The Systemic Insight podcast series is about the field of economic development, and how it is challenged by thinking from the fields of systems theories and complexity
Chris Corrigan: in our most creative moments, we feel invited into working together
In this episode of the Systemic Insight Podcast, Marcus talks with Chris Corrigan. Chris is a facilitator and an expert in complexity-sensitive facilitation techniques. He has been using similar methods and frameworks as Mesopartner, such as for example the Cynefin framework, developed by Prof. Dave Snowden. Chris describes himself as a process artist, a teacher and a facilitator of social technologies for face to face conversation in the service of emergence. His business is supporting invitation: the invitation to collaborate, to organise, to find one another and make a difference in our communities, organisations and lives.
Marcus and Chris talked about the difference between being an expert that brings solutions and a facilitator that creates the conditions for emergence. Chris made his first experiences with truly complexity-sensitive facilitation when he started working with the Open Space technology. The two discuss the importance of invitation and respecting human dignity in collaborative processes and in dialogue. According to Chris, in our most creative moments, we feel invited into working together, into collaborating.
During the discussion, Chris describes the Cynefin framework and how he uses it in his practice. Chris presents Cynefin as an incredibly useful generative framework and shares how we can use it to make sense of action. He also introduces some other useful concepts of complexity such as containers, boundaries and connections, attractors, and identities.
Marcus and Chris also discuss the current COVID-19 pandemic, how complexity concepts suddenly become very important and useful, and explore quite deeply the relationship between leadership, moral and ethics, complexity and decision making.
Finally, they talk about the concept of dialogue and dialogic approaches and how they are fundamentally part of how we humans make sense of the world around us, interact and collaborate, and explore different options on how to act.
This episode is with almost 1.5h the longest we have produced so far, but it is packed all the way through with Chris's wisdom and experience. Enjoy!
Resources that were mentioned in the episode:
Chris’s blog post: A tour around the latest Cynefin iteration Chris’s blog post: Living on islands: complexity, self-organization, and pandemic coping Zhen Goh’s blog post: Aporetic Meditations Dave Snowden, Cognitive Edge Glenda Eoyang, Human Systems Dynamics Institute Dave Snowden and Mary Boon’s HBR Article on Cynefin: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making Dave Snowden and Cynthia Kurtz’s IBM Article: The New Dynamics of Strategy Book: Dynamics in Action by Alicia Juarrero Dave Snowden’s blog post on the liminal version of the Cynefin framework Book: Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change. Edited by G. R. Bushe and R. J. Marshak. Finite and Infinite Games: Two Ways to Play the Game of Life Dunbar's number
Dr Toby Lowe #2: responding to Covid-19 with human learning systems
Marcus is welcoming back Dr Toby Lowe to the show! The Covid-19 crisis has hit the world and so many things have changed in the short time since we talked to Toby last. Particularly, ideas on complexity and systems thinking have suddenly gained a lot of traction as people realise that the world is indeed an uncertain place and the certainty that we imagined to be in, pre-crisis, was not to last forever. Marcus discusses with Toby how this plays out in the world of social interventions, which has many parallels with the world of international development, as we found out in the last episode.
The chat with Toby was guided by the three elements of the new paradigm of social interventions that Toby and colleagues have describe in their report Exploring the new World (see link below): human learning systems.
Here a brief summary of the points made about human learning systems:
Human: The devolution of decision-making enables the people on the front lines to use the detailed and context specific understanding that comes from the relationships they have with people who they serve. That depth of knowledge that is created out of the direct human-to-human relationships should be brought to the centre of decision-making in service delivery. This is particularly important because crises like C-19 impact different people in very different ways, so a standardised response for all people would not have the same benefits for all. Understanding the uniqueness of each person enables bespoke decision-making about what services are needed. Learning: Managers’ primary focus during the C-19 crisis is on creating learning environments. The C-19 crisis has brought the truth front and centre that the world is complex and this truth has become unignorable. People don’t have a rule book to fall back to, there is no target to tell them what to do, so they have to learn. There is now a sudden burst of energy around learning, centred around ideas and practices of rapid learning environments. Crises are ideal moments to learn as things are forced to be done in different ways – we just need to assess these different ways on whether they are better than what was done before. True learning organisations are now putting in place capabilities to do just that. Systems: in places that have built the infrastructures for providers of social services – councils, charities, commercial providers, mutual aid groups, etc. – to work together, the response to the C-19 crisis was much quicker and much more coherent because they already had the channels and the trust-based relationships to coordinate quickly. In places where the provision of social services was driven by a sense of control, competition and mistrust, the response has been much more fragmented and much slower. Besides the three elements of human learning systems, Toby and Marcus also touched upon other aspects like the question of which decisions should be taken centrally on a national level and which decisions should better be devolved to the local level to people with knowledge of the context, which led to a really interesting discussion.
