Thursday, September 17, 2020

From Poverty to Power — The Hidden Life of Theories of Change

Why a paradigm may be more suitable than a plan in dealing with change in development economics.

Some extracts to whet your appetites (my summary subheads in square brackets):
[Real agility happens outside the Theory of Change]
While the relevance of chance is obvious, an advocate’s ability to read chance as windows of opportunities and turn them into stepping stones towards desired change is fundamental to success. Chance encounters blend with the personality of the advocate and other personal factors, including his or her relations and network, knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for a person or a topic.
In this process of sense-making and deciding, advocates’ reasoning is validated and strengthened by fast cycles of learning. These are cranked up through quick fact checking, corroborating, or bouncing off ideas with trusted allies or team members, and gathering of information or ‘intel’. This points to cycles of interactive learning and change within advocates’ carefully nurtured social networks that function as sounding boards for learning and theorizing. As a result, advocacy practice appears to be driven by locally negotiated, constantly changing communities of practice.

Formal Theory of Change does not anticipate or reflect these kinds of dynamics and opportunities. Rather than use the Theory of Change to guide day-to-day decisions about which way they should go, advocates explained that they would reference their Theory of Change to test if there were strong reasons why they should NOT act on an opportunity.
This is comparable to John Boyd's  OODA loop in combat operations — "observe, orient, decide, act."

It's also the intuitive aspect of engineering that leads to innovation.

Oxfam Blogs — From Poverty to Power
The Hidden Life of Theories of Change

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