Author Archives: Marcus

Working with narrative – potential start of a series

I have blogged about using narrative to measure changes in attitudes or to build up human sensor networks. These blogs have generated a lot of traffic. The use of narrative for better understanding social systems and social change is still a big interest of mine. This is why I have been digging a bit to better understand why narrative research is so powerful to understand change in complex systems such as communities.

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Presentation: Refreshing development

I had the honour and pleasure to be a speaker on a panel last week at the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) in London. The event was titled “Refreshing Development: Making the Case for New Economic Thought in Global Development Policy”. It was part of a whole series of events 10 years after the economic crash in 2007 and supported by the Alumni network of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

My presentation was about transformational economic change and in it I tried to convey the basic ideas on how change happens in the economy, wrapped in the example of the “Growing Rubber Opportunities” (GRO) Project I have been supporting over the last four years in Myanmar. Continue reading

Thinking out loud: my areas of interest

This post is a bit of an experiment. In it, I want to outline my four main areas of interest which guide my reading, thinking and the work I want to engage in. The aim is twofold. Firstly, I hope that the exercise focuses my thoughts because I need to write the areas down in a coherent way. Secondly, this is intended as a way to reach out to likeminded people who are interested in the same issues, so it contains a call to action, i.e. to contact me. I would be particularly interested if you would like to discuss my ideas presented below, work with me on any of these challenges, or simply tell me that what I am sketching out below is not really as challenging as I think it is and that robust answers/solutions are indeed already available (please do share them with me and excuse me for my ignorance).

My four areas of interest are (1) understanding change in societies from a complex systems perspective and in particular how to promote a more sustainable way of living, (2) developing an integrated approach to performance management, accountability and learning for teams and organisations engaging in complex change, (3) achieving systemic change through economic development initiatives, and (4) engaging more in the area I live in – the North East of England. Some of these areas are more concrete and tangible in terms of potential outputs and activities. I will now describe each of them in turn in more detail. Continue reading

A Whole New World: funding in complexity

wholenewworld.pngYesterday I was at the launch of a fascinating report on how to better fund organisations that aim to achieve change in complex systems. Though the report draws mainly on public sector commissioners and charitable funders in the social sector in the UK, it is relevant far beyond that. We can take many if not most of the principles the report found and with some tweaking apply them in funding for international development.

The aim of the report is to attempt to answer the question “How should organisations which have a desire to help improve people’s lives, and resources to allocate to achieve this goal, manage the distribution of those resources most effectively?” This question is certainly also relevant for international development, as its goal equally is to improve people’s lives – even though many organisations and initiatives have much narrower aims – which is a problem in itself, but that’s for another post.
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Mesopartner Summar Academy 2017

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I just realised that I have not published a post on this year’s Mesopartner Summer Academy in Berlin. Luckily, there are still places open, so if you see this post and are interested to participate in the training, please do apply!

The Academy is a training event for advanced professionals in territorial economic development and related economic development approaches. This year’s focus will be on what we call ‘meso organisations’. The meso level is where the both public and private actors on the national, regional, and local level work together to create locational advantages and increase relative competitiveness. The idea of the need to support the emergence and capacity of a meso level, though not new, is still not very strongly integrated in current approaches to economic development.

Besides the focus on meso organisations, we will also bring in as many insights as possible from our recent research products on systemic change. Continue reading

The next step in systemic change

Over the course of 2016, Shawn and I worked on a piece of research on systemic change in market systems development, funded by the BEAM Exchange. In this work, we question the utility of the concept of systemic change in market systems development (though this is valid in the wider field of economic development) as it is currently used and suggest a rethink. To do so, we went back to search for a fundamental understanding of economic change. This is what we found.

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An alternative to a Theory of Change approach

I have been blogging quite extensively about the Theory of Change (ToC) approach in recent months. My blog posts reflect a process that I have been going through as part of my different work engagements: adapt ToC approaches to be more sensitive to the complexities development programmes face in their day-to-day work.

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Different phases of Systemic Insight

In parallel, with my colleagues at Mesopartner we keep doing research on understanding complex realities and our human reaction to them based on cognitive science, understanding the process of economic change, making decisions under conditions of uncertainty, and managing highly resilient organisations. In these contexts, ToC has limited applicability and a number of drawbacks. Therefore, we have been working on an alternative approach to the ToC approach which we built from the ground up based on our growing understanding of how complex systems work and how involved actors can lead a process of exploration and change. The approach is called Systemic Insight. Continue reading

Refining the Complexity aware Theory of Change

When I wrote my last post about experimenting with new structures for a complexity aware Theory of Change (ToC) in Myanmar, I had a few elements in place, but still some questions. Going further back to an earlier post, I was clear that differentiating between clear causal links for complicated issues and unpredictable causalities for complex ones is critical. I have been thinking about that a lot and last week I have taught a session on monitoring in complex contexts and I think I have found the final piece of the puzzle. Continue reading

Experimenting with new structures for Theory of Change

Last week I was in Myanmar working with a market
systems development programme. The main task of this trip is to work on the project’s monitoring framework. To set the stage for that, we are working on revising the project’s theory of change (ToC).

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A messy theory of change

Theory of Change is a bit of a contentious beast in my set of tools. As I am thinking and writing a lot on complexity and complex systems, I am aware that causality in complex systems can hardly ever be reduced to a straight line between two boxes and it is even more difficult to predict in advance how change will look like. It is not just that causalities are difficult to disentangle or predict in advance (it’s easier using hindsight), but that because of emergence there are other causalities at work than the linear material – billard-ball like – causality we are used to. But this is the topic of another blog post. So for me, Theory of Change is not an instrument to predict what change will happen but to create a coherent picture that explains why the project is doing what it is doing. Continue reading