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Snapshots from my journey into systems


When did I start to think about systems?

It goes back to mid 2017, when I was finishing writing with some colleagues the concluding chapter of Knowledge, Politics and Policymaking in Indonesia.

While the whole book is about the evolution of the knowlede sector in Indonesia (i.e. the institutional landscape of government, private sector, and civil society organisations that provide research and analysis to support the development of public policy), when we were writing the final chapter we realise that instead of the knowlede sector we had been writing about the knowledge system in Indonesia.

“This is a subtle but significant difference. The term sector, particularly when applied to actors, systems and processes related to evidence-informed policymaking, is reminiscent of a linear approach to the design and implementation of policy reforms and programmes to tackling persistent problems. This approach has often resulted in technocratic interventions that are solution-driven and measured by inadequate behavioural indicators. Utilising the sector definition of Indonesia’s knowledge sector carries the risk that the design of programmes and reforms by the Indonesian government and development partners will reflect traditional bureaucratic structures and accountabilities. Traditional sectors such as health and education have a ministry in charge of designing and implementing policies and managing the policy cycle for specific reforms. However, this is not the case for the knowledge  sector which, as mentioned above and in Chap. 1, is horizontal in nature with no one ministry or department responsible. The complexity, the politics and the diversity of actors and types of evidence in the knowledge sector are more reminiscent of a system or, to borrow a term from big data, a knowledge systems or evidence ecosystem.

Why is it important to see the knowledge sector as an evidence ecosystem?

First, to see the knowledge sector as an evidence ecosystem means to accept that the actors in the system are linked in a complex web of interlinked relationships whereby they not only want to produce and use evidence but also want to influence each other. This web cuts across policy areas and policy sectors. It is wider than any individual sector.

Second, it is because changes in capability within the evidence ecosystem are evolutionary, rather than linear and based on the principles of engineering, which are so common in development programmes (Green 2017). The evolution of a system, as noted by Jacobs (2000), involves a process that constantly produces increasing diversity and co-development relationships. As it evolves, it generates greater complexity. Importantly, the evolution of such a system is governed by uncertainty, rather than the certainty and linearity of results-based programmes.”

To be continued

Photo credit: Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

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