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Keywords:

  • complexity;
  • management practice;
  • systems thinking;
  • paradox;
  • social

Abstract

This paper offers a critique of existing ways of understanding management practice in International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) and compares and contrasts these with insights drawn from the complexity sciences. The authors put forward a more radical interpretation of complexity theory as it might be taken up in organisations rather than suggesting that it can be accommodated with existing theories based in systems thinking. They suggest that understanding the process of organising as contingent, paradoxical and experiential could profoundly refocus the attention of managers and practitioners alike and lead to an intensifying of practice as more consciously political. In being more open to others, including their partners and beneficiaries, staff in INGOs may be more ready to change themselves and their ideas. At the same time, the authors point out the existing dynamics of current practice and the way it perpetuates itself, no matter how problematic. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.