Navigating complexity: a helpful offence in our pandemic defence

…continuing the conversation with Jamie Gamble, Hub consultant specializing in complexity evaluation

The March 2021 edition of the Hub Update positioned and described some Hub supports for navigating complexity. This blog makes good on a promise for us to offer a few navigational tools that may be most relevant and timely. We also promised ‘bite-sized’.

In the Hub’s March webinar, we focused on a few links in the navigational chain for addressing complexity:

  • identifying situations that are complex (rather than simple or complicated),
  • understanding what makes situations complex, highlighting unpredictability, unknowns, and path dependence as common features of complexity that many projects and organizations are facing through pandemic times, and
  • suggesting a few navigational tools that may help address these common features of complex problems.

An event brief and webinar recording are available on the Hub website.

Hub: Jamie, working through complexity is not always easy, yet we can use different processes to guide us in navigating complexity so that it becomes a little more straightforward.

The dual focus on ‘getting personal’ and ‘getting practical’ with the process is what we did in the webinar and will continue here.

MHP-IF projects were able to see themselves in questions like: Do we revert to pre-pandemic plans or invest effort and resources in new direction? What is the appropriate balance? Are there things we cannot go back to even if we wanted to? How engaging and effective will new and previous ways of working be with our project participants as public places open and social gatherings are permitted? And you linked these questions to some features of complexity most at play, such as unpredictability, unknowns, and path dependence.

For getting practical, you mentioned some tools that may be suited to navigate these kinds of uncertainties and forks in the road. Two of the tools are Strategic Foresight and Most Significant Change. From your rich experience with complexity evaluation, might you offer a few tips for when and how to use these tools?

Jamie: Thanks Barb, Strategic Foresight and Most Significant Change are great resources.

Strategic Foresight is a planning tool that helps you consider different possible futures and then navigate a changing environment. So much of strategic planning has been based on predictive forecasting – as in, “plan the work and work the plan.” Basing future direction on the trends of the past isn’t very helpful in highly complex situations, and Strategic Foresight guides us in thinking differently. What is crucial in strategic foresight is involving diverse perspectives. While expertise is essential in something that is complicated, it’s more helpful in a complex situation to engage a mix of people with different experiences, perceptions and thinking styles.

Most Significant Change is very open ended and gives you a rich on-the-ground perspective. It is very engaging and empowering to ask people what they think is the most significant change and can reveal patterns and perspectives on change that you might not have anticipated. You can get lots of powerful stories and by being part of a larger process, you give people a deeper sense of the system they are operating within. The most useful change stories are those that are grounded in a clear example of change. The more you can support people to provide specifics and details (rather than generalizations) the better the insights about your system you’ll be able to generate.

Hub: As always, Jamie, you offer fantastic insights and guidance; thank you. And thanks in advance for continuing this conversation with the Hub, MHP-IF projects, and others working to advance child and youth mental health promotion; pooling our perspectives will help all of us invest our time and talents most wisely.

For support implementing Strategic Foresight

For support implementing Most Significant Change