I remember learning all about Newtownian kinematics and gravity in high school. It seemed straightforward, though with some calculus needed to get a better understanding. Then in college, the profs taught us that our high school teachers had misrepresented physics to us - they had simplified the real world so that a bunch of teenagers could understand it. But, these college profs continued, to really understand the physical world, one needed to learn Einstein and his general theory of relativity. Gravity didn't really exist at all! It was just some distortion of the time-space continuum.
So when we fought wars with mortars and guns, Newton's laws worked well. But when we needed space ships and very precise GPS trackers, Newton's laws failed and one had to use Einstein's theories.
To pivot to the aid world, a growing number of researchers feel that the current paradigms of aid delivery and theory fall into this same simplicity trap. That we have looked at the world through a simple lens for expediency's sake. But that as we understand more and face bigger challenges, we have to rethink the basic equations of aid. Into this discussion steps, complexity theory: the idea that aid cannot be delivered through a linear model (e.g. give more food and hunger goes away), but that 'complex' forces need to be understood to both provide aid and evaluate it.
On Thursdays, we'll explore further the meanings and implications of complexity theory in aid - and flesh out whether and when it can be useful. But for now, let's use Ben Ramalingam's seminal 2008 paper to list the ten basic principles:
• Interconnected and interdependent elements and dimensions;
• Feedback processes promote and inhibit change within systems;
• System characteristics and behaviours emerge from simple rules of interaction;
• Sensitivity to initial conditions;
• Phase space – the ‘space of the possible’;
• Attractors, chaos and the ‘edge of chaos’;
• Adaptive agents;