Development conference blog: Day 2 final

December 1, 2009

Following John and Lisa’s presentations and the question period I was asked to do an ad hoc keynote on how you tell the difference between complex and complicated systems. A request which does not permit more than a minimum of preparation gets the juices flowing and I for one often find that some of my best ideas, or more frequently my best synthesis come in those circumstances. Of course you have to know your subject and/or be self confident and/or come from a tradition of impromptu debating. I claim all three of these and can prove one! I am going to blog on that as a stand alone post, before I forget what I said.

The afternoon was devoted to a series of round tables. Irene and I sat down to lead a roundtable, but the audience request was for more detail on SenseMaker™, so I ended up with another presentation! I promised people some backup material, so for those who want it, these are the appendices to a recent project which describe the method and approach. After that we moved into the plenary session in which the various round tables reported back. I’ve reported those below with a couple of comments. Overall it was a great conference. I did twice as much work in terms of presentations as planned, had more interesting conversations than I had expected, met more people that I already knew than I had anticipated and also was inspired by much of the enthusiasm and many of the stories.

  • Roundtable reports now and the first one up wants complexity theory to be more accessable, which they say means more simple. Now this is all well and good, but if you want to use new tools you need some language. OK you don’t use it all, but there is a danger of making falcons into pigeons to quote the Mullah Nasrudin. I think its better to find an intractable problem that the decision maker is aware of, show what you can provide but keep the means to yourself unless asked.
  • The second group want to give up the illusion of control and planning which dominates. THey want to collect elements of alternative approaches and look for patterns, translating the results in digestible messages. Finally they want ot organise a Strategic Open Dialogue. This came form a rich picture which is not shared as its too complicated! Hopefully we will get that in the proceedings.
  • Civic driven change with Alan Fowler was next. I like this group, they want to use complexity as a sense-making lens and use micro-narrative although they seem a bit keen in facilitated interpretation of the results. Switch from OR to AND, the need for social psychology and realising that time frame is key.
  • Next group is on sustainable change. Looking for governance measures for value driven organisations. THey want to understand the effect of internalisation to reduce compleoty and have more pilots on changing consumer behaviour. Measuring impact of chain interventions at household or livelhood level (possibly using narrative.
  • Irene reports on our group which was mainly a SenseMaker™ demo/descriptions. Great take homes: No need to choose between quantitative and qualitative you can have both, numbers of people talked about the positive social justice implications, “supercharge the notion of contituency voice”; the approach might reshape learning communities, away from case studies; potential to tweak current systems of dealing with journal based narrative.
  • Next group wants to focus on experimentation, entrepreneur solutions need to create knowledge and awareness to be used. Upstream scenarios are important in water governance, Need multi=stake holder tools and also the perspective of toehr stakholders and a value based search for solutions.
  • Now we have a group that looked at the Kurger Park and conflicts over water, seed systems, markets, land claims etc. Need to develop a sense of cooperation/collaborative learning. Empathy, sympathy and compassion are key and allow self-motivation and being able to reflect in a distanced manner
  • Education for sustainability Gestaltungs-Competence which is about looking forward, working in a interdisciplinary way. Coperatiive and collaborative learning again, developing participation potential and more about empathy, sympathy and compassion. That means Gestalt switching, trans-geographical, trans-disciplinary, trans-generational, trans-species shifts. Story telling may need to be integrated more looking for patterns and linkages
  • Another group – want to build flexible systems rather than create controlling mechanisms, need to move from idealised images of change to a more itterative and reflective approach, allowing for mistakes and failure. INteresting question Are fail-safe experiments ethical? Finally they want multi stakeholder processes as a network with flexible boundaries and a fluid structure
  • Final group talked about he success of the Dutch as a n agricultural super-power. Understanding how to transfer success, work with wildlife and other groups.
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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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