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Effectively Addressing Apparently Intractable Problems

Key Info: 
  • Learn how to address a complex problem that appears to be intractable and not susceptible to other approaches
  • Learn how to conduct in-depth interviews to elicit deep reflection on organisational challenges
  • Analyse data generated from interviews, using a method unique to the EMK Complexity Methodology
  • Experience a group analysis method with fellow students to reduce interpretation bias and deepen insights and understanding

With Eve Mitleton-Kelly

£ 1 495.00
Includes private and simple accommodation with shared bathroom, all meals, field trips, materials and teaching sessions from the first lunchtime you arrive through until the lunchtime before your departure.
We recommend attending this course as a fully residential participant however you may choose to book as a non-residential participant. Please call 01803 847237 for more details.

Week 1: 28 October – 1 November 2019 – Key Concepts, Interviews and preparing for Analysis
Week 2: 4 – 8 November 2019 – Group Analysis and Enabling Environments

Complex problems, whether organisational, societal or global, often appear not only difficult but intractable, and seem not to have an effective solution. The main reason is that the approach used is often inappropriate. They are complex, yet they are addressed using linear tools and methods.

Complex problems have many aspects and multiple interacting causalities, yet organisations often focus on a few or even a single cause. They also insist on finding a ‘solution’ when such a solution would only be applicable within a certain set of circumstances and may no longer be relevant when those circumstances change.

Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly has worked with the Sciences of Complexity for 23 years to address practical complex problems in the private, public and voluntary sectors. She has worked with the UN, the European Commission, advised five Government Administrations and many organisations worldwide. In the process she has developed the EMK Complexity Methodology to effectively address these problems.

The two-week course is for academics, business-executives, policy-makers, Overseas Development professionals or anyone looking to effectively address complex organisational problems.

Week 1 – Key Concepts, Interview technique and Individual Analysis 

This week will introduce participants to some key concepts in Complexity Science that underpin the EMK Complexity Methodology. Participants will prepare (before attending the course) and make a 5-minute presentation on one of the 10 Principles that will then be discussed in far greater depth.

The EMK Complexity Methodology has two main constituent elements: identification of the complex problem space and the co-creation of an enabling environment to address the complex problem.

During week 1, participants will be trained on how to conduct in-depth interviews to elicit the data necessary for the analysis and this experience will significantly increase the benefit they will derive from the course. The interviews will be conducted in small groups and full notes will be prepared to enable all the students to use the same material for analysis. It is hoped that a local organisation will be used as a case study.

In-depth analysis at both individual and group level correctly identifies the problem space. The participants will be guided on how to conduct their individual analysis, to prepare for the facilitated Group Analysis during week 2.

Week 2 – Group Analysis, Enabling Environments & Reflect-Back Workshop

The individual analysis will form the basis for the facilitated group analysis, which will identify and discuss in depth (a) common themes including the dissenting voice; (b) dilemmas (equally desirable objectives that appear not to be achievable at the same time); (c) underlying assumptions, which influence thinking and decision making in the organisation under study; and (d) the complexity principles which come into play and which can help to explain the phenomena being observed. In this context, complexity theory acts as an explanatory framework to help participants make sense of the problem space. Group analysis helps to reduce interpretation bias and to increase understanding of the problem space.

The analysis also identifies closely related clusters of dimensions and issues, which impact each other. These clusters are then used to address the problem by co-creating an Enabling Environment. Complex problems do not, and cannot, have single or simple solutions which effectively address the problem over time, as they are only relevant under a set of conditions, which will change with time. Enabling Environments on the other hand include an enabling infrastructure, the skills and resources, which will address the problem sustainably as it changes over time.

The final stage of the training will be presenting the findings together with some recommendations on how to co-create an Enabling Environment, at a Reflect Back Workshop to be presented to the interviewees and others.

This method of analysis will provide the participants with a powerful tool they will be able to use immediately after completing the course. They will also be provided with a set of Guidelines on how to conduct interviews, do the analysis and prepare for the Reflect-Back Workshop.

The Group Analysis, recommendations for co-creating an Enabling Environment and the Reflect-Back Workshop will be the main features of Week 2.

The above analysis is usually conducted by researchers using data elicited through interviews. In addition, the students will be introduced to a much more advanced method, which can be used with the ‘problem owners’, such as the Board of the organisation under study, or a wide cross-section of employees familiar with the issues; either because they are the decision makers or they are being impacted by those decisions. This method will only be introduced at a theoretical level; the participants will not be trained in it, as it is far too advanced. However, the Advanced Course in 2020 will train participants in this very sophisticated method, which is called the Multi-Dimensional Analysis. It helps the problem owners not only to identify the multiple dimensions (social, cultural, political, economic, technical, physical, etc.) in the problem space, but also to experience the holistic nature of the challenge. To be addressed effectively, complex problems need to be seen holistically, not only within a single organisation, but also within the broader industrial and economic context. However, it is not enough to simply enumerate the dimensions and related issues, as this can lead to analysis paralysis. The next step in the EMK Complexity Methodology is the critical breakthrough, which enables organisations to take action in order to effectively address a complex problem.

