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Beyond 'comfort zone'

Published on: 22/02/2012

Managing and sustaining change in a complex and unpredictable environment requires very different approaches and tools to those required to produce deliverables that can be well-defined in advance.

And most development interventions are distinct projects, or as mentioned by Patrick Moriarty in his recent blogpost on a learning initiative called Sustainable Services at Scale, or Triple-S:

"As with much of IRC’s work, Triple-S exists in a sometimes productive, often uncomfortable, zone of tension. Between, on the one hand, the demands of our donors and our own ideas of ‘good project management’ with all the inherent requirements for clear goals and objectives that are monitored over time; and, on the other, our own understanding of the rural water sector as a complex adaptive system in which the one thing we can be sure of is that whatever predictions we make now for five years down the road – are bound to be wrong!"

If we acknowledge this complexity, unpredictability and the limits of our knowledge, we have to also be comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty. And donors and other stakeholders need to provide space and flexibility for learning. Triple- S uses a flexible and outcomes based approach to project management. Moriarty goes on to say "While maintaining a broad set of overarching project goals (expressed as outcomes) that focus on the improved delivery of water services, we have a relatively free rein to develop intermediate outcomes annually, informed by frequent (4 monthly) learning and reflection meetings that involve not only project staff but also important members of ‘learning alliances’ (link) of key sector actors and champions."

The Information Knowledge Management Emergent (IKM-Emergent, link below) programme has been doing innovative research on how to manage information, knowledge and development given the complexity of social change. The blogpost by Ewen Leborgne on the final IKM-Emergent workshop (below) gives some ideas on how to develop and manage relationships with donors and other development stakeholders.

Ways to influence the relationship with donors include gathering evidence and using evidence (e.g. process documentation to develop stories of change or of failure). Developing monitoring frameworks that allow for flexibility, and emerging learning is a challenge.  We need to understand the context beyond the project boundaries, surface assumptions of the development intervention, facilitate meaningful involvement of people with different perspectives and value 'multiple knowledges'.  Time to move out of our comfort zone and work on learning focused approaches that embrace complexity.


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