Some reflections on how outcome mapping relates to complexity

Development Policy01 Dec 2009Jan van Ongevalle

As I went through the first day, I was trying to relate the various ideas that were shared about being strategic in the face of complexity with the outcome mapping methodology. A good number of these ideas seem to be well accommodated by outcome mapping; others are still a bit out of tune.

In tune
The need to set flexible boundaries when dealing with complex systems, since the actors involved co-evolve. Flexibility is one of the important characteristics of the intentional design in outcome mapping, where boundary partners and progress markers can change during the course of a programme. Also, the need for continuous experimentation – to learn what works and discard what doesn’t work – is catered for by the learning-centred monitoring system in outcome mapping.

Out of tune
Impact was referred to as ‘changed experiences in society’. This, I feel, is problematic for many development programmes, which are often very far from the ultimate beneficiaries in the society at large. Also, some of the changes at that level are very long term and a result of many actors and factors beyond any one intervention. It then becomes difficult to learn fast enough from these changes in order to adjust your intervention. Outcome mapping deals with this problem by focusing on outcomes (i.e. observable changes in behaviour at the level of its boundary partners). I didn’t hear much about monitoring outcomes within the sphere of influence of a programme during the first day of the workshop. I am concerned that if we leave out the outcome level, we will again close the black box that allows us to learn how we contribute to downstream impact. That’s one of the things I would like to explore during this second day. It would be great to hear the ideas of others about this.