Tag: complex systems

What kinds of ‘expert advice’ work in a complex world? Some likes and dislikes

I’ve been talking to a lot of ‘advisers’ in Oxfam, Save the Children and elsewhere recently about what all this complexity stuff means in practice. Advisers are unsung NGO heroes, repositories of wisdom and experience, working closely with partners and staff on the ground. And those staff typically want to know what they should be […]

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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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Where are the examples of good donorship in complex systems?

Everyone loves a good scapegoat. When faced with trying something exciting, risky or new, the temptation is to say ‘they’ won’t let us. In the World Trade Organization I’ve heard developing country delegates argue that there is nothing they can do to stop the tide of imports, even when the WTO rules have lots of […]

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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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Can impact diaries help us analyse our impact when working in complex environments?

One of the problems about working in a complex system is that not only do you never know what is going to happen, but you aren’t sure what developments, information, feedback etc will turn out (with hindsight) to be important. In these results-obsessed times, what does that mean for monitoring and evaluation? One answer is […]

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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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Aid and complex systems cont’d: timelines, incubation periods and results

I’m at one of those moments where all conversations seem to link to each other, I see complex systems everywhere, and I’m wondering whether I’mstarting to lose my marbles. Happily, lots of other people seem to be suffering from the same condition, and a bunch of us met up earlier this week with Matt Andrews, […]

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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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