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Past Event

Complexity and Development Seminar Series

Rigour for Complexity: An Invitation to Explore

31 October 2017 13:00–14:30

Institute of Development Studies, Library Road, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RE

This seminar is the first in a series that aims to share cutting edge thinking and research being done at IDS and the University of Sussex around practically how we capture and account for complexity across a variety of sustainable development contexts.

Listen to this seminar.

Starting with definitions of terms, this seminar will contrast two paradigms for learning and acting: a neo-Newtonian paradigm more fitting for standardised and predictable physical things and a complexity paradigm more fitting for diverse, emergent and unpredictable people and social processes.

It will argue that neo-Newtonian canons or principles have been increasingly misapplied to the conditions of complexity which prevail in much development research and practice. The core of the seminar will be proposals for candidate methodological and behavioural canons for learning and acting in complex conditions, arguing that to be rigorously cost-effective, these must be applied with inclusive creativity ad hoc for each context. Timely realism in knowing – being in touch and up to date – is critical for influencing policy and practice in complex and dynamic situations.

Finally, questions will be raised about the dysfunctional neo-Newtonian procedures required by funding agencies, asking whether procedures and relationships can become more flexible, adaptive and trusting, to embrace the methodological pluralism, behaviours and attitudes, and rapid learning and changing, appropriate for the complex conditions we so often face. 

About the Speaker:

Robert Chambers is an IDS Research Associate in the Participation Cluster. His academic background is in natural sciences, history and public administration, and his experience includes administration, field research, training and workshops in East Africa and South Asia, and work in UNHCR and the Ford Foundation.

In recent years, based in the CLTS Knowledge Hub, he has engaged increasingly with rural sanitation policy and practice in India. This presents interlocking challenges of complexity perhaps unequalled in scale and intractability in rural development anywhere else in the world.

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