by and

Filed under: Development Development 2.0 Social innovation

On our journey to explore how principles from evolution and other sciences can help us redefine a concept of ‘scaling up’ in development, we came across this simple yet extremely effective visualization of how species evolve (HT @hereissimone).

What do you reckon:

Could you see the “story” of development projects been told this way for the benefit of project managers and donors? Here’s one example of this idea in action.

The lesson for development practitioners looking to adapt and scale, the message seems particularly salient. As Derek Mead writes:

The environment, geography, animal behavior, biodiversity, and competition—both intra- and interspecies—are all continually in flux, meaning the “peaks” on the fitness landscape of the world are always shifting.

And as they shift, so do the successful genotypes that are able to climb up them. In essence, that’s how evolution works on a very macro scale: Because the rules of success for a specific ecological niche are always changing, the ideal solution also must change.

We’ve connected to by Bjørn Østman of Michigan State University who designed the visualization to share our thinking and some early insights from sciences that we feel could apply to building successful initiatives in international development.

We hope to continue this discussion and see to what extent approaches he is using could be redesigned for our context in development.

Stayed tuned for more.




  • Alberto Cottica

    Yeah, we did similar stuff with evolutionary games at UCL in the early 90s. 🙂

    Notice that the whole thing is driven by mutation, or randomness. This is quite handy, because the mutation rate is a typical policy variable: if you think you are stuck in a fitness slump, you shake things up by bringing in mavericks. If you think you are on a stable peak, you tweak downward the mutation rate by standardizing and rationalizing (though that’s dynamically dangerous… you don’t know when the fitness landscape is going to switch again.