I was at an IDS seminar last Friday – “Knowledges, Capacities and Learning for Development: Insights from Complexity approaches”. If the title is alarming then this ODI paper is an excellent primer, “Exploring the science of complexity Ideas and implications for development and humanitarian efforts”. An even shorter introduction comes from this post by Duncan Green, Head of Research at Oxfam who wrote a summary introduction to the ODI paper.
Ideas from complexity theory have permeated everyday discourse – see the butterfly’s wing and the hurricane – but so far I have never made the time to understand more. This is a two part blog entry. This post captures some first reactions – mine to Dave Snowden (who introduced and led the morning session) along with three short video reactions from participants.
I’ve read Dave Snowden’s work but this was the first time I have seen him perform. He has a rock-star style, as befits his KM guru status, full of anecdotes and one liners: the guru comes through in the principles, axiom-like, with which he peppers his delivery (if you tire, you can spot them because most of the audience start writing quickly: people stop taking voluminous notes quite early – he is very fast and the content is dense). He is also intensely human, which is why I chose this picture of him. He lodges his slides on his site, and like most of us, I suspect, has a set that evolve slowly over several events. This one seems to be close to the version we heard at IDS. The slides are interesting in themselves, and capture a lot of his ideas, but not the performance of the day.
He has developed a body of work that I think is exceptionally broad and deep: his politics (I declare an interest here) are old left but he works for British and US intelligence, military and business clients (“development consultants are those prepared to live with low margins”); he is a convergent academic, whose first degree was in Physics and Philosophy, and whose work now ranges across natural science, informatics, IT, social science and development – to name those I can distinguish; he has developed, with colleagues, methodologies for introducing to organisations and groups the ideas and implications of complexity (some of which we experimented with at the seminar); he has spawned a sophisticated software tool – sensemaker – that crunches and displays patterns derived from analysis of metadata associated with narrative fragments of sense making (signified – tagged – by the providers). These patterns display – numerically and, far more impressively, graphically, correlations that – it is claimed – illustrate culturally specific clusters of meaning, value and judgement. He is also sharing much of his materials and ideas at a site designed to be an Open Source, collaboratively developed resource.
While I reflect on implications for IKMemergent, here are three interviews with seminar participants all involved in KM4Dev. These are provided in the spirit of the Snowden style – as narrative fragments to aid sense making. They are, typically, lightly constrained by a simple common framework – the question, “what does this mean to KS (and in one case, to KS and Oxfam)”.
Ewan Leborgne, from the IRC, talks about the Cynefin framework, which is summarised here:
Snowden’s work is driven by the principle that the sense making must be participative, that providers of content must be engaged in the generation of the analytical frameworks with which we – the audience – can be helped to make our own sense of their contributions. So I invite Ben, Ewan and Jo to help us by providing some tags – filters, with which to interpret what they are saying here.
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