5 comments on “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  1. Thank you so much for this post – really great additions to, and fine-tuning of, the argument we make.

    And all in significantly less time than it took us to write the paper!

    I will be blogging on the complexity of cooperation soon on http://www.aidntheedge.info and will definitely reference your diagram there!

    All best,


    (PS small typo in my surname – RamalingaM, not ramalingaN)

    • Thanks very much for your reply Ben- and sorry for the typo! Corrected. 🙂

      I’ll look forward to your upcoming posts (as per usual). I apprectiate your feedback and am happy to be contributing in any way to the dialogue- it’s a pretty key one to nail down.

      Thanks to you for all the effort you pour into improving the way we think about and engage with our sector- it’s highly valued. Looking forward to more conversations and ideas.


  2. There’s donors, and then there’s donors…

    Here’s a thought. Accept that members of the public giving a fiver a month are never going to be engaged with your quite dull organisational & sectoral management issues to want to fund it. Stop asking (or wishing, or expecting) that they’ll appreciate us in all our complexity and splendour.

    Governments and multilaterals are a different picture. This lot should have the attention span for the long game. Stuff the 5%, 7%, 10% salami slicing of unrestricted overheads on restricted programming. Create dedicated, persistent, predictable and competitive block grant funding mechanisms tied to systematic organisational development, and measured by indicators thereof. These happen now to a degree (ECB, CBHA, PPAs) but they’re the exception not the rule.

    7% admin on all grants to all NGOs isn’t a model that delivers enough in one pot to fund and drive systematic change. Trim that to 5%, put the other 2% in a single pot/mechanism and run an annual CFP specifically around improving systems and capacities. Lean towards consortia or peak body involvement (acfid, bond, interaction) in awarding grants. Disqualify anything to do with advocacy and support utterly dull areas like technical standards in shelter & watsan (and translation thereof into at least three dozen languages).


  3. Another great post (albeit a bit long for my limited attention span – must be all that tweeting!) here’s some additional thoughts. I like the links made by Shaun Callahan of Anecdote between the cynefin framework and levels of partnering eg when the task is simple you need coordination (someone in charge); when the task is complicated you need co-operation (different players bringing different expertise) and when the task is complex you need collaboration (building on each other’s strengths and creating something more than any one person or group could do alone). I suspect these are cumulative eg complexity demands coordination, cooperation AND collaboration. That plus agility and spontaneity will one day take over from the mindless, time-consuming and increasingly irrelevant processes of trying to plan years ahead midst complexity. Planning, IMHO is only warranted in relation to complicated events, such as weddings 🙂 Two cents worth.

  4. Yep – definitely long. 🙂 FWIW, I’ve seen similar organizational dilemmas first hand in the private sector (even more than I saw in government work, actually).

    At the risk of over-simplifying, your description sounds like a complex version of the “Tragedy of the Commons” to me (at least in part).

    Not opposed to collaboration and the like — it’s good and needed all over the place — but you can spend near infinite resources fostering and executing “collaboration”, and it won’t lead to the results you want unless unless you can fundamentally change the structure of the system. In other words, resources and collaboration may be needed, but getting the behavior you’d like to come into reality probably requires something more than adding resources and “collaboration”.

    And I must say i’ve personally become less enamored of grand plans over the years, too. Accomplishing grand things, I’m in favor of, btw. The pace of change seems to be accelerating in the environments in which I work. I see that continuing, and as it does, we’re increasingly likely to find ourselves in a situation of “ontological uncertainty”. That 10 cent phrase just means that even if we understand the system around us well enough to predict the ripple effects of our actions, the underlying system will change before the effects of our actions can actually ripple through. This may or may not be true in your environment, of course.

    If it is, here are a few ideas for you…
    – Plan over shorter time horizons
    – Measure your forecast accuracy over time… if it is trending worse, shorten planning horizons again (and obviously continuing seeking greater insights all along).
    – Be clear with yourself about your mission/organizational identity — be somewhat general about the direction of goodness you are trying to impact… clear but high level principles are good here. You (and many others) probably already do this. Also, be more particular and specific about what WON’T do. This is far less common, but may be equally important. E.g., think about the 10 Commandments… not suggesting the specific content here, but just noting there are a bunch of rules about what NOT to do.
    – Related above, in times of rapid change, a narrative and clear positive and negative guidelines help people make rapid decisions on the ground that reinforce an organizations cultural identity (internally, and ultimately externally).
    – For maximum agilty in your ability to cooperate, focus on clear, simple, public interfaces to your organization and your work in the field. e.g, make it well known what you’re doing, how other people and organizations can contribute to what you do, and how you can contribute to what they do. Don’t be dogmatica about this — but have a “default path” for others to work effectively with you. If you have that, and people aren’t using it, why not? Is it simply not known? Or, are you not offering a service that the broader NGO community can tap into in a way that creates value for their mission? (e.g., maybe the service is great, but the mechanism to tap into it is not appropriate somehow?) Do this for your internal teams, too. Ask this of other groups.
    – Related to above, think about an ant colony… lots of independent organisms that together achieve something far greater than any could achieve on their own. Well-understood roles amongst actors in a system and simple rules can do a lot. Of course, not every ant colony is the same… different kinds of ants do different kinds of things, and ant colonies — even of the species — will fight each other over territorial boundaries. Not suggesting this model as a panacea, but perhaps the mental model of an ant colony — and the cooperative achievements they accomplish — could still be helpful in thinking about how to effect observable behavior changes on the ground.

    Please understand — this is all just my 2 cents… I realize this is an enormously complex environment, and I don’t mean to pretend I know exactly how to “fix” things. The thoughts above are just a few concepts that I’ve found useful in complex organizational environments, and I hope they might be useful to you in some way — even if it’s just spurring other ideas.

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