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Community Contribution

Clarity in the Complex: Modeling & Preventing Violence with System Dynamics

Travis Roberts

Problems in International Development are often wicked: they are difficult to solve because of complex causes and effects that interact in unpredictable ways. Typical problem-solving approaches focus on immediate or root causes, failing to grasp complexity and creating inefficient or insufficient solutions. System Dynamics (SD) presents a novel solution. By integrating multiple CLA components (particularly continuous learning and improvement with an eye towards scenario planning), community-led participatory research joins with cutting-edge scientific methods to build better understandings of complex problems and potential solutions.

In El Salvador and Honduras, community violence against children is part of a dynamic system that has been difficult to untangle. Development programs with finite life cycles and limited resources must target specific vulnerabilities to produce maximum results – a difficult task given the lack of evidence and shifting contexts that interventions occur in. Without a research approach that allows for complexity and dynamism it is impossible to confidently target interventions or accurately forecast the conditions that interventions might create.

For World Vision and Johns Hopkins, in partnership with USAID, System Dynamics represents an opportunity to bring existing Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) infrastructure with new methods and partners to solve the problems that current approaches create. While this CLA effort is still reaching maturity, previous use cases in other industries and our lessons from the process so far give confidence that this approach can have a fundamentally transformative impact on how we approach problems in international development and design innovative, effective, solutions.

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