New blog & website

May 13, 2010

This blog is no longer active.  Please visit out new blog and Programme website at

http://www.humanitarianfutures.org/

Our new site and blog outlines:

· what the HFP does
· how its programme works
· the tools and resources we offer
· information on events
· discussion forum with links to YouTube interviews with the HFP Director, Dr. Randolph Kent.

We urge you to view a short film about the activities of the HFP in the news section of the homepage, or by clicking the HFP logo in the signature below. Note in particular, our feature entitled – Jeggle’s Journeys – in which Terry Jeggle draws on his 40 years’ experience to offer a personal insight into future humanitarian priorities. And of course, we welcome your feedback on the new layout and encourage you to comment on the issues raised in the blogs, in the section headed, Discussion Forum.

Many thanks to all the readers and contributors of this blog over the years.  All new material will be posted to the new blog from this time forward.  Please update your links.


Water rationing in Yemen; a sign of things to come?

August 28, 2009
Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water.  © Adel Yahya/IRIN

Drivers wait at Al-Suhaini Well, near Al-Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, for three to fours hours to have their trucks filled with water. © Adel Yahya/IRIN

IRIN reports on new levels of water rationing in Yemeni cities.

“Water and sanitation companies in Yemen are adopting unprecedented water rationing in major cities”, reports IRIN in a recent article.

Price hikes, rising demand, and decreasing precipitation has brought the situation to a critical head.  Estimates place Yemen’s water deficit at 1.28 billion m³.

The impact on local residents has been huge.  One resident reports,

Our household has received no water for 21 days, so I turned to buying water from trucks… In the past month, I bought water four times, costing me YR10,000 [$50] – nearly one-third of my monthly salary.

Is this a sign of things to come in other parts of the arid world?


US agricultural production to decline severely under climate change

August 28, 2009

New research from North Carolina State University published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the United States could experience stark crop yield declines under moderate climate change scenarios.

From Treehugger:

Agriculture and resource economist Michael Roberts and economist Dr. Wolfram Schenkler determined the impact of warming temperatures on corn, soybeans and cotton. They found that each had a critical temperature threshold above which crop yields started plummeting: 29°C for corn, 30°C for soybeans and 32°C for cotton.

Under slower global warming scenarios, Roberts and Schenkler project that yields for these crops could decline 30-46%. Under rapid global warming scenarios things got really bad, with yields dropping 63-82%.


Climate Camp to London police: We won’t tell you where the next camp is because you keep beating us up

August 25, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Climate Camp organisers demonstrate a cracking expertise with web media and the power of decentralised decision-making.

Having trouble with the authorities ruining your social activities?  Getting beat up frequently by the police?

Leverage the web to humiliate your opponent and gain the upper hand in a smashing example of modern, technology enabled social activism.


Disruption after transformative events: the Satir Change Model

July 28, 2009
Picture 3

The impact on group performance of a well assimilated change during the five stages of the Satir Change Model

Steven Smith has a very interesting post discussing the Satir Change Model – a model of group process which charts the impact of innovations in organisational dynamics.

Smith discusses the impact of change on organisational dynamics.  The Satir Change model is derived from family psychology, which tracks the changes in family behaviour after the introduction of a new or disruptive event.

What the model finds is that after a new way of acting or behaving is adopted, there is a drop in performance often followed by a period of chaos or disruption.  This then restabilises to a higher level than before after group members internalise and embrace the circumstances of the new condition.

Clark Quinn then comments upon this, applying the model to organisational change.  He suggests that breaking new conditions or changes of behaviour into small, bite sized chunks might actually help reduce the negative aspects associated with change adoption.  Introducing these at the right time, and in the right order, may be the key to progressive, ongoing organisational change.

Smith then summarises this process in a table, reproduced below:

ctions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Many thanks to Steven and Clark for discussing this issue in the context of organisational change.

What lessons might this hold for humanitarian bearocratic change in the face of increasing numbers of disruptive, change-inducing events? Depending on the magnitude and frequency of these events (both increasing), it is possible that such organisations could hypothetically be driven down a process of ever decreasing performance if such changes happen fast enough.  On the other hand, embracing and understanding a model such a this (if it works in the context of your organisation) could help managers better navigate these changes.

