Application of complex systems research to efforts of international development
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Last modified: August 14, 2006
Fundamental research on complex systems has shown relevance to efforts of international development. This paper canvasses some practitioner friendly approaches to international development. Development is about interventions in a highly complex system, the society. Complex systems research tells us that development interventions should not be overly planned, rather the fundamental uncertainty of a changing social system requires a diversity of interventions, and rapid learning from development success and failure. Developing economies are functioning at a low level of effectiveness and resource use. Complex systems are change resistant, and intervention requires understanding the autocatalytic nature of a process of change. International development is about the stimulation of a society’s innate autocatalytic / self-organizing processes through interventions that stimulate enough to overcome change resistance, but which do not overwhelm the system. Since the size of financial interventions may in some cases be a substantial fraction of the existing economic activity, disruption is a likely outcome. Crucially, one must avoid having the socio-economic activity organized around the intervention itself, since then an undesirable dependency of the economy on the intervention arises. Stimulation of the innate modes of activity results in the development of socio-economic organization around energy, material and financial flows. The primary generator of effectiveness is an appropriate network structure of interactions and relationships. This paper summarizes traditional development efforts and their outcomes as well as a plausible description of the process of complex systems motivated interventions. Examples are given of recent approaches which aim to appropriately stimulate international development.