Chris Bolton's blog about rapid learning environments: https://whatsthepont.blog/2020/03/18/is-anyone-deploying-innovation-and-learning-people-alongside-covid-19-response-teams/ Marcus blog about system structures Toby references: https://www.jenal.org/systemic-change-changing-the-conditions-that-hold-a-situation-in-place-with-a-link-to-covid-19/ Libsky’s street-level bureaucracy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street-level_bureaucracy Lankelly Chase on their experience with collective sense-making during COVID-19: https://lankellychase.org.uk/collective-sense-making-in-this-new-world/ The Children's Society on how they are learning during the COVID-19 crisis: https://medium.com/on-the-frontline-of-systems-change/how-we-are-lear
Dr Toby Lowe: why outcome-based performance management doesn’t work
In this episode, Marcus is talking to Dr Toby Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and Management at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University. Toby describes his purpose as an academic as helping improve the funding, commissioning and performance management of social interventions (across the public, private and voluntary sectors). His research team has used complexity theory to create a critique of New Public Management approaches, particularly highlighting the problems created by attempts to use Outcome-Based Performance Management (e.g. Payment by Results) in complex environments.
The discussion touches upon why outcome measures distort rather than enhance performance, why it leads to gaming becoming a rational strategy, and what the alternatives are for people who work in complex contexts. As Outcome-Based Performance Management is still the prevalent method to manage the performance of (economic) development projects, this discussion is highly relevant to our context.
This episode is packed with ideas and quite challenging thoughts, so enjoy it! We hope it will inspire your own explorations. If you are interested in sharing your experience of exploring the new paradigm or want to start exploring it, do get in touch with us.
LOWE, T. & WILSON, R. 2015. Playing the Game of Outcomes‐based Performance Management. Is Gamesmanship Inevitable? Evidence from Theory and Practice. Social Policy & Administration, Vol. 51(7):981-1001. KNIGHT DAVIDSON, A., LOWE, T., BROSSARD, M. & WILSON, J. 2017. A Whole New World: Funding and Commissioning in Complexity. collaborate for social change. LOWE, T. & PLIMMER, D. 2019. Exploring the new world: Practical insights for funding, commissioning and managing in complexity. collaborate for social change, Northumbria University Newcastle. Next Stage Radicals website Human Learning Systems website
In this episode, Shawn and Marcus discuss the concept of competitiveness. The chat was inspired by some reading Marcus had been doing that condemned competition to be part of the driving force that makes our society so extractive and unequal. In particular, Marcus is using two quotes from Daniel Wahl’s book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ to exemplify the argument.
To contrast this viewpoint, Shawn and Marcus explore the positive aspects of competition and why competitiveness and in particular systemic competitiveness in the way it is used by Mesopartner and others still are and will remain important concepts in economic development - and why they can indeed also be forces that drive a positive transformation of society towards a more sustainable future. They asked Christian Schoen to share his opinion on competitiveness in development.
An interview with Kristin O' Planick on market systems resilience
In this Podcast, Marcus Jenal interviews Kristin O’Planick from USAID’s Bureau for Food Security about the agency’s recent work on market systems resilience. Kristin is part of a team that has been developing a new framework to capture market system resilience, which is currently going through early field testing. The framework builds on similar ideas as Mesopartner has been using on its work on resilience.
An interview with Jeanne Downing
Jeanne Downing, Senior Enterprise Development Advisor, Office of Microenterprise Development, USAID talks about the discussions she and her colleagues have within USAID about the necessity of using a systemic approach in development. She mentions the need to switch away from linear approaches towards approaches that are better able to capture the complexities of real world phenomena, especially when taking into account the new focus on resilience, which puts a further layer of complexity on the work in market systems. With regard to Monitoring and Evaluation frameworks, Jeanne gives examples of work that has already been done to make them more systemic, for example the Degrees of Evidence paper. M&E in complex systems mean accepting that the route a project takes from the baseline to the projected endline cannot be planned or predicted. Projects that take a facilitation approach need to be nimble and adaptable, which ultimately translates into increased sustainability. Jeanne also stresses the importance of collaborative learning between practitioners, donors, and researchers.
For more information on our work on managing economic complexity and change, visit www.systemic-insight.com.
This podcast is brought to you by mesopartner.com