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Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.

Views From The Center Blog


Complexity, Adaptation, and Results

In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.

In School Not Learning

This post originally appeared on Owen Abroad.

George Bush famously asked, ‘Is our children learning?’. That’s also the question by Uwezo, a coalition of NGOs working in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Their report published today makes dismal reading about the quality of schools.

First, a word about the report. This is not a study by the World Bank, or a group of donors. It is a study by Uwezo, an East African initiative hosted by three NGO networks: TEN/MET in Tanzania, WERK in Kenya and UNNGOF in Uganda, with overall quality assurance and management support from Twaweza. They conducted their own survey (standardized across the countries) to test the literacy and numeracy of more than 100,000 children, the largest ever survey of its kind in the region. When citizens themselves are telling us about whether their public services work, we should be paying attention.