Once the multiple dimensions have been listed, the next step is to identify the critical co-evolving clusters; these are clusters of dimensions and related issues, which are strongly inter-connected. They are identified by asking how an intervention or change in any one issue, would impact other related issues in other dimensions. Co-evolution is reciprocal influence, which changes the behaviour of the interacting entities and the co-evolving clusters are those which will be reciprocally impacted by a change.  A simpler version of identifying the critical co-evolving clusters, using common themes, will be part of the training of the 2019 course.

Two or three critical co-evolving clusters are enough to start the next part of the process and to address the complex problem space. The 2019 participants will be taken through the process of how to prepare for the enabling environment by addressing the key critical co-evolving clusters at multiple scales (individual, group, organisational). They will present their recommendations together with their in-depth analysis at a Reflect Back Workshop. 


With Eve Mitleton-Kelly
Eve Mitleton-Kelly

Eve Mitleton-Kelly

Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly is a Fellow in the Engineering Department at Cambridge University (2017-); was Founder and Director of the Complexity Research Programme at the London School of Economics (1995-2017); visiting Professor at the Open University; member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Complex Systems (2012-2014); SAB member of the ‘Next Generation Infrastructures Foundation’, TU Delft; on Editorial Board  of ‘Emergence: Complexity & Organisations’; Policy Advisor to European and USA organisations, the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the UN OCHA and UNEP, several UK Government Departments; an Indonesian Government Agency on deforestation; Scientific Advisor to the Governments of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Netherlands, Singapore and UK.

Eve’s research has concentrated on addressing apparently intractable problems at organisational, national and global levels and the creation of enabling environments based on complexity science. She has led, and participated in 45 research projects funded by the EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, the European Commission, business and government to address complex problems. She has developed a theory of Complex Social Systems and a methodology to address complex problems. She has edited, co-edited and co-authored 6 books and has written extensively on the application of complexity theory to address complex problems. Her latest edited volume, the ‘Handbook of Research Methods in Complexity Science: Theory and Applications’ was published by Edward Elgar in January 2018. It includes 26 chapters written by over 50 international authors. The chapter by Eve, describes the EMK Methodology that will be taught on the course. One case study, with the Rabin Medical Centre’s Intensive Care Unit (ICu), was presented at the International Complexity Conference ICCS2018 in Thessaloniki, Greece in September 2018. The sponsor, senior physician and senior nurse from the ICu, presented the practical impact of the Multi-Dimensional Workshop with nurses and physicians, which took place in March 2018.

If you would like to book onto one of our short courses, you will need to create an account. This is a simple process of choosing a username, email address and password. Once you have created an account you will receive a verification email. Please click on the verification link within to have full access to the site and to make your booking. (You may need to  check your spam folder if you do not see this email.)  We will email you confirmation of your payment and any further communication about your course application.

Residential accommodation for "Changing the Frame"  is at Higher Close, a 20 minute walk from Schumacher College. All meals will be provided at the college.

A place can not be guaranteed unless we receive your deposit or payment on your chosen course. If you would like to apply for a bursary, please do this before making your course application.

Short Course Bursaries create an opportunity for an individual to experience the powerful transformative learning by joining a course that assists the participant to inspire their wider community and benefits from the participant’s own unique contribution. It is our hope that our bursaries support a wide cross section of participation on our short course programme. The number of bursaries available is limited, competition is strong and funding is not always available for every short course. Please be aware that most bursaries are in the region of 10% – 20% of the course fee so please be prepared to raise funding from other sources.  A bursary award is not intended to cover travel or incidental expenses.

Applications are viewed on a case-by-case basis and we are unable to enter into discussions on any decisions. We generally have many more applications for bursaries than we have funding available. We can only offer one bursary per person per year and priority is given to those who have not attended the college or received a bursary before. To help us support as many people as possible, please only apply if you would be unable to attend the course without a bursary.

How to apply for a bursary

NB: Please do not pay your deposit for the course yet. Any applications received where a deposit has been paid will be rejected and the deposit refunded.

Six weeks before the course is due to start all bursary applications will be considered and responded to.  If successful you will be required to accept our Bursary Terms and Conditions.

Please answer the following:

  1. What does a bursary mean to you?
  2. How will your attendance on this course benefit the wider community?
  3. If your financial situation justifies you applying for a bursary, how much are you able to contribute towards attending this course?

Please be prepared to supply an appropriate reference in support of your application.

More about our growing areas and philosophy

We follow ecological cycles as much as possible. Much of the food is grown in the five and half acre agroforestry field – in a system of alley cropping and in the developing forest garden. The field also has fruit trees and bushes; young nut trees; a flock of pasture fed poultry; two wild life ponds, a craft and pollinator garden and a hazel and willow coppice.

Other areas include two herb gardens; four polytunnels; a perennial no dig vegetable garden and several fruit areas. We compost our garden and kitchen waste for use on site, and use green manures for fertility building.

Our students find their time engaging with food growing, and all it entails, a truly transformative time.   Our gardens are as much about nurturing people as plants, and hundreds of students have found the contact with the land and soil to be a rich learning journey.

Integral to the College’s international learning community, you will get to know students, staff and volunteers through daily meetings and shared activities. There is also a diverse programme of events and evening talks, offered by college residents, visiting teachers and local experts.

Help & Enquiries

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