UPDATE – This also suggests that in order for organisations to learn and improve, they must be subject to creative, disruptive, potentially even destructive events.  If one is serious about change management and organisational adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to bring about such small events in order to help agencies and organisations better strengthen their “immune systems” in this regard?  In this case, do the ends justify the means?


White House urges better response planning for nuclear attacks

July 28, 2009
The recently released Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, developed by the White House Homeland Security Council, stresses that it’s “incumbent upon all levels of government” to prepare “through focused nuclear attack response planning.” Mayors, governors, emergency managers and first responders will be the first to deal with the consequences, and according to that same guidance, “local and state community preparedness to respond to a nuclear detonation could result in life-saving on the order of tens of thousands of lives.”
Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.
Two assumptions prevail at the local level: 1.) Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and 2.) The military is the only organization capable of responding.

nukebonestell

A new report suggests that “surge capacity is the largest threat” to America’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.

From the press release:

Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.

The report notes that, “Two assumptions prevail at the local level:

  1. Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and
  2. The military is the only organization capable of responding.

Because it often takes the military time to respond to catastrophic events, the report urges local governments to consider and prepare for what they would do if the military doesn’t arrive in time.

The report suggests that local decision-makers:

  1. Come to grips with the threat and understand that the military can’t arrive immediately to help.
  2. Realize that isn’t a problem for only large, high-risk cities, but one that requires a regional response.
  3. Actually make plans and co-ordinate with your neighbours.

The press release concludes that, “Such preparation isn’t necessarily specific to nuclear terrorism. Regional preparedness and response can be used for a range of catastrophic events, including hurricanes such as Katrina. Moving down the scale, preparing for the “big one” will help communities deal with the small disasters they face every year.”

Press release herefull report here.



Learning from children: strategy, tactics and games in times of rapid change

July 20, 2009

baby_teo2

Are there lessons in how children learn that might help us adults, and the organisations we run, learn from turbulent environments and make better decisions in times of change?

Watching my 9 month old child grow up, I was struck by how inventive and experimental his learning style can be.  Like all children, his life is a constant stream of novelty and change.  He has very little control, has no sense of why or how things work, yet learns quicker and more effectively than most adults and at a rate which makes organisations look positively glacial.  He also seems to enjoy it much more than most adults I know as well.

A colleague recommended reading the classic book “How Children Learn”, by John Holt.  That book is reviewed here, here and here.  I have transcribed relevant excerpts below, and interpret them in the context of organisational learning and strategic change management.

When children attack a new problem, they begin to play, almost at random.  This generates a tremendous amount of sensory data. A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  The trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment.  He is asking nature a question, he wants to cut down the noise, the static, the random information, to a minimum, so he can hear the answer.  But a child doesn’t work that way.  He is used to getting answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of his experiences.  His way of attaching a problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, [in as many] ways as possible.  then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions – that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.

This is a marvellous phrase, “he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.”  How many of us have felt this way, when honestly considering the complexities we face in our daily lives?

The young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage in situations… where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask.  He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise.  Above all, he is much less likely than an adult to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them.

Reading Holt contains excellent lessons for decision-makers faced with complex, changing landscapes.  They must first understand what kinds of problems they are facing and what kinds of questions must be asked.

This can only be done through experimentation.  But not the kind of experimentation taught to us in the science lab.  The kind of experimentation that doesn’t need to be taught, that is, through play.

But not just any kind of play.  Play doesn’t work if it isn’t fun.  Play minus fun equals labour, which doesn’t have the same learning benefits.

The spirit behind [children’s games] should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, include the game of trying to find out how the work works, which we call education.

Only through play, then – through random, iterative, and fundamentally joyful experimentation – can we begin to understand how and why the world is changing.  And only through play can we generate the notions and motivations necessary to interact successfully with it.

Surprising insights from an author who specialises in, well, children’s games.  Perhaps management strategy need not be as serious and we like to think.

UPDATE – See my similar post on “Rules for Emergent Experimentation“, which reaches similar conclusions and proposes guidelines for play in the context of organisational learning.


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