For all ‘Aid on the Edge’ readers wanting a straightforward, clear and above all short introduction to complexity science, your wishes have been answered with a well-written 16 page primer, adapted from Brenda Zimmerman & co’s work on health systems. It doesn’t answer all complexity-related questions, but it is certainly a very useful entry point for those starting out their journey on the complexity sciences. As the abstract notes:

This paper is called a ‘primer’ because it is intended to be a first step in understanding complexity science. In house painting, the primer or prime coat is not the finished surface. A room with a primer on the walls often looks worse than before the painting began. The patchy surface allows us to see some of the old paint but the new paint is not yet obvious. It is not the completed image we want to create. But it creates the conditions for a smoother application of the other coats of paint, for a deeper or richer color, and a more coherent and consistent finish. As you read this primer, keep this image in mind. This paper is not the finished product. Ideas and concepts are mentioned but only given a quick brush stroke in this primer. You will need to look to the other resources… to get a richer color of complexity.

Download the paper here, and do share any thoughts and ideas using the comments function. And for more reports on complexity with specific relevance to development and humanitarian work, take a look at the Publications page of this blog.

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. As one of those people who encouraged this – a quick thanks!

  2. […] May 2, 2010 by bramalingam Today’s New York Times Review has a nice piece  on ‘making sense of complexity’ which cites the work of Brenda Zimmerman, noted complexity specialist whose work on health systems has featured on two previous Aid on the Edge posts (here and here). […]

  3. This is one of the best writing on complexity. Simple writing rules that lead almost effortlessly to understanding complexity. The emerging writing pattern is attractive. I thank you for this great and commendable effort.


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About Ben Ramalingam

I am a researcher and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. I am currently working on a number of consulting and advisory assignments for international agencies. I am also writing a book on complexity sciences and international aid which will be published by Oxford University Press. I hold Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow positions at the Institute of Development Studies, the Overseas Development Institute, and the London School of Economics.


Healthcare, Reports and Studies