With words by David Gunn, Noritada Morita, Victoria Ward and Xianbin Yao

Earlier this year, the Board of Directors of ADB gathered to discuss the annual Development Effectiveness Review. This very important document is a corporate performance report. It contains a number of statistics but, during its preparation, I and other colleagues decided to include illustrations from projects. A Board member asked, “Why are you telling me all these anecdotes? I want to know systematically.” In his closing remarks, President Kuroda commented that “Good narrative is as informative and as powerful as systematic statistics in terms of describing the Bank’s effectiveness.”

“In the pre-modern world, most people realized that myth and reason were complementary; each had its particular area of competence and human beings needed both these modes of thought. A myth could not tell a hunter how to kill his prey or how to organize an expedition efficiently, but it helped him to deal with his complicated emotions about the killing of animals. Logos was efficient, practical and rational, but it could not answer questions about the ultimate value of human life nor could it mitigate human pain and sorrow.”

rganizations mostly record themselves in words. They write themselves down in papers and reports and briefings and agendas, in governance frameworks and policy documents and manuals and guidelines and protocols and risk assessments. Spreadsheets and Gantt charts and the representation of statistical findings leaven the diet of words to some extent. In annual reports and formal publications and PowerPoint presentations, there’ll be pictures and illustrations.
Sound is rarely used. And where the organization does share the sound of its own voice, it’s normally senior, polished practitioners who are authorized to share a carefully crafted message. In short, the structures and artifacts that govern organizational exchange and communication have tended to style themselves as upholding independence, objectivity, succinctness, and high-level summary at the expense of evocative description. Of course, this is necessary in order to get the job of being in business done. But in this process, something is lost. Much as any muscle that isn’t exercised atrophies, so does the organizational imagination and faculties. If the sensory palette is limited, this impoverishes both the witnessing of, and listening to, experience, so reducing the range of resources that the organization has at its disposal with which to get its work done. Where exchanges are happening, they also tend to prize mission statement or management-speak over more fluid and subtle reflection and inquiry into what the organization stands for, what it means, and how people can engage with, and act on, that meaning. In Karen Armstrong’s distinction between mythos and logos, it is how to kill a bear that dominates the discourse in the official workspaces of the organization. It is these technical concerns that predominate, rather than knowing what rituals or rites of passage will breathe its founding principles of the organization, carry its charter through from the past and the present, and allow it to act as the touchstone for the future and the actions of all. As the possibilities offered by new information and communications technology open up, there have been experiments with podcasts and YouTube, and new genres like photo essays. There’s also a mutter of dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of official reporting and established methods, a challenge to the value of the illusion of objectivity and distance. Emerging forms of evaluation

We would like to hear more stories. Karen Armstrong, This audio collection helps meet our A Short History of Myth, Canongate 2005 need for storytelling and enhances our appreciation of its potential in ADB. “I stopped writing today so that I could go on listening”
Xianbin Yao ADB Pauline Oliveros, Some Sound Observations, 1968

like the Most Significant Change technique and participative evaluation are starting to shift away from the dominant voices of the past and open up new and more complex channels along which stories flow, not so much stories that tell people what to think, but stories that invite people into a new dialogue, a more meaningful dialogue with themselves and others. These channels are more raw, messier, less polished, and throw a light on those parts of an organization that it has not thought or cared to write down. They encourage witnesses and ways of witnessing that situate observers inside the experience as participants as well as observers, and to acknowledge a more layered approach to record keeping, interpretation, and sense-making. In Sense Making in Organizations (1992) Karl Weick says “Vivid words draw attention to new possibilities suggesting that organizations with access to more varied images will engage in sense-making that is more adaptive than will organizations with a more limited vocabulary.” Weick also talks of the importance of stories as emotional journeys that might involve fear, curiosity, surprise, and mystery. He talks of the importance of interruption as a way of drawing attention to patterns that are important.

