I got a very good feedback on my blog post last week on complexity informed Theories of Change, it was shared widely on Twitter. But I also got some questions. One person pointed out the fact that the method I described in that post was mainly focusing on new programmes that are developing their first Theory of Change. But what about programmes that are in the middle of implementation? Programmes where the programme team sense that things are not going the way they are supposed to according to their Theory of Change, Logframe or project plan. Should the managers of such programmes just stop operations and go back to the drawing board to develop a complexity aware Theory of Change? This is in most cases not possible, unless things are really going badly. How can these programmes incorporate some of the ideas of complexity informed Theories of Change?
We know that current development challenges are complex. But not all elements of a development programme are necessarily complex. How does a theory of change look like that shows us which aspects of a programme are complex and which aren’t? How does this help managers to develop appropriate strategies for interventions and focus their attention?
I have been thinking quite a bit about monitoring and how to find a monitoring framework that works in programmes that are facing the complexities of the real world (and I blogged about it before here and here). More and more monitoring guides speak about the complexities programme managers and staff face ‘out there’ and some guides even venture as far as to say that change in the real world is not linear or predictable. The new BEAM Monitoring guidance, which I co-authored, for example, states that ‘a market systems programme is unlikely to achieve its goals in a simple, linear way. It may be difficult to fully understand (at least in advance) how causes and effects will work at a system-wide level. There may therefore be significant uncertainties about how the overall market system may be re-oriented to serve poor people better.’ Continue reading
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
Also 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 http://systemic-insight.com) 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.
This post was first posted on Mesopartner’s Systemic Insight page.
This week, the five partners of Mesopartner and Marcus are meeting in South Africa for the annual partner meeting. The meeting is an important event for Mesopartner where knowledge and learning is exchanged, new ideas and theories are shared, the Summer Academy is planned, and many other strategic issues are discussed. Continue reading
Where am I on my journey to use the awareness about complex systems in my work in economic development? That is a question I have asked myself more often recently. Continue reading
For the last years I have had the privilege to take part of and contribute to Mesopartner’s journey into the field of complexity. We started to dismantle and question almost every aspect of our instruments, tools and theories. This journey has been very much in line with my own work, pondering how complexity theory can contribute to making economic development more effective and sustainable.
One of the results of this process is the Systemic Insight website, where we want to share our thoughts and invite our followers to contribute to the discussions we have (and where some of my blog posts are also cross-posted).
A new Mesopartner Working Paper now provides a theoretical grounding for the work we have done and will continue to do. Together with my co-author and friend Dr. Shawn Cunningham (who’s blog I highly recommend), we consider some definitions, ponder the implications and try to formulate some responses to some of the key challenges that systems and complexity theories confront us with in our field of bottom up economic development.
We see this paper as an input into a broader discussion with our close collaborators, our close clients, and the broader network that we form part of. I would like to ask you to send us your thoughts and add your comments to this and future posts.