Systems and complexityTaking responsibility for complexity

Taking responsibility for complexity (section 3.2): When? Building adaptive and emergent responses

This article is section 3.2 of a series of articles featuring the ODI Working Paper Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems.

In complex problems, there will often be unavoidable uncertainty, and effective policy-making depends on local expressions of desired changes and of adaptation to local contexts. It is therefore crucial to better align implementation tools and approaches with realities on the ground, and plans must be seen as permanently provisional. When looking into future events, past a certain level, planned-for detail should be balanced with the understanding that even the best plans may quickly become irrelevant.

A greater burden of the generation and use of knowledge for implementation needs to be shifted to occur during the intervention. There is a number of ways this can be done to help make implementation more adaptive – ongoing learning about the effects of interventions should be encouraged, and implementation needs to recognise it is about not only providing answers to problems but also expressing hypotheses and asking questions.

The subsections in this section (section 3.2) are:

3.2.1 – Appropriate planning

3.2.2 – Iterative impact-oriented monitoring

3.2.3 – Stimulating autonomous learning

3.2.4 – Implementation as an evolutionary learning process

3.2.5 – Creating short, cost-effective feedback loops

3.2.6 – Accountability for learning.

Next part (section 3.2.1): Appropriate planning.

See also these related series:

Article source: Jones, H. (2011). Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Working Paper 330. London: ODI. (https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/6485.pdf). Republished under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 in accordance with the Terms and conditions of the ODI website.

Harry Jones

Author of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) paper "Taking responsibility for complexity: How implementation can achieve results in the face of complex problems."

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