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Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World.

Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World. By Ben Ramalingam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Practitioners and scholars concerned with development must read this book. Ben Ramalingam offers a compelling and comprehensive examination of the science of complexity and its relevance to international development and foreign aid. The traditional dominant approach to foreign aid uses linear static models that aim to identify discrete problems (lack of sanitation, bad property rights, the spread of malaria, etc.). Once these problems are identified, development agencies aim to address the problems by targeting key constraints, usually through the infusion of technical expertise or capital: build new toilets, draft new legislation, send in financial experts, and have the problem solved by the end of the next budget cycle. Proceeding according to the traditional logframe approach, development efforts often fail because they ignore the interactions between a wide range of variables in a complex system, instead focusing on a single variable and a single solution. Ramalingam offers an alternative approach. Human development occurs in complex, dynamic, adaptive systems. Whether it is preventing the spread of malaria, disrupting incitement to mass violence, or preventing the degradation of common natural resources, development practitioners must seek to understand how a range of variables interact in a nonlinear fashion. This understanding will neither produce a simple solution nor come by breaking complex systems down into their component parts. Rather, practitioners must adopt an iterative adaptive approach that seeks progressive change through a process of learning by doing, measuring results (not simply outputs) as part of a system of continuous feedback. Perhaps most importantly, Ramalingam shows how understanding the complex systems of human interaction requires a participatory approach. While complex systems may be modeled through sophisticated computer programs, they can and, in many cases, must be modeled and used by the very people that foreign aid intends to help. Though the science of complexity has been broached by others in international development--Eric Beinhocker, Tim Harford, and Elinor Ostrom among others--this book will be the standard reference on the topic for years to come.

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Author:Wisor, Scott
Publication:Global Governance
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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