Last week saw the publication of a new ODI working paper on the implications of complexity for development agencies. In his latest paper, Harry Jones examines the role of information and knowledge in improving results and ways of working.

The first half of the paper focuses on ways in which readers can determine the nature of the problems they face and explains how complex problems challenge “traditional approaches to implementation.” The second half of the paper provides an overview of different approaches that can be employed in order to navigate complex problems, focusing on “when, where and how” complexity needs to be addressed.

Well-written and thought-provoking, the paper is a concise summary of some of the key ideas ‘out there’ about how to navigate complex problems. Harry also provides a good series of annotated ‘sign-posts’ to tools and approaches which will be useful for anyone looking to learn more about this important area of work. The paper provides a useful complement to the 2008 ODI working paper on complexity and aid (which Harry and I worked on together, along with other colleagues at ODI), looking at some of the ideas presented there through fresh eyes.

As leading development thinker David Booth notes in his foreword, there is much here for readers to engage with, “arrive at their own conclusions, and be enriched in the process.”

A very good contribution to the growing literature in this area.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. The idea of taking responsibility for complexity makes me mindful of what is referred to as technical dept in IT and software development.

    At the time of developing a solution, no one wants to deal with that which keeps later complexity from causing, often debilitating, costs. Software has costs. Some of them are due to its complexity and the complexity and dynamic nature of its context (operating system updates, hardware upgrades ). Product managers and sometimes the developers themselves often prefer to ignore this.

    Documentation, monitoring, management and maintenance proceses all get pushed to one side in order to deliver the solution ASAP. Then everyone wonders why things are grinding to a holt a year later, when it becomes apparent that those processes and items of work actually are necessary to solve such complex problems in a changing environment, in a sustainable way…

    I fear politics and aid have both yet to learn the real significance of ‘technical debt’. Or maybe it could be more generally be called ‘reductionists’ debt’?


  2. Hey Ben

    A few blogs to update you and your readers on:
    – The first is on the ODI website : Managing better for results, not just measuring them better: lessons on complexity for the results agenda.

    The second is a guest blog I was asked to do for on think tanks: Programming for complexity: how to get past ‘horses for courses’.




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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.


Knowledge and learning, Public Policy, Reports and Studies