(for more information see the full text of my thesis)
The ‘aid arena’ is a context in which many different organisations are all together functioning to support development, e.g. in Africa. This ‘institutional context’ is one of the root causes of the fundamental impossibility to predict processes and dynamics taking place in single organisations, while we are most of the times evaluating ‘results’ within a single organisations’ context. The question is – what are the results we are looking for? What is development? And how do we measure whether development took place at all in a fundamentally disorderly environment, that we cannot control. Then how can we at least say something about it, from which we can learn to adapt existing practices and existing strategies? If we consider development as a form of change, taking place in a complex context, the management theory of (systemic) complexity may give us a clue. The starting point here is that we can be ‘in charge’ of complex processes but that we are not ‘in control’: in complex systems this kind of paradox is the heart of the matter. The fact is that the different interactions ( e.g. in the aid arena) cause patterns in itself, both sustaining continuity as well as potentially transforming their own pattern. In this context organisation is a process of interplay of stability and change.
The basic metaphor used here for organisation is (again) derived from natural science: the evolution in thinking about organisation in this respect can be described by different metaphors: starting with an organisation as a machine, the next level is that of an organism, then the (social) system thinking was developed and lately the chaos theory, like the complexity approach all following the development of natural science. It is important here to realise that all these models are metaphors, which can give insights, but by no means predictions (as they are used in natural science): all to often that is misunderstood and models are seen as mechanically useful. The reason for that is the fact that micro diversity of – let’s say – molecules is used as an analogy.
This while human action is not a random activity but requires careful interpretation within socio-political and psychological understanding. In that framework the misunderstanding is often that managers should understand the model, then find the leverage points, push a certain button and: (in our case) dollar in – development out!… Unfortunately daily life is not that simple and neither are the models that try to grasp some of the complexity of it. The only thing that the complexity theory does in this respect is point to relationships that require further investigation and explanation – in other words it is not nomothetic. The basic assumption of the complexity theory in natural science is that the future is not knowable, otherwise the observed empirical facts are not explicable.
The complexity theory in management uses the same approach: opposite to deterministic systems in which the future is known and the order of things moves into a state that was determined beforehand (compare objectivism, see thesis) the basic ontological point of view is that the future is under permanent construction. In the case of complexity theory we use the analogy of dissipative structures: learning and change is an endogenous process. Arguing that the unknowable emerges in the here and now and in interactions between people or organisations, we can develop an evolutionary complex system which can give some explanations for change…. Such a complex – this must be well understood – contains the manager as well: (s)he is not in a different system but inside the same system (see also annex 1of the thesis). Here we depart from the dominant management discourse – managers participate in change but they have little or no control (they are part and parcel of the complexity): reedom is not restricted to the manager, but to all actors in the system (or nested systems for that matter): managers are unable to control the dynamics, although they are actors participating in the change.
‘How ACPD started’
“Kathy Bond-Stewart was in the ministry as well and we continued to be friends, she was sending me scripts of her early writings. And I would read and comment, we became really friends, we became like sisters. When the ministry indicated they wanted to expand Kathy’s programme, we joined forces and we just started travelling around, listening very much to what people were saying and documenting it by hand. We did not have a typewriter, we did not have anything. But I think that that was like being introduced to a whole new school for me. And the discussions and the writings and the overall talks after the book was produced, for me, were not only the training for the people but it was also a, a training process for me… After that we had problems with the ministry, they didn’t believe people were saying what we published. So they brought the race thing in: so Kathy became white and I became black. And the white woman had to go. But then we discussed and we agreed we had to leave together. And then we had no money. Amongst us we had a total of about 100 US$. And my husband had secured a place for his work, then I asked him if we could share. He said yes. So we put two thousand from our side and he put two thousand. And we had an office. Again, it was a new thing.” From: Interview Talent Nyathi (By Sue Howell)
Application in the aid arena
The point is that we are looking for change: not predictable change, but developmental change, which is rather transformative (see also paragraph 1.3 of my thesis) change , called ‘novel change’ by Stacey e.a. The pattern that produces novel change emerges in the interaction between actors (either between organisations or people inside those organisations!) in the aid arena. Furthermore the theory points at power relations: the more constraints to develop freely power relations between different actors produce, the less likely it is that change will occur – this is what the complexity theory coins the ‘fitness landscape’. But also with little constraints there will be only a few opportunities for change: as all actors will be fighting for those opportunities little different possibilities for change will result. All in all the complexity theory applied to the aid arena points at: - Creativity and uncertainty are linked: without unpredictability there is no change - Self organising interaction between different actors in the arena is the cause of transformative change - Power relations are a principal object of study, because they form constraints for ‘novel change’ - There are limits to individual choice: interaction is the basis for development, not the individual (organisation)! Thus the effects of design and planning are limited - Diversity and difference are important features to contribute to emergent change Finally: it is relationships that need to be placed in the centre, not the individuality. That is almost contrary to western thinking, since individuality has been in the centre from millennia ago: Change is group, rather than an individual process, individual change will always be interlinked with others.
Complexity in evaluation
We can now move to the significance of this complexity metaphor to evaluation. In the first place it is not sufficient to base evaluation on planning logic: if we define development as narrowly coupled with novel, transformative change, evaluation systems based on the logical framework for instance will not yield any more insight in whether change has taken place (impact) but will only give insight in output of activities. That is necessary, but it is not enough! The reason is, that it is not the entrenched, formalised logic that brings us to the change we are looking for in development. In that sense the logical framework has become untenable as an instrument for evaluation, may be leaving it intact as a planning instrument however. Indicators must be developed that reflect novel change, rather than logic ‘development’. Above all what can bring novel change to the surface in evaluation is a detailed study of the interactive relationships in the arena. That could better be done by qualitative instruments (such as open interviews) because we’re not looking for the expected (linear) but we’re on the contrary looking for the unexpected (non-linear).
1 Verweel (2000) 2 Fowler (1997) 3 Stacey, Griffin & Shaw (2000): page 4 4 Stacey, Griffin & Shaw (2000): page 12 5 For an overview of the different system levels according to Boulding see: Bahlman & Meesters (1998): page190 6 ‘t Hart (1998) 7 Stacey, Griffin & Shaw (2000) page 52 a.f. 8 As developed by Prigogine et al. in order to describe the convection that takes place if a thin layer of liquid is heated: at thermodynamic equilibrium the temperature is uniform throughout: the liquid is at rest at macro level. However at the micro level molecules are moving at random and independent of each other. Heat applied will now cause the molecules to move together and, reaching a critical temperature, will form hexagonal cells, with long range coherence as a result: this is an endogenous process, the patterns are formed by internal dynamics. They are caused by small chance differences at the moment the cells were formed. They are intrinsically unpredictable: some cells choose one direction, others the opposite at the ‘bifurcation point’. Cells are ‘selforganising’: the emerging pattern is a dissipative structure. Eventually (absorbing more heat) the liquid evaporates. Compare Stacey, Griffin & Shaw (2000) page 92. 9 And Fukuda-Parr (2002) 10 Kauffman, S.A.: Origins of order cited in Stacey (2000) page 112
See also: Responsive Evaluation Methodology in an International Context - Bob van der Winden – Thesis 2004