Recovery, regeneration, renewal, renaissance.
What is it with the ‘Re’ prefix in the economic development business?
‘Re’ indicates a sense of reversal, going back to the original place, a sense of ‘undoing’.
Recover -“to regain health or strength” – “to get (anything) back“
Regenerate -“make over, generate again,”
Renew – “to resume, revive – to bring back vitality“
Renaissance – “to be born again“
In each case there is a sense of making good something that is now broken. Of restoring things to how they once were – of returning to better times; of making new starts as if we had somehow jumped the gun in the 100 metres.
So what about that other old chestnut in our business – ‘development’? Isn’t ‘de’ just another prefix indicating a retrograde step – meaning, as it does, ‘to undo’?
But what about the second part – ‘velop‘ as in ‘envelope‘ meaning ‘to cover‘ or ‘to veil‘.
So the root of ‘develop’ is something about ‘uncovering’, ‘unveiling’ a sense of ‘revealing’ something. Think photography in the pre-digital era.
Development is not about going back but allowing, even facilitating, movement forward. It is about removing ‘covers’ so that what is already there can flourish. It is not about putting things right, making fresh starts and ruing mistakes.
It suggests that things are just the way they have to be. The question is not about what we once were – but what we have the aspiration and potential to become.
The challenge is how best to move forward to a new future rather than how to move back to a ‘glorious’ past.
If we believe that our job is to put right something that has gone wrong; to mend what is broken, this will define our work. A belief that our job is to help good people make progress will define our work in a way that will prove much more effective.