The methods of complex systems research are increasingly being used and
valued by international development organisations. These approaches
enable a shift away from existing tools and business processes that
reinforce a focus on static, simple and linear problems. The evidence is
that these methods can help development partners better navigate the
complex, dynamic realities they face on a day-to-day basis. This Working
Paper summarises the findings of a series of small-scale pilots of
selected complex systems methods in DFID’s wealth creation work. The
pilots contributed to improved analysis and understanding of a range of
wicked problems, and generated tangible findings that were directly
utilised in corporate and programmatic decisions. They played a
significant role in the design of two large programmes, and provided the
evidence base for a root and branch review of DFID processes. The
Working Paper concludes that there are considerable opportunities for
doing more programming using these methods, with real potential for
enhancing development decision-making in the face of wicked problems.
This paper synthesises the material and lessons from four background
papers written in 2013, by Kim Warren (‘Strategy Modelling to support
DFID’s Aid for Trade program: Nigeria case-study’), Rick Davies
(‘Network perspectives on Girl Hub Nigeria’), Isabel Vogel and Greg
Fisher (‘Complexity-informed theory of change for Private Sector
Development in Democratic Republic of Congo’) and Steve Curram and Dave
Exelby (‘Applying Systems Thinking techniques to the Programme
Management process in DFID’).
Following peer review of preliminary drafts, a subsequent draft was
shared on the ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog by Duncan Green, and received
almost 50 comments. These were then incorporated in the final version of
the paper. The link to the blog is also appended to this record.
Ramalingam, B.; Laric, M.; Primrose, J. From best practice to best fit: understanding and navigating wicked problems in international development. Overseas Development Institute, London, UK (2014) v + 45 pp.