Commentary
Can historians assist development policy-making, or just highlight its faults?
in History, historians and development policy

History can highlight previously successful strategies; aid reflection on the policy-making process itself; and expose the origins of current ideas. Development policy-making, in the broadest sense, is as old as society. At the simplest level, historians can reveal which brilliant new programs have actually been tried before, then buried, as well as what has worked in the past. Historians, uniquely, can examine circumstances before, during and long after particular interventions, and thus assess their multiple impacts over a far greater time period and in a more nuanced way than is possible for contemporary programs. It is possible for history to assist, positively, in the development of better policy, precisely by showing, negatively, where the obstacles have been to desirable outcomes, whether within policy-making processes themselves or in reactions to them. Public health policy is useful to consider in this respect, because its goals are uncontroversial.

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