carried out, the committee met on 16 occasions, with a total of 34 individuals presenting their research. Added as committee members were employees of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and other aid implementation agencies. On several occasions staff of implementation agencies and development consultants were invited as special lecturers, so that we could incorporate the viewpoints of those actually working in the field into our research. In addition, we participated as a research committee in MINPAKU’s international workshop on development assistance. Our participation allowed us to study the contributions of Western anthropologists from several nations to development assistance activities. The following constitute the revelations from our research.
Concerning the first research objective, investigating the role that anthropology needs to play to promote development assistance activities, we confirmed the following four points: 1) As a basis for anthropologists to contribute to development assistance activities, we need to study how inhabitants, the recipients of the assistance, in developing countries understand the assistance activities and to respond with analysis to determine the types of activities to be pursued. 2) When analyzing, we need to be conscious of an overall theoretical standpoint. We must avoid settling for single causal relationships, but hopefully will instead investigate diverse causal relationships. 3) When seeking to understand the behavior of recipients, it is especially important to be aware of the leadership-building process on the recipient side of the development assistance project. 4) The basis for research should be descriptions and analysis concerning development assistance activities carried out in regions and cultures that have been the objects of specialized study by individual anthropologists. However, it is also necessary to attempt cross-cultural comparisons of specific development sectors.
For the second research objective, the methods for introducing development assistance activities, we verified the following three points: 1) For development assistance implementation organizations at present, to emphasize project evaluations, having anthropologists offer evaluations in some form or another would be effective in promoting a dialogue between the two sides. 2) To that end, we need to become well versed in existing project evaluation methodology, the project cycle management (PCM) method, among others. We must avoid achieving only a critical understanding of project evaluation methodologies and instead, seek to show how incorporation of anthropological research would help improve development assistance. 3) To forge ties of mutual trust among anthropologists and those actually involved in development assistance, anthropologists need to find ways to reconcile their own concepts and terminology with the concepts and terminology of those providing assistance in the field.
Along with these discussions, the committee discussed anthropological evaluation investigations about development assistance projects in Mexico, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Philippines, Vanuatu, Myanmar, and elsewhere.