Views from the Center

CGD experts offer ideas and analysis to improve international development policy. Also check out our Global Health blog and US Development Policy blog.


Complexity, Adaptation, and Results

In the last of a series of three blog posts looking at the implications of complexity theory for development, Owen Barder and Ben Ramalingam look at the implications of complexity for the trend towards results-based management in development cooperation. They argue that is a common mistake to see a contradiction between recognising complexity and focusing on results: on the contrary, complexity provides a powerful reason for pursuing the results agenda, but it has to be done in ways which reflect the context. In the 2012 Kapuscinski lecture Owen argued that economic and political systems can best be thought of as complex adaptive systems, and that development should be understood as an emergent property of those systems. As explained in detail in Ben’s forthcoming book, these interactive systems are made up of adaptive actors, whose actions are a self-organised search for fitness on a shifting landscape. Systems like this undergo change in dynamic, non-linear ways; characterised by explosive surprises and tipping points as well as periods of relative stability. If development arises from the interactions of a dynamic and unpredictable system, you might draw the conclusion that it makes no sense to try to assess or measure the results of particular development interventions. That would be the wrong conclusion to reach. While the complexity of development implies a different way of thinking about evaluation, accountability and results, it also means that the ‘results agenda’ is more important than ever.

Another Task Force on Development: Member Nancy Birdsall Reflects on What More and What Next

Last week the German Marshall Fund released the report of a Transatlantic Task Force on Development. Formed in spring of 2008, the Task Force was led by former U.S. Congressman Jim Kolbe and Swedish Minister for International Development Gunilla Carlsson. Its purpose was to formulate a common U.S.-Europe development agenda, as a basis for renewed transatlantic cooperation in tackling global challenges. I was one of 22 European and American task force members.

The Economics and Politics of CARE's Decision to Pass Up Millions in U.S. Food Aid

I join my colleague Rachel Nugent in offering Three Cheers for CARE Decision to Forego U.S. Food Aid!
U.S. food aid has a long and complicated history. Most people think of food aid as "doing good"—feeding the starving—and it is often used for this purpose. However, large amounts of food aid are sold to finance development projects, often administered by the U.S. or by NGOs. And, in the process, food aid can actually do harm.


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