A tools focus (as opposed say to a policy focus or a context focus) enables us to think more clearly about not just the aims of a group of people marginalised from policy, but how to achieve those aims.
Tools have many strengths – they:
- Attract practical people
- Explain ways of doing for others to adapt and apply
- Encourage focused strategies and plans
- Stimulate new approaches
- Avoid unnecessary “re-invention of the wheel”
- Draw on real-life successes and failures
- Communicate the experiences of practitioners who seldom record their own work
But tools also have their limits – they:
- Are tricky to translate from experience into guidance
- May be difficult to transfer from one context to another
- Can give a false impression of being a perfect recipe or an essential solution
- Assume widespread legitimacy
- Oversimplify approaches, ignoring the perils of macro-politics and micro-politics
- Might be used by powerful people against the social good
One of the main lessons from this work is that for most of us, a “tool” is an easy concept to grasp, but expressing what we do in terms of a transferable toolkit that can be picked up, understood and adapted by others is a very difficult task indeed. In general, we focus on our objective – and we design or select the ways of getting there as we go along. Often a method or tactic will only seem to be a tool in retrospect, when we try to describe to others how we achieved a certain goal. Thus what in reality was muddling along suddenly appears well planned and formal when described as a tool.
No single tool is ever perfect. Old, proven, multi-purpose methods continue to offer more utility than new, custom-made techniques. Fully comprehensive, cohesive toolkits that provide approaches for every natural resource policy problem are unfeasible. Concern with the “how to” should not overshadow the goal towards which the tool is used, and taking a tool at face value without considering its legitimacy, context or who is going to use it, can be dangerous. Tools have power – potentially to counter marginalisation, but also to entrench the status quo. Any tool is in the hands of the user to apply and adapt as best they can.