Unravelling Complexity

“All life is part of a complex relationship in which each is dependent upon the others, taking from, giving to, and living with all the rest.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau

Trying to unravel the complex socio economic and political dynamics underpinning societies affected by conflict is difficult. As new research increases our awareness of this complexity, sifting through the opaque rules of the game, the myriad of interests, and the competing power plays in order to achieve peaceful and sustainable transformation, seems like an uphill struggle.

At Dialectiq, we are working with organisations to untangle this complexity, and help them create thoughtful and feasible solutions. We believe that finding politically sustainable solutions relies on reshaping the power and influence of one stakeholder over another, and to build relationships between them. By exploring the dynamics through this lens, development actors are able to identify the types of power being exerted by different stakeholders, the relationships that need transforming and the actors that could help facilitate this change.

To achieve this, we use a unique 6-step process.

Step 1 – Setting the objective

Setting a programme objective provides a lens through which to analyse each stakeholder and the process of change; therefore it is important to have a clear appreciation of the objective. Stakeholders can be analysed through many different lenses: a focus on violence will reveal a stakeholder’s attitude towards violence, how shifts in power affect the risk of violence, or the effect different relationships have on levels of violence. On the other hand, a focus on Private Sector Development (PSD) shifts the emphasis to consider each stakeholder’s incentives for supporting PSD, how much power each group has to support or undermine PSD systems, and how divergent interests or values can be reconciled to support more sustainable PSD outcomes.

Step 2 -Identifying relevant actors shaping the context

A key objective of this step is to gain a wider perspective of actors that can influence the peace or development objective. This exercise emphasises the need to look beyond the narrow programme needs to a wider variety of social, economic and political stakeholders that can influence outcomes in different ways.

Step 3 – Understanding stakeholder’s attitudes

Attitude can be defined as a stakeholders’ enduring organisation of beliefs, feelings, and behavioural tendencies towards the objectives, groups, events or even symbols”[1].

When examining stakeholders’ attitudes we begin by considering their economic, political, and personal interests (important to distinguish between short term and long term) and beliefs. Using this analysis we were also able to assign a value rating for each stakeholder from -5 to +5, where -5 represents a highly negative attitude towards the programme objective and is actively undermining the objective and +5 is highly supportive of the objective.

This more nuanced understanding also allowed us to consider how open each stakeholder was to the objectives, so we can identify potential champions or coalition builders. Based on this analysis we then also assigned each stakeholder a value rating from 0 to 5, where 0 represents an attitude that is fixed and will not change, and 5 represents an attitude that, while it may be negative, is highly flexible and open to change.

Assigning number values, allow us to compare other stakeholders across the context. This method of assigning the number value provided a basis for discussion amongst the participants.

Dialectiq then generates a graph showing each actor’s propensity to help transform relationships in line with programme objectives, which will later be juxtaposed to the power graph in order to help identify the best peace enablers for each activity.

Figure 1: Visualising interests/attitudes


Step 3 – Understanding power

Power can be defined as “the capacity to pursue [one’s] interests”. It can be exerted in different ways and derived from various sources. Differentiating power in this way provides an indication of each stakeholder’s ability to enforce decisions independently or whether a stakeholder’s power is dependent on meeting the needs of their constituents.

To explore each stakeholder’s power, we created a framework for categorising different forms of power that were most relevant to achieving the objective. These categories are drawn from our own understanding of power as well as other literature[3].

Power categories 

1.     Political – Stakeholder’s power to influence groups that allow them to create and enforce policies for society and the allocation of public resources.

  • Strong bonds within their political network
  • Number of key influencers within their network
  • Ability to influence the network
  • Access to and use of media, family or political ties

2.     Economic – Stakeholder’s power to affect decisions made for economic reasons.

  • Control or influence the use of economic assets
  • Control or influence the allocation of resources (goods and services)
  • Access to natural resources
  • Control over land rights
  • Access to financial assets

3.     Authoritative – Stakeholder’s powers to make decisions, give orders, or demand obedience.

  • Roles or Responsibilities assigned to the position/job title
  • Ability to disrupt procedures and stop other stakeholder’s behaviour
  • Ability to gain access to confidential meetings, access to sensitive economic and political information
  • Ability to inspire and lead others

4.     Coercive – The stakeholder’s capacity for violence or coercive behaviour

  • Access to arms
  • Number of soldiers
  • Levels of threats
  • Ability to mobilise direct action
  • Ability to deliver punishments or seize assets

5.     Social – Stakeholder’s capacity to influence cultural or social norms.

  • Degree of influence among peers
  • Degree of influence over existing social dynamics
  • Level of popularity over local population/communities

For each stakeholder we assigned a number value from 0-5, where 0 is no power and 5 is absolute power for each category, based on the list of power categories above.

