Development organizations frequently face and overcome challenges in programme delivery. But what happens when the proposed solutions fail? How can organizations adapt to changing conditions and ensure the benefits of programmes are shared as widely as possible? This paper introduces the concept of ‘systems thinking’ for Oxfam staff and the broader development community. Systems thinking encourages development staff to understand and analyse the contexts within which they operate, and to design programmes that can adapt as conditions on the ground change. It helps staff to bring together many different stakeholders – especially those with radically different backgrounds and perspectives – to identify problems and solutions to challenges, increasing the possibility of transformational change. Crucially, it proposes that programme staff should have the freedom to experiment and ‘fail safely’ in order to get the best results.
The report contains case studies and questions for staff to consider, as well as useful tools and links to resources on systems thinking.