Author: Harry Jones, Harry
Year: 2011
Full Citation: Jones, H. (2011). Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems. (Working Paper 330). London, UK: Overseas Development Institute
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Overview: This paper presents key concepts of complexity theory and provides a method for assessing complex environments for development planning. Drawing from a large body of research on complex adaptive social systems, Jones distinguishes between ‘simple’, ‘complicated’, and ‘complex’ development problems. He argues that the analysis of development problems is critical to determine which approaches can produce effective results. At a local level practitioners may have a “strong understanding of the local dynamics” and it therefore makes sense (and this is supported by research) to delegate decision-making power which increases “ownership over solutions”. Providing examples from the failure of Green Revolution policy in Bali, Indonesia, Jones warns of the danger of traditional top-down approaches in decision making that disregard the local norms and values. He criticizes the ‘results-based management’ approach that “pushes individuals and teams to try to achieve success within short timeframes, and the use of M&E to ‘prove not improve’. Ongoing learning and adaptation is needed to bring transformation in society and its institutions. The document provides comprehensive guidance:
  1. The level where facilitating decentralized action and self-organization should take place, either ‘national’, ‘regional’ or ‘local’;
  2. The timing of when to build adaptive and emergent responses, ‘before’, ‘during’, ‘after’;
  3. Different mechanisms that will determine which tools and approaches to use in order to link knowledge and actions for policy implementation.
The paper closes by describing the challenging implications of using the ‘complexity’ approach for reform in governance and public administration, and in aid agencies.
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