systems thinking

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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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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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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Fit for the Future? Systems thinking and the role of International NGOs – draft paper for your comments

Duncan Green - April 14, 2015

I’m committing potential hara-kiri by giving a DFID staff talk on the future of INGOs tomorrow lunchtime (Wednesday) – if you’re an FP2P reader in DFID, do please come along. Here’s the background and a call for comments on the draft paper I’m presenting: (INGO futures, Green v5 April 2015 (edited)). Just before Christmas, Oxfam boss Mark Goldring collared me in the canteen and off the …

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What are the implications of ‘doing development differently’ for NGO Campaigns and Advocacy?

Duncan Green - February 10, 2015

I’ve been having fun recently taking some of the ideas around ‘Doing Development Differently’ and applying them to INGOs, building on the post I wrote last year on ‘You can’t take a supertanker white-water rafting’. The Exam Question is: Given complexity, systems thinking and the failure of top down approaches, what future, if any, is there for International NGOs? Paper and blog forthcoming – bet …

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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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How can complexity/systems thinking help small island states?

Duncan Green - May 1, 2014

‘It’s a big year for small islands’ announced the speaker before me, who revelled in the title ‘The Honourable Lord Tu’ivakano, Prime Minister, Kingdom of Tonga’ (right). When my turn came, how should I refer to him? (I’m hopeless at this kind of thing, must come from going to a state school.) His Lordship? Your Honourableness? ‘Yo Tu’ivakano’ (a la George Bush)? In the end, …

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How to bridge the Valley of Death that separates complexity/systems thinkers from decision makers?

Duncan Green - February 14, 2014

Sometimes new ideas arrive like a bolt from the blue. More often they emerge through a series of conversations, reading and thinking. An element of repetition may be necessary, provided you talk to different kinds of people about the same issue (rather than having the same meeting with the same people over and over again – we call that strategic planning). So earlier this week …

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Lant Pritchett on why we struggle to think in systems (and look for heroes and villains instead)

Duncan Green - January 22, 2014

This passage in Lant Pritchett’s new book, The Rebirth of Education, (reviewed here yesterday), had me gurgling with pleasure. It explains, in vintage Pritchett prose, why we all find it so hard to think in terms of systems, rather than agents (i.e. heroes and villains). He totally nails the origins of that glazed look I see in the eyes of my Oxfam colleagues when I …

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How do we move from getting kids into school to actually educating them? Provocative new book by Lant Pritchett

Duncan Green - January 21, 2014

I approached Lant Pritchett’s new book ‘The Rebirth of Education’ with glee and trepidation. Glee because Lant is one of the smartest, wittiest and best writers and thinkers on development. Trepidation because this issue is an intellectual minefield of Somme-like proportions (remember the epic Kevin Watkins v Justin Sandefur battle?). And sure enough, Lant took me into all kinds of uncomfortable places. Allow me to …

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