Debates on complexity and international aid have been heating up in the past few weeks. There have been thought-provoking articles by some well-known folk, which have had some some equally interesting responses. There  were also some great presentations at the EWB conference. On a separate issue, complexity of nuclear reactors and financial markets are explored in a fantastic piece by Tim Harford in the FT. Last but not least, an account of the first ever complexity science after school club…

Here is a little annotated compilation for anyone wanting to catch up with it all… please add any more in comments…


Podcast of Dave Snowden speaking at EWB on complex adaptive systems – addressing the need for more chefs and less recipe followers (metaphorically speaking of course) and better children’s parties (ditto)

Video of Owen Barder speaking in the same session on changing the aid system, how to move beyond the current unhealthy equilibrium and outlines some useful lessons from complex systems thinking

Aid and Development Blogs

Aid Watch picks up the potential of complexity sciences and aid (citing Dennis Whittle’s interview with yours truly) and relates it to their ongoing thinking

Bill Easterly gives a very light touch reference to complexity thinking on engineered solutions in Cote d’Ivoire

Philip Auerswald writes a rather sharp response on the Coming Prosperity which is summarised wonderfully by Tim Ogden in his comment

Shotgun Shack reflects on the challenges of bring complexity and failure to the table without the ideas being subverted or simplified

Ian Thorpe writes a piece on ‘who’s afraid of complexity’ on KM on a Dollar a Day

Bill Easterly sets out in more detail some basic principles of ‘Complex Adaptive Systemic Emergence of Spontaneous Order General Equilibrium in Development’ 🙂 but also links these principles to a closing statement about the importance of individual choice compared to central authorities. Some commentators still aren’t happy…

Philip Auerswald points out the need to understand what real world emergence looks like in actual as opposed to theorised human societies, and the need to focus on how people create novelty.

UPDATE: Brendan Rigby writes a reflective piece on complexity, education in Indonesia and Kanye West with an interesting response on the non-mathematical uses of complexity

Other blogs and articles

Tim Harford writes an FT feature on complexity and accidents and what banks have to learn from nuclear reactors, drawing on ideas of Charles Perrow on failure and accidents in complex systems

The first ever complexity science summer camps and after-school clubs (in an article written by one of the students)

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Very pleased to see this conversation about complexity. It has significant implications for strategies and such things as evaluation. You may find of interest blog entries on this at …do a search for the word “complexity” with the advanced option “blog”.

  2. […] in the blogosphere is complexity, or complex adaptive systems. Aid on the Edge of Chaos has a good round-up on complexity posts. The bottom line here is that in a complex system, results are unpredictable. The system is not […]


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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.