A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity

Working and discussion papers
March 2013
Richard Hummelbrunner and Harry Jones

Many argue that governments, non-governmental organisations and international agencies should spend less time planning in advance and more time adapting programmes to changing scenarios and learning by doing. In the complex context of development, how can policy makers, managers and practitioners best plan in the face of complexity? Does complexity make planning an irrelevant exercise?

This Background Note is a guide, explaining how planning and strategy development can be carried out despite complexity. While it is true that complex situations require a greater focus on learning and adaptation, this does not render plan­ning irrelevant. In fact, there are ways in which the processes and products of planning can respect the realities of the situation and set up interven­tions (policies, programmes and projects) to give them the best chance of success.

The guide builds on academic, policy and programmatic literature related to themes around systems and complexity  and draws on the authors’ experience of advising development agencies and governments in both developed and developing countries.

The note covers three points:

  1. How to recognise a complex situation what challenges it will pose
  2. Principles for planning in the face of complexity
  3. Examples of planning approaches that address complexity