The challenges to economic, social and political development are complex and unpredictable1. To respond to these challenges, governments, NGOs and international development agencies need to rely less on rigid implementation structures built on pre-chosen outputs and targets. Instead they need to manage policies, programmes and projects in more flexible and adaptive styles that take account of new threats, opportunities and the lessons learned during implementation. How then can development interventions be steered towards intended goals? Is it possible – and feasible – to manage interventions faced with so many influences and uncertainties?
This … [series] is a guide to how interventions can be managed in the face of complexity. The … [series] builds on academic, policy and programmatic literature related to themes around systems and complexity (such as an in-depth study by Jones, 2011, which synthesises much of the material), and draws on the authors’ experience of advising development agencies and governments in both developed and developing countries. To understand the way we use the term ‘complexity’ throughout the … [series], please see Box 1.
First, this … [series] describes the features of complex situations, and explains why they pose a challenge for traditional management approaches. This should give the reader the necessary tools to assess whether and in what way they are facing a complex situation (and, therefore, whether the guide is relevant for them). Second, it outlines key principles for managing in the face of complexity. This should help the reader understand how management needs to differ from more traditional approaches when confronted with complex issues. Third, the … [series] provides examples of approaches that have been used for managing in situations of complexity. This should give the reader a deeper understanding of the principles involved, and practical illustrations of how they can be applied.
For the purpose of this … [series] we understand ‘management’ as the process of translating plans into action (for making plans, see ‘A guide to planning and strategy development in the face of complexity’, 2013). This encompasses defining and structuring activities, organising resources (including staffing), determining the division of work and responsibilities (including for decision-making) and specifying information needs and communication flows. We also highlight leadership tasks throughout the … [series], which are usually seen as being complimentary to management: while a manager assures that things are done rightly, a leader’s job is to inspire and motivate, seeing that the right things are done2. Yet nowadays management and leadership are not easily separated and in development work in particular the same people act as both leader and manager (perhaps at different points in time).
Next part (part 2.1): Identifying the nature, level and challenges of complexity.
See also these related series:
- Exploring the science of complexity
- Planning and strategy development in the face of complexity
- Taking responsibility for complexity.
Article source: Hummelbrunner, R. and Jones, H. (2013). A guide to managing in the face of complexity. London: ODI. (https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/8662.pdf). Republished under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 in accordance with the Terms and conditions of the ODI website.
- 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. ↩
- Drucker, P.F. (2001). The Essential Drucker, Collins Business Essentials. New York: Collins. ↩
- Stacey, Ralph D. (1993). Strategic Management and Organizational Dynamics. London: Pitman. ↩
- Kurtz, C.F. and Snowden, D. (2003). ‘The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a Complex and Complicated World.’ IBM Systems Journal, 42(3): 462-483. ↩
- Rogers, P. (2008) ‘Using Programme Theory to Evaluate Complicated and Complex Aspects of Interventions.’ Evaluation, 14(1): 29-48. ↩
- Guijt, I. (2008). Seeking Surprise: Rethinking monitoring for collective learning in rural resource management. Published PhD Thesis. Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands. ↩