Embracing Complexity – a good new book on systems thinking (and action)

Duncan Green - August 26, 2015

Jean Boulton is a regular both here on the blog and in the corridors of Oxfam. She’s a onetime theoretical physicist turned consultant, and one of her passions is complexity and systems thinking, and their implications for how organizations, including development agencies, go about their work. Now she’s teamed up with fellow lapsed physicist Peter Allen, and Cliff Bowman (a ‘theorist and practitioner of strategy’, …

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Current aid design and evaluation favour autocracies. How do we change that?

Duncan Green - June 30, 2015

I loved the new paper from Rachel Kleinfeld, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and asked her to write a post on it What strategy can make a government take up smart development programs, better policing techniques, or tested education initiatives?  RCT and regression-based studies have taught us a great deal about “what works”, but we still know very little about how …

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How can big aid organizations become Fit for the Future? Summary of my new paper

Duncan Green - June 17, 2015

My navel-gazing paper on the future of INGOs and other big aid beasts came out last week. Here’s a summary I wrote for the Guardian. Thanks to all those who fed in on earlier drafts. Oxfam’s Deputy CEO Penny Lawrence gives a semi-official response. A miasma of existential doubt seems to hang over large chunks of the aid industry, even here in the UK, where …

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Oxfam Big Cheese responds to my paper on whether INGOs are ‘Fit for the Future’

Duncan Green - June 17, 2015

In a spirit of transparency, innovation, etc, we thought it might be interesting to print an actual response from Oxfam’s senior management – this is from Penny Lawrence, Oxfam GB’s Deputy Chief Executive. And what’s Oxfam’s response to Duncan’s challenges?  Well it would be churlish, of course, (if understandable) to ask what experience of actually running a large organisation Duncan has!! [DG’s answer – ‘none, …

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If Complexity was a person, she would be a Socialist. Jean Boulton on the politics of systems thinking.

Duncan Green - May 15, 2015

Jean Boulton (physicist, management consultant and social scientist, right) responds to Owen Barder’s Wednesday post on thinking of development as a property of a complex adaptive system. I’d like to go a bit further than Owen on the implications of complexity for how we understand power and politics. It is generally the case that the powerful get more powerful and the big get bigger. We …

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Can aid agencies help systems fix themselves? The implications of complexity for development cooperation

Duncan Green - May 13, 2015

Owen Barder gave a brilliant lecture on complexity and development to my LSE students earlier this year. Afterwards, I asked him to dig deeper into the ‘so whats’ for aid agencies. The result is this elegant essay (a bit long for a blog, but who cares?). I will try and get some responses to his arguments from similarly large brains. If economic development is a …

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What has cancer taught me about the links between medicine and development? Guest post by Chris Roche

Duncan Green - April 15, 2015

My friend and How Change Happens co-conspirator Chris Roche (@croche123) has had a rough year, but has used it to reach some interesting insights into the links between medicine and development. In July last year I was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumour. This is a rare disease and thankfully usually not as lethal as exocrine pancreatic cancer. Some people getting this news decide to …

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What could Foundations add to the aid mix? A conversation with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation

Duncan Green - July 31, 2014

Foundations are increasingly important players in the aid scene, spending the interest and/or capital from monster endowments set up by philanthropists. Some of the best known (Ford, Rockefeller) have been around for a long time, and as their names suggest, have an American feel – the big Daddy is the Gates Foundation, which spends some $4bn a year (by comparison, DFID spends £8bn ($13.5bn)). But …

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New research shows aid agencies get better results if they stop trying to control their people on the ground, especially in complex environments (and performance monitoring can make it worse)

Duncan Green - May 22, 2014

This fascinating excerpt from a recent Owen Barder speech to the little-known-but-huge Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) covers two new papers on the management of development interventions, with big potential implications: ‘[First] a study of the evaluations of 10,000 aid projects over the last ten years from nine different development organizations. In this paper Dan Honig, from Harvard University, looks at whether different kinds of …

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Can complex systems thinking provide useful tools for aid workers? Draft paper on some DFID pilot experiments, for your comments

Duncan Green - May 7, 2014

Ben Ramalingam, who wrote last year’s big book on complexity and aid (Aid on the Edge of Chaos) has been doing some interesting work with DFID and wants comment on his draft paper (with Miguel Laric and John Primrose) summarizing the project. The draft is here BestPracticetoBestFitWorkingPaper_DraftforComments_May2014 (just comment on this post, and the authors will read and reply where necessary, and make sure any non-bonkers …

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