Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity

 

A day like today 10 years ago I decided to quit my job in IBM. I no longer wanted to wake up every morning and work 10 hours to make someone in the US richer and richer. I had volunteered in Peru and Mozambique during the summer holidays and I knew I wanted to work in development. I had however witnessed how private companies can influence policies, move governments and transform the lives of people in developed and developing countries, and it was that sweet spot between development and the private sector that was most appealing to me.

Luckily for me, the development industry has undergone a profound change over the last decade and has moved closer to that sweet spot. Old funding models and narrow focused interventions are no longer the norm. Donors are increasingly requesting Public Private Partnerships where private companies need to provide co-funding for the implementation of a program. Nowadays development objectives (including a theory of change) and business model design (including pricing) are two sections of the same project proposal. An agricultural program now needs to put women equity at its heart, focus on nutrition and food security while achieving economic, social, technological and environmental sustainability. This holistic approach can promote transformational and long lasting change, but it is also much more complex to develop, manage and evaluate than “old school” donor funded programs.

Having managed a small component of a multi-country (14) multi-million (24) multi-partner (40) program that aimed to integrate agriculture and nutrition goals using mobile phones, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money, I can tell you: getting to the end goal is not a walk in the park. While I was still involved in the program I was approached by a researcher from Ottawa University, interested in analyzing this complex program using a systems approach to understand the relationship between its numerous sub-components and its different development goals. The result was an academic paper that has recently been published in Food Security (Springer), which will hopefully influence donors and academia to revisit their approach to complex development programs and to ensure that the sweet spot between development and businesses becomes sweeter in the years to come.

 

Here I leave you the abstract and a link to the paper.

International development programming is increasingly integrating agriculture and nutrition goals, while attempting to demonstrate ‘impacts at scale’ and value for money. These multiple goals create complexities, both from a conceptual viewpoint and a more operational perspective. This article uses systems theory to examine the mobile Nutrition program (mNutrition), which aims to improve nutrition, food security and livelihoods for rural women and children, through mobile phone-based information services.  The paper specifically uses mNutrition’s work in Malawi as a case study. The systems approach reveals that, as a complex system with numerous sub-components and tensions among different goals, the mNutrition program tended to minimize connections between its sub-systems (such as content development and mobile service development processes) in order to speed up movement towards the global planned outcomes. We argue that this is likely to have multiple impacts on outcomes, including on overall effectiveness and the relevance and sustainability of the mobile message content.

Tags: , , , , ,
Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity
was published on 27.02.2018 by Alvaro Valverde. It files under global, sub saharan africa
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
2 Comments AddThis Feed Button

2 Responses to “Holistic development and multi-stakeholder engagement with a pinch of systems theory; a recipe for acknowledging complexity”

  1. Alois Spiesberger Says:

    Sehr interessant, der Weg wird dort hingehen.

  2. Alvaro Valverde Says:

    Vielen Dank, Alois.