Looking at the various subjects that are discussed in this latest Issue of E:CO, I am struck by the variety of topics that are under study and therefore how complexity thinking is being applied to such a wide range of subjects. Looking back, I can see how my own areas of study have ranged over […]
Education’s most intractable, perennial problems go unresolved not because policy makers and teachers lack the will to address them but because the challenges result from the interconnectedness and complexities of education, creating social problems seemingly beyond reach for systemic, sustained solutions to be attempted. The purpose of this paper is to examine and apply a Futures Inquiry approach and rethink the challenges of school reform from a complex adaptive systems perspective to address the case of perennially low performing schools. The Futures Inquiry approach is a multidimensional approach to deconstructing educational issues that takes advantage of patterned solutions without artificially over-simplifying or prematurely reducing problems while also keeping in mind creating sustainable, adaptive educational futures. This approach is particularly valuable as a solution-pathway during times of rapid change, reduced resources, and social upheaval. The Futures Inquiry approach presented herein is essential for addressing the challenges of systemic educational inequalities to ensure full participation of all of our future citizens in a rapidly changing, global society. Futures Inquiry as a problem-solving tool, provides the basis for transforming education as a fundamental social institution.
Recognised as one of the most prominent hindrances to the development of inclusive cities, urban violence is frequently described as a highly complex development challenge. Such descriptions are attributed to the recognised interrelatedness of the multiple drivers and dimensions associated with the prevalence of urban violence. Nonetheless, the application of complexity theories to the pragmatic planning and management approaches targeting urban violence prevention remain limited at best. In critically reflecting on the discourses surrounding complexity and the subsequently developed approaches to integrated violence prevention in South Africa, this paper calls in to question existing definitions of urban violence as a complex challenge and provides in-depth, context-oriented reflections on what truly makes urban violence a complex phenomenon. Furthermore, on the basis of merging existing theory with over a decade of practice experience, the paper argues an evidence-based need for a shift in focus towards how integrated violence prevention programmes may be more effectively managed, drawing most prominently on the concept of adaptive management. The assertion is thus that the achievement of broad-based violence prevention demands practices that take proactive cognizance of the functionality of complex systems, supported by institutional and governance structures that recognise and are thus positioned to cope with complexity.
Teaching and learning are infinitely complex enterprises, particularly in classrooms where adolescent English learners strive for academic success. This article offers ethnographic accounts in two settings in the United States, both of which involved similar instructional experiences and resources to support literacy learning among high school English learners. We apply principles from complexity science to the analysis of these two ethnographic accounts, each grounded in multiple data sources. The accounts highlight predominant patterns emerging from each setting. The subsequent analysis explores underlying conditions for self-organizing dynamics in these settings: shared identity; shared focus; relevant distinctions or differences; and shared practices). These underlying dynamics varied dramatically in the two settings, generating patterns we label as “playing school” and “authentic engagement.” Each setting manifested behaviors consistent with a short set of “simple rules” for behavior. Implications for future research suggest that a deep understanding of complex adaptive systems, emergent patterns, and implied simple rules can inform the work of teacher action researchers in complex school environments.
This paper examines the dynamics in organizational innovation processes, and in particular, the role blockages. The case covers the process of designing a joint-stock enterprise that is partly owned by the employees and partly by the federation of municipalities, and is to deliver primary health care services to a set of municipalities. After a promising start, the process is now stuck before it has reached the implementation phase. The purpose of the paper is to examine the dynamics in the organizational innovation process, and in particular, the role of blockages and failures. By highlighting the value of complexity theoretical thinking, this paper seeks to contribute to our understanding of the nature of organizational innovation in the public sector and the analytical power of complexity. The data consists of interviews with the key actors in the process and is analysed by applying theory driven content analysis. Preliminary results suggest that the organizational innovation process is characterized by an active use of relational potential and a sequence of unexpected events resulting in emergent patterns. The space of possibilities not only frames the system but also enables co-evolutionary dynamics to emerge. Contrary to the fitness (or performance) landscape models, where the (organizational) structure is seen as an important determinant of the innovation potential, it does not seem to play a central role in this particular case. Results suggest that the innovation itself emerges in the complex responsive processes of relating between key actors, long before the end result of the process is realized. A structural failure might turn into a relational success.
Using the lenses of complexity theory and dimensions of the SERVICE framework, the paper provides an abductive analysis of a freshwater governance case study. It aims to further develop our theoretical understanding of the complex interactions which contribute to the operation of sustainable public service organizations and systems. The analysis explores the dynamic features that have helped create this sustainable system. It also serves to highlight the nature and endogenous origins of the causes of threats to sustainability.
The field of evaluation involves making judgements of quality, value and importance to support accountability assessment, learning, and to improve performance. Traditional evaluation designs assume a high level of predictability and control. The problem is that complex programs or contexts challenge this basic assumption. Often programs deal with emergent outcomes and objectives, adaptive program processes, nonlinear theories of change and evolving stakeholder expectations. Under such complex conditions, traditional evaluation methods and tools do not allow realistic and useful representations of reality. In these instances, we need a more adaptive approach to evaluation. One that fits the environment without compromising rigor. In this paper, we articulate what we have found useful in seeing patterns in complex programs, understanding the dynamics in ways that are meaningful to stakeholders and recommending Adaptive Actions to improve impacts over time. In our work, synergy has emerged between complexity theory (through the lens of human systems dynamics) and evaluation practice (through a case study of a complex program of social change). What emerges at this generative intersection is an evaluation method that is simple, robust, rigorous and flexible enough to meet the demands of twenty-first century social change. We will explore the implications of this approach for theory and practice in complexity and evaluation, and we will share some questions that are emerging for us as we prepare for our next cycle of theory and practice development. In this paper, we provide an overview of the challenge and previous efforts to address it, an introduction to basic theory and practice of human systems dynamics (HSD) and theoretical foundations for a new approach to evaluation in complex environments, Adaptive Evaluation. We demonstrate applications of this new evaluation practice in a case study. Finally, we articulate lessons learned and emerging questions.
Today storm-tossed markets call managers to take a stand on the rising up of external complexity. Organisations are constantly facing a crossroad (complexity dilemma): To accept and nurture complexity, or to avoid and reduce it. The first option can be traced back to Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, 1. while the second comes from Luhmann’s Complexity Reduction, 2. Both Ashby and Luhmann theories are valid due to an inverted U-shaped relation between complexity and firm’s performance, called “complexity curve”. Once fixed the amount of external complexity, performance increase as internal complexity increase, till reaching a tipping point; after that point, an overburden of complexity sinks performance. To solve Ashby-Luhmann trade-off on complexity, and moving over the complexity curve, we suggest that complex organizing may be facilitated by a simple design through (i) modularity, (ii) simple rules, and (iii) organisational capabilities.
Firm beginning matters because in the early days different configurations are tried to cope with challenges and opportunities of their environment. It is in this early days that a new organization emerge -it is forged- because of the continuous trial and error exercises. In this first stage, drastic changes might happen that determine and configure their internal organization, culture and values; that is possible because of the firm´s size, lack of path dependence and an incipient culture. If a fit between the new firm and the market´s requirements is found; then a second stage may be present were optimization as form of economizing become predominant, this efficiency comes with a cost: The firm´s righty. This paper is about the importance of the firm´s begging and how to some extent, its origin determines its future.
There was a card table set up on the sidewalk outside my polling place at which two women stood. Their sign read “Free Hugs.” They were offering these to anyone who needed one during this highly stressful election season. It was a very generous and loving offer: simple, human and touching. On the bottom of […]