“Content that is rich in dynamics, process, imagery, verbs, possibilities and unfolding narratives represents flows more accurately than does content dominated by statics, structures, nouns, lists.” In this audio composition, we’ve taken the ideas of vividness, flow and interruption and explored the movement of ADB at work, its imagery, possibilities, and unfolding narratives. Through the generosity of storytellers from ADB past and present in sharing themselves with us, we’ve found some logos – how to get things done – and a lot of mythos – quiet pride in the distinctive qualities of ADB’s charter at work today. Working with David Gunn, a sound artist we commissioned specially for this project, we’ve visited a project in Cambodia, and recorded some of the sounds of ADB at work at its headquarters in Manila. And from this raw testimony, David has gathered and woven and threaded together patterns and reliefs that emerged from the diverse stories, songs, and sounds we had collected. This audio composition is an attempt to get beyond the limitations of “official voices”, to burrow down into some different journeys and pathways through the past, the present, and the future hopes of ADB. Victoria Ward Founding Partner, Sparknow

nd we were walking the corridors of head office, recording everything we could find. Trying to find those sounds that reflect the acoustic character of the space– women’s shoes on marble, ringing phones echoing in the atrium, the hum of the air conditioning, and the endless circuits of clattering tea trolleys.
We were sat listening to interviews with some of those who have been participants in and witnesses to ADB’s past. And we were drawn deep into the sweep of that story, tracing out the overlapping contours of many histories–personal, organizational, political, regional, international. Long after we left, those remembrances stayed with us—stories of peculiar power, existing precisely on the fault lines between objective, professional expertise, and an intimate world of simple, human feelings about the smallest moments, of silence and reflection, drifting down the Irrawaddy in darkness… We traveled to the field. Visiting a resident mission and field locations where we could meet in person with those who benefit from ADB’s work. Where nothing could be further from the head office—its polished floors and cathedral calm. Traveling in heat and dust, struggling with wind noise, with the eternal challenges of translation and the artifice of recording, leaning over the edge of a boat, trying hard to record the sounds of a lake and trying harder simply not to fall in. Then, a month later, we found ourselves in the studio. Listening back to the recordings, trying to carve out something coherent from the wealth of material we had. And asking ourselves how we should reflect back the complexity and counterpoint we encountered so frequently, and in so many different ways. “How”, we asked, “to reflect any of this?”–and the choice of words is important. Because this record is intended to be a reflection, in both senses of that word. No master narratives, no objective overview, but an attempt to shine some of the light of ADB back upon itself, fragments of everyday experience that create space and room for considered thinking. Reflected light: something of the hidden ebb and flow, the fleeting moment or fugitive thought, the everyday and the unique aspects of experience that are too often lost in reports and meetings. But how to reflect? And how to begin? We made rules, of course. Always rules. Strategies for beginning. The first rule: the tracks were to be created entirely from audio recorded on location between

March and June 2009. No synthesized samples, no library music. The recordings were processed, of course. Sometimes we did this quite simply, by slowing down or looping samples (time & scale), sometimes more ambitiously—for example, abstracting the underlying harmonics from the sounds of the dining hall (tsunami). But always returning to the source material, always seeking to reflect the character, spirit and idiosyncrasy inherent within it. The second rule: to privilege the sense of story and the sense of place. In the process of composition, it is too easy to run away with the joy of sound, to get lost in music and forget the purpose behind it. But this was never a project about music. It was a project about stories and voices, and we wanted only to allow these fragments to unfold, to collide and to reveal themselves–evoking, we hope, something of the subtle magic and quiet humanity contained (and often hidden) within the stories, the places, and the people of ADB.

But before and beyond anything else, this record has been a collaborative effort, and it has only been made possible thanks to the kindness and support of many people. First of all, it is due to the trust placed in us by Olivier Serrat and ADB’s Knowledge Management Center as we took them on this journey to a mysterious unknown. But we are also indebted to the generosity, ideas and advice of our guides, translators and interviewees—from ADB staff and alumni to the farmers in Kampong Preah commune. Each track on this record is the result of their input and bears the traces of the many people involved in its creation, in front of and behind the microphone. No master narrative, no official story. Just postcards from friends, or maps for places where you may someday find yourself. David Gunn Director, Incidental

…One of the major principles of my operation is not only for individual countries to have their GDP growing, not to remove only poverty, not simply to make their industries prosperous, no—it’s not necessary that ADB has to do it. All other donors can do that. ADB has to really think beyond, where other organizations are not thinking. By helping countries to become economically strong and mentally wiser and spiritually clearer. You simply do not measure the success of Asia and the Pacific by the growth of economies, by GDP, which is wrong. Arithmetically, this is right, but that is not everything. What is important is—what are you doing for the community, for neighboring countries and for the region … You can become rich, but Asians have to hope for … beyond.
Noritada Morita June 2009

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