Exploring power in this way has allowed us to track different dimensions of power, which means we have been able to establish how power is used, the limitations of power, how power is inter-connected and how power levels compare across a range of stakeholders.

Dialectiq collates the data into a graph that clearly presents each actor’s different types of power compared with other actors and in relation to the programme objectives or foci.

Figure 2: Visualising power


Note: this screenshot is for illustrative proposes only and is not based on real data values.

Step 4 – Analysing relationships

Understanding relationships is essential to achieving any development objectives. A stakeholder’s power does not exist in isolation and only becomes real when one stakeholder is interacting with another. Therefore, only through understanding these interactions can we explore why stakeholders compete, and the spaces where agreements can be shaped.

When analysing relationships we consider the factors that build or undermine trust. By concentrating on these factors rather than their positions, we can begin delving into practical ways to transform these relationships and develop a greater appreciation of the challenge at hand.

For each relationship category, we assigned a number value from -5 to +5 based on the effect the relationship category is having on achieving the programme outcome, where -5 is having a hugely negative affect and +5 is having a hugely positive effect.

Relationship categories

Structural categories- Structural factors refer to the physical or political environment, which affects how stakeholders relate to one another

1)     Regulatory Framework – Laws, contracts and regulation can often affect how stakeholders relate to one another and affect the ability to achieve the programme outcomes.

·       The legal framework or contract that defines the relationships

·       The difficulty to comply

·       The level of informal mechanisms for resolving disputes

2)     Institutional Capacity – Relationships are often affected by the strength of an institution or the capacities of individuals.

·       The capacity to coerce, manage or negotiate differs between the stakeholders

3)     The flow of Information – Levels of communication often affect relationships, which can help build or undermine trust.

·       The level of communication or coordination

·       How often do they communicate about topics relevant to the objective

Transactional categories – Refers to the basis of their interactions as they deal with political and economic issues

4)     Competing Interests often affect relationships in a negative way and undermine trust; these could be economic or political interests.

·       Competing career interests

·       Competing interests over resources

·       Competing interests over the influence of their political networks

5)     Common interests often affect relationships in a positive way and build trust; these could be economic or political interests.
·       The common institutional interests
·       The common agenda for development
·       The common agendas to support political stability

Attitudinal categories – Refers to the widely held values and experiences that affect people’s beliefs

6)     Competing values often affect relationships in a negative way and undermine trust; these values can be formed by their experiences, histories, ethnicity, identity, religion or nationality.

·       The competition between the different ethnicities, religions or political ideologies

7)     Common values often affect relationships in a positive way and build trust; these values can be formed by their experiences, histories, their ethnicity, identity, religion or nationality.

The common values or history between the different ethnicities, religions or political ideologies such as national identity, food, religion or societal structures

Figure 3: Visualising relationships


Note: this screenshot is for illustrative proposes only and is not based on real data values.

Step 5 – Identifying entry points for finding common solutions

Building on these disaggregated relationship dynamics, users can identify positive or negative relationships as well as particular elements in those relationships to focus on in order to increase trust. They can generate practical ideas for activities and project design around the transformation of these relationships against clear indicators towards development or peace outcomes.

Step 6 – Supporting adaptive programming

Development and peacebuilding programmes are increasingly required to promote iterative improvements in the face of contextual and causal complexity. For organisations operating in complex contexts that are looking to improve their ability to adapt and to support relevant stakeholders to find common solutions, Dialectiq can help through integrating adapted strategies into existing logframes or workplans and through regular updating systems to create an iterative learning process that evolves with the context. It provides an analytical framework that can be easily shared between a very wide range of local and international actors (including donors/policymakers), enabling them to come to a shared understanding of the problem and to develop common strategies.

We will go further into details about how Dialectiq can help identify entry points for programming (Step 5) as well as support adaptive programming (Step 6) in subsequent blogs.

[1] Hogg, M., & Vaughan, G. (2005), Social Psychology (4th edition), London: Prentice-Hall.
[3] John Gaventa, 2006, Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis – IDS Bulletin Volume 37 Number 6 November 2006 © Institute of Development Studies