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Great New Guide to ‘Systems Thinking and Practice’

February 8, 2023
I’m always on the lookout for good guides to the practical implications of systems thinking, so got very excited when I came across Systems Thinking and Practice: A guide to concepts, principles and tools for FCDO and partners, by Jim Woodhill and Juliet Millican. Its 38 pages are stuffed full of crisp summaries of the main ideas, case studies applying
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How does Innovation happen in Systems?

July 29, 2021
I approached Building Better Systems: A Green Paper on System Innovation, by Charles Leadbeater and Jennie Winhall, with a fair degree of initial scepticism – these kinds of papers tend to involve a lot of hand waving, and not many specifics. But I warmed to it as I read. First, some nice crunchy case studies on things like young adults
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How Change Happens: the podcast

July 23, 2019
I spoke to Jo Howard from IDS about How Change Happens for their book podcast Between the Lines. Here it is: With podcasts, I always try to provide a blog-length set of excerpts for people who prefer reading to listening, but I honestly couldn’t bear to listen to myself this time. So huge thanks to Maria Faciolince for taking the

If top down control is unavoidable, can we still make aid more compatible with systems thinking?

July 17, 2019
Had a really interesting conversation last week with Oxfam Intermon and its friends in the Catalan aid system (in Spain, aid is regional with provinces and even cities like Barcelona pursuing active aid policies). I gave my usual rap about how complex systems require aid providers to adopt iterative, adaptive approaches to cope with uncertainty and the response was basically

Podcast: How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, with Yuen Yuen Ang

November 3, 2018
  Finally managed to persuade Yuen Yuen Ang, author of one of my favourite books from last year (reviewed here and discussion of bicultural authors like Yuen Yuen here), to come to LSE, where she gave a barnstorming lecture on the book and its wider implications. The previous evening I managed to catch up with her for an FP2P podcast.

Can ‘Doing Development Differently’ only succeed if aid donors stay away from it?

May 22, 2018
Another day, another seminar on Adaptive Management/Doing Development Differently/Thinking and Working Politically (let’s save words by just calling the whole thing DDD). This one was held under the Chatham House Rule, so no names or institutions. There was an interesting mix of academics and contractors – private companies who increasingly run the big contracts for DFID and other donors, and

I’m helping run a summer school on Adaptive Management. In Bologna. Interested?

March 6, 2018
This could be a lot of fun, I’m working with two of the smartest minds in Oxfam: Irene Guijt (head of research) and Claire Hutchings (head of Programme Quality) to design and deliver a one week summer school course on ‘Adaptive Management:  Working Effectively in the Complexity of International Development’. Between us we are going to try and really combine

My (current) default suggestions when asked about almost anything to do with ‘strategy’

January 31, 2018
I realised recently that I have a fairly standard playlist of topics I bang on about to people during the frequent ‘blue sky’ (well, the initials are BS, anyway) sessions after someone phones up and says something like ‘can I pick your brains as part of our strategy refresh?’ So I thought, if I am going to give the same

Achilles v Ulysses and Complexity, according to the OECD

October 12, 2017
Just been browsing a new OECD book on what complexity and systems thinking mean for policy-making. It consists of ‘a compilation of contributions from a series of seminars and workshops on complexity issues over the past two years. It reflects the combined wisdom and perspectives of an internal and external network of researchers, academics and policymakers.’ The pieces are short

Two top authors compared: Hossain on Bangladesh and Ang on China

September 21, 2017
OK, so this week I’ve reviewed the two important new books on the rise of China and Bangladesh. Now for the tricky bit – the comparison. The books are very different in their approach. Where Yuen Yuen Ang focuses on the ‘how’ in China, Naomi Hossain is more interested in the ‘why’ in Bangladesh. Hossain traces the ‘why’ to the

Complexity v Simplicity: the challenge for Campaigners and Reformers

September 14, 2017
Had a few thought-provoking conversations on this last week. I increasingly see most problems (social, political, economic) as complex, i.e. arising from multiple causes in interconnected systems, often highly dependent on the specific context and history of any given place/population. My campaigner friends generally hate such talk, because their gut feeling is that it makes taking action to change the

What can we learn from 7 successes in making markets work for poor people?

September 1, 2017
Hi everyone, I’m back from an August blog break, with lots of great reading to report back on. First up, if you’re even slightly interested in how markets can benefit poor people, I urge you to read Shaping Inclusive Markets, a new publication from FSG and Rockefeller. The 60 page document explains their approach to ‘market systems innovation’, which we