systems thinking

Book Review: Social Physics : How Social Networks can make us Smarter

Duncan Green - January 6, 2017

My Christmas reading included a book called Social Physics – yep, a party animal (my others were Lord of the Flies and Knausgard Vol 3, both wonderful). Here’s the review: Airport bookstores are bewildering places – shelf after shelf of management gurus offering distilled lessons on leadership, change and everything else. How to distinguish snake oil from substance? My Christmas reading, based on a recommendation …

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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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Adaptive Management looks like it’s here to stay. Here’s why that matters.

Duncan Green - December 8, 2016

The past two weeks in Washington, New York and Boston have been intense, leaving lots of unpacking for the blog. Let’s start with the numerous discussions on ‘adaptive management’ (AM), which seems to where the big aid agencies have found a point of entry into the whole ‘Doing Development Differently’ debate. I spent a day with USAID and came away with a sense that AM …

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Why systems thinking changes everything for activists and reformers

Duncan Green - November 4, 2016

This week, the Guardian ran a very nicely edited ‘long read’ extract from How Change Happens covering some of the book’s central arguments, under the title Radical Thinking Reveals the Secrets of Making Change Happen. Here it is: Political and economic earthquakes are often sudden and unforeseeable, despite the false pundits who pop up later to claim they predicted them all along – take the …

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Is Good Advocacy a Science or an Art (or just luck), and how can we sharpen it?

Duncan Green - November 3, 2016

Helen Tilley (h.tilley@odi.org) , is a Research Fellow, Josephine Tsui (j.tsui@odi.org) a Research Officer, and Hannah Caddick (h.caddick@odi.org) a Communications Officer, in the Research and Policy in Development Programme at the Overseas Development Institute. ‘There is an art to science, and a science in art; the two are not enemies, but different aspects of the whole.’ — Issac Asimov In a recent blog, Duncan wrote …

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What is Adaptive Aid? Useful lessons from six case studies

Duncan Green - August 4, 2016

Move over ‘Innovation’, ‘Adaptive’ is the new fuzzword on the block – stick it in front of ‘learning’, ‘management’, ‘programming’ or ‘aid’ if you want to sound up to the minute. Dave Algoso and Alan Hudson wrote a handy overview on this blog recently. But to get an idea of the substance, it’s also worth reading Adapting Aid, a synthesis of six case studies by …

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Thought Leadership and NGOs: What is it? How can we get better at it?

Duncan Green - April 21, 2016

Here’s today’s 2 minute vlog summary for the incurably lazy/visual The aid business specializes in baffling, slippery concepts, often adopted as the latest management fuzzwords (like buzzwords, but fuzzy). One recent example in Oxfam was a brainstorm on ‘thought leadership’ – What is it? Does Oxfam do it? Do we want to do more of it? If so, how can we do it better? My …

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Why should large aid organizations spin off more start-ups? What kind?

Duncan Green - April 14, 2016

Here’s vlog number 3 – they’re turning into kind of lazy exec sums for blog posts. And a chance to study my kitchen…. I’ve been thinking about the idea of Oxfam and other large aid players deliberately ‘spinning off’ start-ups as independent organizations. The idea came up when I was writing ‘Fit for the Future’ last year, on the way INGOs need to adapt to …

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Which of these three books on complexity and development is right for you? Review/user’s guide

Duncan Green - March 16, 2016

Dave Algoso (@dalgoso ) with a handy guide to what to read for those wondering what all this complexity stuff is about In the last few years, complexity thinking has found its way into general development discourse. Anyone reading this blog or others has likely encountered some of the terminology, even if the technical pieces remain elusive to you. Ready to go deeper than the blogs? …

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Doing Development Differently: a great discussion on Adaptive Management (no, really)

Duncan Green - November 4, 2015

Went to a fascinating workshop last week on ‘adaptive management’ hosted and designed by USAID as part of their work on Knowledge, Information and Data (see final para for more links) and facilitated by Ben Ramalingam, who has just started at IDS as their new digital, technology and innovation czar. A whole load of participants are going to write posts for this blog, which will go up …

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