Systemic Insight – a new offer for programmes and organisations facing complex challenges

Systemic InsightSince I have become an associate with Mesopartner in 2012, I have engaged in intense discussions with the partners around how to translate insights from complexity sciences and other quite diverse fields of research such as cognitive sciences, behavioural economics or new institutional economy into better ways in which we can support our clients who face complex challenges. The results of these discussions is Systemic Insight, a platform, approach and product focusing on supporting economic development programmes.

Recently, we added a page with concrete service offerings for programmes and development organisations to Systemic Insight. They include capacity building on making better decisions under conditions of uncertainty, translating results of analysis into action when facing complex challenges, supporting programmes that are stuck, and building up monitoring and learning frameworks for adaptive programme management. This also includes the use of SenseMaker®, a an approach for doing narrative research combined with a piece of software that we have started using more and more frequently.

Shawn, my main co-conspirator around Systemic Insight, and I also wrote an article that was recently published in the IDS Bulletin. You can find a brief description of the content, the abstract, and a link to the article page on the Systemic Insight Blog. The title of the article is Explore, Scale Up, Move Out: Three Phases to Managing Change under Conditions of Uncertainty and the main message is that economic development is about introducing options into local economies, not bringing solutions from the outside.

In the near future, I will focus my (re-invigorated) blogging activity on Systemic Insight. I have done some really interesting work recently and I am keen of sharing some ideas and insights with our readers. Shawn and I also want to share some of the principles and heuristics that guide our work. So please head over to Systemic Insight and subscribe to the blog! I am looking forward to your comments!

Some principles for measuring change in market systems

CGAPThis blog post was originally published on the Website of CGAP as part of a series of blog posts on measuring change in market systems development under the title “New Funding Approaches Call for a New Way of Measuring Impact.” CGAP (the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) is a global partnership of 34 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

The focus of financial sector development is shifting. Development organizations funding financial inclusion now operate with a vision of sustainability, resilience and impact at scale, and their goals stretch beyond building individual institutions. Now, they aim to improve the whole ecosystem for financial services, taking a facilitative rather than a direct intervention approach. Continue reading

Doing Development Differently #DDD

I have been loosely following the Doing Development Differently movement. I also signed up to the DDD manifesto. I think it is a great initiative and I would encourage you to follow it and sign their manifesto if you agree. It is very much in line with applying complexity thinking to development and getting out of the rigid project/logframe frameworks.

Here are a couple of snippets by people that participated in a recent event at Harvard University.

I like Duncan Green’s statement that we just have to learn to live with uncertainty and ambiguity. There just isn’t something like clear cut results that can without doubt be attributed to a project that engaged in a complex situation. In the end, it’s not about us, it’s about the positive change we can contribute to.

Why are Goodhart, Dukenfield and Campbell important for development?

Charles Goodhart, William Claude Dukenfield and Donald Thomas Campbell are three quite different people. Goodhart, born in 1963, is an economist professor emeritus at the London School of Economics. Dukenfield, 1880-1949, better known as W.C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Campbell, 1916-1996, was an American social scientist. What do they have in common? And why do I think that they have some special relevance for development and particularly for what is called ‘managing for results’? It all comes down to the three ‘laws’ named after the three gentlemen.

Continue reading

Monitoring in complex systems: from spotlight and indicators to sensor networks and landscapes

I have been thinking a lot about how a monitoring framework could look like that takes into account the quirks of a complex system. One of the central things, I believe, is that we need to find alternatives to measuring only where we believe that change will happen towards an approach to gather data more broadly.
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Of Complexity and Chaos

Cynefin framework

The Cynefin Framework with the newly renamed ‘Obvious’ domain (formerly ‘Simple’). Source: Cognitive Edge

In the Cynefin framework, complex and chaotic are two separate domains. Complexity is defined as the domain where agents and constraints co-evolve, chaos as where there are no constraints. Both are part of the unordered side of Cynefin, i.e. where events are unpredictable and expert knowledge and analysis are not leading to better decisions. Chaos is seen as a domain where you don’t really want to be, so all you have to do there is go act quickly and decisively to get out. To use Dave Snowden’s words: “Chaos is a transitionary domain.  (…)  If you collapse into it without [intention] then the strategy is to move out in a controlled way; you will move out as constraints happen naturally.   Entered deliberately it can create the conditions for radical innovation, used as contained chaos it allows for distributed cognition or Wisdom of Crowds. Nothing resides in Chaos for any period without sustained effort.” Continue reading

Join me for the 10th Mesopartner Summer Academy on Systemic Change

Mesopartner Summer AcademyAlso this year I will be training at the Mesopartner Summer Academy, which takes place in Berlin from July 7 to 11.

The focus of this year’s academy will again be on systemic change in economic development. We will unwrap systemic change in economic development. Complexity thinking has in the last couple of years become more and more the basis of our work. So this will guide also the inputs during the academy. We will introduce the Systemic Insight Approach (see and some general considerations about change in systems. Then we will run two streams, one with a focus on territorial (sub-national) development, the other with a focus on industrial development (this e.g. includes things like Value Chain approach). On Thursday, there will be shorter sessions with a number of electives like supporting green development, bottom up policy development, competitiveness and innovation, complexity in economic development more in depth, etc.

I would be happy to see some of my readers at the Academy. There is an early bird discount for registrations up to 24 March!

More information on the 10th Mesopartner Summer Academy 2014.