This article is part 5 of a series of articles featuring the ODI Working Paper Exploring the science of complexity: Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian efforts.
Our first aim in this [series] … is to explore the literature on complexity science. The bulk of this literature is technical, mathematically focused and applies to physical and biological sciences. This is accompanied by a sizable set of publications in the popular science genre. In addition, there is a rapidly growing set of books, journals and articles by thinkers who are exploring and applying complexity science concepts in social, political and economic realms. Our aim in reviewing this spectrum of material is primarily to clarify what is meant by this arcane-sounding and often perplexing set of ideas.
We also explore relevant reports, evaluations and practices from the international development and humanitarian sectors. We do this in order to uncover the implications of the concepts of complexity for organisations and individuals who work in the aid world. Wherever possible, we will use concrete and real world examples and illustrations.
The two strands of ideas and evidence, that from the complexity science literature and that from the international development and humanitarian sectors, are woven together. In this way, the [series] … presents the reader with a general introduction to the topic, followed by a review of each of the key concepts of complexity, placed in the context of its implications for international aid. In our conclusion, we attempt to draw these strands together to arrive at some general conclusions about what complexity science means for development and humanitarian efforts.
In particular, we want to identify: what potential value complexity science holds for the busy policy advisors, overstretched managers and time-constrained evaluators and researchers who work on change and reform initiatives within our sector; what the potential costs are of incorporating complexity perspectives; and the likelihood that these ideas will be utilised in programmes and projects. In particular, this [series] … should appeal to those who are keen to better understand how thinking from the cutting edge of scientific endeavours can be related to international aid efforts and, by extension, what meaning they carry for the future of the sector.
Our overall approach to this [series] … resonates with that of two earlier thinkers1. To paraphrase: we will try to open up and explore concepts, analogies and relationships and will put forward working concepts, categories and hypotheses for testing for practical utility. In the spirit of exploration, we have also allowed ourselves the liberty of reflection and speculation, of seeing where a line of thinking would lead, and as a consequence, the [series] … may raise more questions than it answers.
The unashamedly exploratory nature of this work does not however preclude thorough critical reflection. In particular, we are keen to address the following questions in the conclusions:
- How do the concepts of complexity science fit together?
- What do the complexity science concepts offer to those facing international development and humanitarian problems?
- How does complexity science differ from existing ways of understanding and interpreting problems?
- What kinds of phenomena can complexity science help us better understand?
- What is the value of complexity science for those engaged in humanitarian and development work? Does it tell us anything new?
- What kinds of practical uses are there for complexity science in international aid?
Next part (part 6): Background – The RAPID programme and the focus on change.
Article source: Ramalingam, B., Jones, H., Reba, T., & Young, J. (2008). Exploring the science of complexity: Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian efforts (Vol. 285). London: ODI. (https://www.odi.org/publications/583-exploring-science-complexity-ideas-and-implications-development-and-humanitarian-efforts). Republished under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 in accordance with the Terms and conditions of the ODI website.
- Chambers, R. and Conway, G.R. (1992) Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st century, Brighton, Sussex: IDS. ↩