Tag: complexity

How can Complexity and Systems Thinking end Malaria?

This is complexity week on the blog, pegged to the launch of Ben Ramalingam’s big new book ‘Aid on the Edge of Chaos’ at the ODI on Wednesday (I get to be a discussant – maximum airtime for least preparation. Result.) So let’s start with a taster from the book that works nicely as a […]

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The war for Twaweza’s soul: the hunger for clarity and certainty v the demands of complexity

This is the last in a series of three posts on Twaweza, a fascinating NGO doing some pioneering work on accountability in East Africa, whose big navel gaze I attended last week. Post one covered Twaweza’s theory of change and initial evaluation results; yesterday I got onto the critique of its thinking and action to […]

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What does your project plan most resemble – baking a cake, landing a rocket on the moon, or raising a child?

One of the main obstacles to having a decent conversation about the implications of complex systems for how we ‘do’ development (donorship, programming, advocacy, campaigns etc) is the language itself. Complexity geeks may get a kick out of saying ‘it’s all complex/context specific etc etc’, but more normal/practical people tend to find such language offputting […]

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How to think in Systems? Great (and accessible, and short) book.

Thanks to whoever suggested I read ‘Thinking in Systems’, by Donella Meadows. It’s great – one of those short, easy reads that may induce a gestalt shift in the way you see the world. The topic is ‘systems theory’ – that phrase that wise-looking wonks bandy about in meetings, to intimidating effect. If you can’t […]

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Campaigning and Complexity: how do we campaign on a problem when we don’t know the solution?

Had a thought-provoking discussion on ‘influencing’ with Exfamer (ex Oxfam Australia turned consultant) James Ensor a few days ago. The starting point was an apparent tension between the reading I’ve been doing on complex systems, and Oxfam’s traditional model of campaigning. In my first days at Oxfam, I was told that the recipe for a […]

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What kind of science do we need for the aid and post-2015 agenda?

Spent an intriguing evening last week speaking on a panel at the wonderful Royal Society (Isaac Newton and all that), on the links between the post-2015 agenda and science. The audience was from the government/science interface – people with job titles like ‘Head of Extreme Events’. I talked (powerpoint here – keep clicking) about how […]

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Be the Toolkit: Discussing complex systems with Oxfam’s next generation of leaders

Over the next few months, I’ll be getting stuck into a big Oxfam project on how we understand and work on issues of power and change. As befits its focus on ‘how change happens’, this is already evolving in unexpected directions, such as a stress on how we support Oxfamistas to work in ‘complex systems’ […]

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How to Plan when you don’t know what is going to happen? Redesigning aid for complex systems

They’re funny things, speaker tours. On the face of it, you go from venue to venue, churning out the same presentation – more wonk-n-roll than rock-n-roll. But you are also testing your arguments, adding slides where there are holes, deleting ones that don’t work. Before long the talk has morphed into something very different. So […]

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Evidence and results wonkwar final salvo (for now): Eyben and Roche respond to Whitty and Dercon + your chance to vote

In this final post (Chris Whitty and Stefan Dercon have opted not to write a second installment), Rosalind Eyben and Chris Roche reply to their critics. And now is your chance to vote (right) – but only if you’ve read all three posts, please. The comments on this have been brilliant, and I may well […]

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Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty: Book Review of 'The Blind Spot'

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more books and fewer papers – books often push authors deeper, forcing them to identify and develop their underlying assumptions and ideas, whereas papers (whether single or in edited volumes pretending to be books) are often a rehash of their existing thinking, garnished with a dollop of […]

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Thick problems, thin solutions and the future of NGOs

Normally I avoid discussions about the future of NGOs like the plague – they either involve a bunch of academics with only the vaguest idea of what we actually do all day, or a lot of senior managers emitting sonorous pronouncements on how we need to be more agile in a multi-polar world and use […]

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How can you regulate the beat of a butterfly’s wing?

OK, this may be a bit pointy headed, but it has got me thinking. I ran an early draft of this post past Ben Ramalingam (see pic), who thinks a lot about this kind of thing, and include some of his comments here. Fact one: we NGOs are always calling for the regulation of what […]

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