Category Archives: thoughts

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

How to strengthen innovation – good practice vs. emergent practice

The Cynefin FrameworkThe last week of June I had the privilege of attending a three-day training event with Dave Snowden, founder of Cognitive Edge and “mental father” of the Cynefin framework. For me this was a great experience and although I had read a lot of stuff around complexity (also by Dave), there were still many new insights I got. Some things were new, others just became clearer. One thing that I knew but that was becoming more pronounced during the training is the differentiation between best/good practice and emergent practice. Continue reading

Monitoring and Results Measurement: ideas for a new conceptual framework

In this post I want to share with you an idea of a new conceptual framework for monitoring and results measurement (MRM) in market system development projects. To manage your expectations, I will not present a finished new framework, but a model I have been pondering with for a while. The model is still in an early state but it would be great to harness your feedback to further improve on it. Indeed, what is presented here is based on everything I have learned in recent years from a large number of practitioners that contributed to the discussion on Systemic M&E, my work in the field, but particularly also from the guest contributions here on my blog by Aly Miehlbradt and Daniel Ticehurst and the intense discussions on MaFI. The ideas are strongly based on the learning from the Systemic M&E Initiative and also apply the seven principles of Systemic M&E, although I am not doing this explicitly. Continue reading

What does ‘systemic’ actually mean?

“We need more systemic approaches!” This claim has gained some traction in the development world. Everybody is talking about how to make development approaches more ‘systemic’. A quick internet research reveals quite a number of results related to development organizations: USAID, USAID, CGAP, GIZGIZ, GIZ, and SDC. Continue reading

About reaching scale

Economic development projects often struggle when it comes to scaling up the impacts of their successful interventions in order to reach a large number of people. Questions about how scaling up is done in a successful way have been asked in connection to various types of development interventions without finding a successful and definitive answer.

More recently, it is often said that scaling up happens quasi automatically or at least with much less effort when the interventions of a project are ‘systemic’. This can happen in economic development projects by actors copying new business models or when new business models in a specific market also benefit connected markets in a positive way. In the Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P) literature, these phenomena are called breadth and depth of crowding in, respectively. At the same time, the M4P literature acknowledges that crowding in might only in particular cases happen by itself and needs further efforts by the projects, such as for example dissemination of information about the new and successful implementation of business models. It is then anticipated that companies learn about the successes of their peers and will try to imitate them and with that the change will proliferate through the system. Again, it is often stressed that this will only happen if the introduced changes are ‘systemic’. But what does systemic mean in this regard? There are three important aspects at play here. Continue reading

Do we need a goal or is virtue sufficient purpose?

David Snowden has written on his blog about purpose and virtue (more specifically here, here, here and here). I find it a fascinating line of thought, but still cannot  wrap my head around it completely. The basic idea is that in contrast to systems thinking, where an idealized future is identified and interventions aim to close the gap to this future, complexity thinking (or at least the one advocated by Snowden) focuses on managing in the present and with that enabling possible futures to emerge or evolve that could not have been anticipated. Now the latter, the management without a specific goal, of course, asks for a purpose or motivation. Why should we bother, if we don’t have a goal? Continue reading