systems thinking

I’m helping run a summer school on Adaptive Management. In Bologna. Interested?

Duncan Green - March 6, 2018

This could be a lot of fun, I’m working with two of the smartest minds in Oxfam: Irene Guijt (head of research) and Claire Hutchings (head of Programme Quality) to design and deliver a one week summer school course on ‘Adaptive Management:  Working Effectively in the Complexity of International Development’. Between us we are going to try and really combine the theoretical hand-waving stuff with …

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My (current) default suggestions when asked about almost anything to do with ‘strategy’

Duncan Green - January 31, 2018

I realised recently that I have a fairly standard playlist of topics I bang on about to people during the frequent ‘blue sky’ (well, the initials are BS, anyway) sessions after someone phones up and says something like ‘can I pick your brains as part of our strategy refresh?’ So I thought, if I am going to give the same answers whatever the questions, I …

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Achilles v Ulysses and Complexity, according to the OECD

Duncan Green - October 12, 2017

Just been browsing a new OECD book on what complexity and systems thinking mean for policy-making. It consists of ‘a compilation of contributions from a series of seminars and workshops on complexity issues over the past two years. It reflects the combined wisdom and perspectives of an internal and external network of researchers, academics and policymakers.’ The pieces are short (couple of pages each) and come …

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Two top authors compared: Hossain on Bangladesh and Ang on China

Duncan Green - September 21, 2017

OK, so this week I’ve reviewed the two important new books on the rise of China and Bangladesh. Now for the tricky bit – the comparison. The books are very different in their approach. Where Yuen Yuen Ang focuses on the ‘how’ in China, Naomi Hossain is more interested in the ‘why’ in Bangladesh. Hossain traces the ‘why’ to the critical junctures that littered Bangladeshi’s …

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Complexity v Simplicity: the challenge for Campaigners and Reformers

Duncan Green - September 14, 2017

Had a few thought-provoking conversations on this last week. I increasingly see most problems (social, political, economic) as complex, i.e. arising from multiple causes in interconnected systems, often highly dependent on the specific context and history of any given place/population. My campaigner friends generally hate such talk, because their gut feeling is that it makes taking action to change the world much more difficult. We …

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What can we learn from 7 successes in making markets work for poor people?

Duncan Green - September 1, 2017

Hi everyone, I’m back from an August blog break, with lots of great reading to report back on. First up, if you’re even slightly interested in how markets can benefit poor people, I urge you to read Shaping Inclusive Markets, a new publication from FSG and Rockefeller. The 60 page document explains their approach to ‘market systems innovation’, which we discussed at an event in …

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How might a systems approach change the way aid supports the knowledge sector in Indonesia?

Duncan Green - August 9, 2017

For some reason, the summer months seem to involve a lot of cups of tea (and the occasional beer) with interesting people passing through London, often at my second office in Brixton. One of last week’s conversations was with Arnaldo Pellini, who has been working for ODI on a big ‘knowledge sector initiative’ in Indonesia. Five years in, the team is thinking less in terms …

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Which aspects of How Change Happens resonate with campaigners?

Duncan Green - July 12, 2017

Writing, and then promoting, How Change Happens has often left me feeling a bit remote from ‘the field’, with a nagging anxiety that what I am saying no longer has much connection with what people are doing on (or at least closer to) the ground. So it was great to get online with some of Oxfam’s best and brightest campaigners and advocates around the world …

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Why rethinking how we work on market systems and the private sector is really hard

Duncan Green - May 17, 2017

Whatever your ideological biases about ‘the private sector’ (often weirdly conflated with transnational corporations in NGO-land), markets really matter to poor people (feeding families, earning a living, that kind of thing).  But ‘making markets work for the poor’ turns out to be really difficult and, just as with attempts to tackle corruption or improve institutions, there is a rethink going on in the aid business. …

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What does Systems Thinking tell us about how INGOs and Academics can work together better?

Duncan Green - April 20, 2017

Yesterday, I wrote about the obstacles to NGO-academic collaboration. In this second of three posts on the interface between practitioners and researchers, I look at the implications of systems thinking. Some of the problems that arise in the academic–INGO interface stem from overly linear approaches to what is in effect an ideas and knowledge ecosystem. In such contexts, systems thinking can help identify bottlenecks and suggest possible …

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