Past Event


Navigating Complexity in International Development: Facilitating Sustainable Change at Scale

3 March 2016 17:00–18:30

University of Sussex
United Kingdom

Professor Danny Burns delivers a Sussex Development Lecture on topics examined in his new book Navigating Complexity in International Development, with commentary from Ben Ramalingam.

We know that change is complex and non linear. It poses a challenge to linear planning and log frame approaches, but what are the alternatives? Over the past decade theorists and practitioners have started to recognise the challenge of complexity, but what does development that engages with complexity look like and how can it be be operationalised? What might a complexity based framework for intervention mean for donors, NGOs and grass roots practitioners. These questions are the focus of Danny Burns’ new book Navigating Complexity in International Development and will be the subject of the lecture. He engages with themes ranging from complexity based approaches to scale and sustainability; how to construct ‘emergent’ adaptive intervention processes; how to combine technical and participatory complexity methods; how complexity informs how movement based approaches to change can be nurtured.

Burns articulates two strategies – large scale learning systems embedded across programmes – traversing whole cities and regions (Systemic Action Research) and more organic processes akin to ‘movements’ (Nurtured Emergent Development). Examples are drawn from a range of projects including on water and sanitation in East Africa; schooling for girls in Afghanistan; livestock markets in Kenya; and the growth of Community Led Total Sanitation.

Ben Ramalingam will share reflections, drawing on his work in Aid on the Edge of Chaos (OUP, 2013), as well as lessons from operationalising complexity principles in development programmes and policies. 

This event will be followed by a drinks reception at IDS to mark the launch of the book Navigating Complexity in International Development: Faciliating Sustainable Change at Scale.

About the speakers

  • Danny Burns is a Professorial Research Fellow and leader of the Participation Research Cluster at IDS
  • Ben Ramalingam is a Research Fellow and leader of the Digital Development Research Cluster at IDS

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