how change happens

How Change Happens (or doesn’t) in the Humanitarian System

Duncan Green - February 15, 2017

I’ve been in Stockholm this week at the invitation of ALNAP, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, which has been holding its annual meeting on the banks of a frozen Swedish river. I was asked to comment on the background paper for the meeting, Changing Humanitarian Action?, by ALNAP’s Paul Knox-Clarke.  I read the paper on the flight over (great …

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What determines whether/how an organization can learn? Interesting discussion at DFID.

Duncan Green - February 9, 2017

I was invited along to DFID last week for a discussion on how organizations learn. There was an impressive turnout of senior civil serpents – the issue has clearly got their attention. Which is great because I came away with the impression that they (and Oxfam for that matter) have a long way to go to really become a ‘learning organization’. So please make allowances …

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How Change Happens + 3 months: how’s it going?

Duncan Green - February 8, 2017

It’s now 3 months since How Change Happens came out (did I mention I’d published a new book?) so I dropped in at the publishers, OUP, last week to take stock. OUP took some risks with this book, notably agreeing to go Open Access from day one. That is a huge leap from the traditional publishing model of publishing only the hardback for a year, then deciding …

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The WDR 2017 on Governance and Law: Can it drive a transformation in development practice?

Duncan Green - January 31, 2017

  Stefan Kossoff (DFID’s governance czar) reviews the new WDR, published this week. For those of us working on governance this week’s publication of the 2017 World Development Report on Governance and Law (WDR17) has been hotly awaited. And I’m pleased to say the report–in all its 280 page glory–does not disappoint (there’s a 4 page summary for the time-starved). As Duncan Green, Brian Levy …

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What makes Networks tick? Learning from (a lot of) experience

Duncan Green - January 25, 2017

  When are networks the right response to a development challenge (as opposed to a monumental talking shop – more hot air than action)? Oxfamers Andrew Wells-Dang, Stéphanie de Chassy, Benoit Trudel, Jan Bouwman and Jacky Repila discuss: Working with and as a part of networks is an inescapable part of today’s interconnected world – and increasingly of Oxfam’s programming and influencing. But what kinds …

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Local governance and resilience – what lasts after the project ends?

Duncan Green - January 24, 2017

Jane Lonsdale reflects on the lessons from an ‘effectiveness review’ of a Myanmar project 18 months after it ended. For the nerds among you, an accompanying post on the nuts and bolts of the effectiveness review has just gone up on the ‘real geek’ blog We have just finished a review of Oxfam’s work in Myanmar’s central Dry Zone. This was designed some 6 years …

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A 3-fold theory of social change (and some great quotes on complexity, ambiguity and dreaming)

Duncan Green - January 12, 2017

Sometimes a paper is worth blogging about just for the quotes. Here are the best from a 2016 update of Doug Reeler’s ‘A Three-Fold Theory of Social Change’: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity. But I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side.” Oliver Wendell Holmes “Whosoever wishes to know about the world …

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‘Odd but Interesting’: Clare Short reviews How Change Happens

Duncan Green - December 20, 2016

Clare Short was DFID’s first minister (1997-2003) and a force of nature (for example she was one of the originators of what became the Millennium Development Goals). Great when she agreed with you, pretty brutal when she didn’t. Which in the case of NGOs, was quite a lot of the time – she had the traditional Labour Left dislike of middle class, self-appointed, self-righteous dogoodery …

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What can Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Matrix teach us about how change happens?

Duncan Green - December 14, 2016

Chatting to academics in the US last week, we swapped notes on the merits of using shared cultural references to convey some of the key ideas around how change happens. They act as a short cut, allowing subtle, nuanced ideas to be discussed on the basis of a large pool of common knowledge. You need to avoid the pitfalls of cultural imperialism, of course (so …

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What role for local actors in system change? Fighting climate change in the UK

Duncan Green - November 29, 2016

Ruth Mayne, Oxfam’s senior researcher on the effectiveness of influencing, reflects on some personal influencing she was involved with before (re)joining Oxfam. In the development world we often emphasise the importance of strengthening community action but is it really possible for local, rather than national and international, actors to contribute to system change? And if so, why and how does this happen, and under what …

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