Category Archives: development and complexity

Of Complexity and Chaos

Cynefin framework

The Cynefin Framework with the newly renamed ‘Obvious’ domain (formerly ‘Simple’). Source: Cognitive Edge

In the Cynefin framework, complex and chaotic are two separate domains. Complexity is defined as the domain where agents and constraints co-evolve, chaos as where there are no constraints. Both are part of the unordered side of Cynefin, i.e. where events are unpredictable and expert knowledge and analysis are not leading to better decisions. Chaos is seen as a domain where you don’t really want to be, so all you have to do there is go act quickly and decisively to get out. To use Dave Snowden’s words: “Chaos is a transitionary domain.  (…)  If you collapse into it without [intention] then the strategy is to move out in a controlled way; you will move out as constraints happen naturally. Entered deliberately it can create the conditions for radical innovation, used as contained chaos it allows for distributed cognition or Wisdom of Crowds. Nothing resides in Chaos for any period without sustained effort.” Continue reading

Systemic Insight and complexity: looking forward

This post was first posted on Mesopartner’s Systemic Insight page. 

This week, the five partners of Mesopartner and Marcus are meeting in South Africa for the annual partner meeting. The meeting is an important event for Mesopartner where knowledge and learning is exchanged, new ideas and theories are shared, the Summer Academy is planned, and many other strategic issues are discussed. Continue reading

New Mesopartner working paper on complexity theory and development

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 12.20.50For the last years I have had the privilege to take part of and contribute to Mesopartner’s journey into the field of complexity. We started to dismantle and question almost every aspect of our instruments, tools and theories. This journey has been very much in line with my own work, pondering how complexity theory can contribute to making economic development more effective and sustainable.

One of the results of this process is the Systemic Insight website, where we want to share our thoughts and invite our followers to contribute to the discussions we have (and where some of my blog posts are also cross-posted).

A new Mesopartner Working Paper now provides a theoretical grounding for the work we have done and will continue to do. Together with my co-author and friend Dr. Shawn Cunningham (who’s blog I highly recommend), we consider some definitions, ponder the implications and try to formulate some responses to some of the key challenges that systems and complexity theories confront us with in our field of bottom up economic development.

We see this paper as an input into a broader discussion with our close collaborators, our close clients, and the broader network that we form part of. I would like to ask you to send us your thoughts and add your comments to this and future posts.

Exploring narrative sensemaking

I haven’t been posting for a while. The reason is that our first daughter was born in August and we are still overwhelmed with having a new person in our household. My work has been cut down to the minimum so we can cater to and at the same time hugely enjoy the new person in our lives.

Nevertheless, I have been doing some work. An interesting new avenue I am exploring is that of narrative sensemaking. Narrative inquiry has a long history and there are various branches to it. The branch I am exploring is based on the approach by Dave Snowden and his company Cognitive Edge, which attempts to collect metadata together with stories that can be analyzed statistically. This effectively adds a quantitative component to the otherwise purely qualitative nature of narrative inquiry.

As a first pilot we have added a narrative study to a larger thematic study on Regional Economic Development (RED). This thematic study is implemented by a consortium consisting of Mesopartner and SISTME for the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank. The goal of the narrative part of the study is to find factors that promote or hinder Local Economic Development initiatives to reach scale – either through effecting changes on policies or through a copying effect by other regions and actors.

Currently, we are collecting narratives from LED practitioners in Latin America. But we are also adding experiences from practitioners all around the world to get a richer picture and be able to compare the importance of the factors. We are using SurveyGizmo to collect the narratives. Although it does not allow for all the tricks as a specifically developed software like Cognitive Edge’s SenseMaker, we see it as a low-cost alternative to test the approach. We will know more about the suitability of the tool when we are done with the study. In any case we are eager to also use the more powerful SenseMaker Suite in upcoming projects and compare the functionality.

If you have made experiences in local and regional economic development that you would like to share, please fill out the questionnaire and share your story. You will have the chance to win a book voucher worth 75 USD. Here is the link to the three versions of the questionnaire we have: English, Spanish, Portuguese

Emergent vs. trained entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the modern-day philosopher’s stone: a mysterious something that supposedly holds the secret to boosting growth and creating jobs.

20130720_WBD000_0This is how a recent Schumpeter column in the Economist starts out. The argument that the author shares with us is basically that the heist for entrepreneurship both in developed countries as well as in developing countries (although he focuses on the first) is based on a faulty understanding of what an entrepreneur actually is: Continue reading

How to strengthen innovation – good practice vs. emergent practice

The Cynefin FrameworkThe last week of June I had the privilege of attending a three-day training event with Dave Snowden, founder of Cognitive Edge and “mental father” of the Cynefin framework. For me this was a great experience and although I had read a lot of stuff around complexity (also by Dave), there were still many new insights I got. Some things were new, others just became clearer. One thing that I knew but that was becoming more pronounced during the training is the differentiation between best/good practice and emergent practice. Continue reading

ODI paper on planning and strategy development in complex situations

ODI just published a great paper by Richard Hummelbrunner and Harry Jones titled “A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity.” It is a great piece that takes  the discussion around harnessing complexity for more effective development to a much more concrete, practicable and practitioner friendly level.

In the relatively short (12 pages) and easy to read paper, Hummelbrunner and Jones introduce complexity, name the biggest challenges in the face of complexity, propose three core principles to face them, and even showcase a number of tools that can be applied in these situations.

Continue reading

Train your gut feeling through continuous learning!

Complex situations resist our analytical capacities, they are unpredictable. In these situations, we cannot base our decisions on data. Hence, our decisions often based on intuition, gut feeling, and rules of thumb. Through continuous learning, we can train our intuition and become better equipped to manage our projects in complex environments. Continue reading

What does ‘systemic’ actually mean?

“We need more systemic approaches!” This claim has gained some traction in the development world. Everybody is talking about how to make development approaches more ‘systemic’. A quick internet research reveals quite a number of results related to development organizations: USAID, USAID, CGAP, GIZGIZ, GIZ, and SDC. Continue reading