Planning and strategy development in the face of complexitySystems and complexity

Planning and strategy development in the face of complexity series (part 1): Introduction

This article is part 1 of a series of articles featuring the ODI Background Note A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity.

The challenges to economic, social and political development are complex and, therefore, unpredictable1. As many commentators have argued, effective programming by governments, non-governmental organisations and international agencies requires a shift in emphasis – moving away from a heavy reliance on planning and ex-ante analysis towards monitoring, learning and adaptation2. How, then, can policy makers, managers and practitioners best plan in the face of complexity? Does complexity make planning an irrelevant exercise?

This … [series] is a guide, elaborating how planning and strategy development can be carried out despite complexity. While it is true that complex situations require a greater focus on learning and adaptation, this does not render planning irrelevant. In fact, there are ways in which the processes and products of planning can respect the realities of the situation and set up interventions (policies, programmes and projects) to give them the best chance of success. The guide builds on academic, policy and programmatic literature related to themes around systems and complexity (such as an in-depth study by Jones3, which synthesises much of the material), and draws on the authors’ experience of advising development agencies and governments in both developed and developing countries.

First, this guide describes the features of complex situations, and explains why they pose a challenge for traditional planning approaches. This should give the reader the necessary tools to assess whether and in what way they are facing a complex problem (and, therefore, whether the guide is relevant for them). Second, it outlines key principles for planning in the face of complexity. This should give the reader an understanding of how planning and strategy development need to differ from more traditional approaches when confronted by complex problems. Third, the guide provides examples of approaches that have been used for planning in situations of complexity. This should give the reader a deeper understanding of the principles involved, and some ideas about how they can be applied in practice.

Next part (part 2): Identifying the level, nature and threats of complexity.

See also these related series:

Article source: Hummelbrunner, R. and Jones, H. (2013). A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity. 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.

Header image source: rawpixel on PixabayPublic Domain.

References:

  1. Ramalingam, B. and Jones, H., with Reba, T. and Young, J. (2008). Exploring the science of complexity: Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian work. Working Paper 285. London: Overseas Development Institute.
  2. Jones, H. (2011). Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems. ODI Working Paper 330, June. London: Overseas Development Institute.
  3. Jones, H. (2011). Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems. ODI Working Paper 330, June. London: Overseas Development Institute.

Richard Hummelbrunner and Harry Jones

Authors of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) papers "A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity" and "A guide to managing in the face of complexity".

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