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The Limits of Frameworks

The real world -- complex, messy and unpredictable -- is making a comeback in CD thinking. Indeed, it is largely because we are so uncomfortable with (and more important, organizationally unprepared for) the inherently unruly nature of capacity development that we keep hoping for templates and frameworks to ease our unhappy sense of disorder. But that temptation ought to be avoided; indeed the growing literature on complexity reminds us to live with the mess, indeed to embrace it. Here, for example are Snowden and Kurtz, who question three assumptions, ones that seem to underlie our practice in capacity development:

“The assumption of order: that there are underlying relationships between cause and effect in human interactions and markets, which are capable of discovery and empirical verification. In consequence, it is possible to produce prescriptive and predictive models and design interventions that allow us to achieve goals. This implies “best practice”…. It also implies that there must be a right or ideal way of doing things.”

The assumption of rational choice: that faced with a choice between one or more alternatives, human actors will make a “rational” decision based only on minimizing pain or maximizing pleasure. The assumption of intentional capability: that the acquisition of capability indicates an intention to use that capability, and that actions from competitors, populations, nation states, communities, or whatever collective identity is under consideration are the result of intentional behavior. In effect, we assume that every “blink” we see is a “wink,” and act accordingly. We accept that we do things by accident, but assume that others do things deliberately.”

They conclude that:

“…in decision-making at both policy-making and operational levels, we are increasingly coming to deal with situations where these assumptions are not true, but the tools and techniques which are commonly available assume that they are.”

-----Sources: “The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world,” by C. F. Kurtz, D. J. Snowden, IBM Systems Journal, Vol 42, No. 3, 2003.