This blog has originally been posted on ircwash.org.
Exploring the effects of different ways in which a policy can evolve through collaboration in a social system.
How can learning in the Ugandan rural water supply sector be conceptualised and modelled? As I am halfway through writing my thesis I’d like to discuss why ‘learning’ in the question above actually does not refer to learning as it is commonly understood and what possible answers the field of memetics may offer to the question.
Uncertainty in a system
When we analyse a system we have information about the current state of the system. The future state of a system, however, is difficult to predict. We do not know what events will occur and what their impact will be. When we make predictions over longer time horizons, we are even less certain. Most people do not like uncertainty. We can formulate two strategies: 1) Predict the future state really well and 2) take uncertainty as ‘a given’ and adapt the structures in the system.
In adaptive management, the cycles of policymaking are shorter and policies are used to test hypotheses about the behaviour of the system. Good policies are adapted and scaled up, others are rejected, and new ones are tested. Organisations in the sector that are able to ‘learn’ better contribute to the adaptiveness of the sector. If an organisation is able to quickly learn the effects of their actions, the policy cycles in the system are assumed to get shorter.
Learning can take place at two levels:
- organisations or individuals that perform an action can learn the effect of their action;
- an organisation can learn from another organisation what actions to take.