Because coconuts do not grow in Canberra: Complexity theory and capacity development in Solomon Islands Police Force

Date01 August 2019
Published date01 August 2019
AuthorJodie Curth‐Bibb
Because coconuts do not grow in Canberra: Complexity theory
and capacity development in Solomon Islands Police Force
Jodie CurthBibb
University of Queensland, Australia
J. CurthBibb, School of Political Science and
International Studies, University of
Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072,
Funding information
Australian Federal Police
Statebuilding has been informed and captured by reductionist, linear change models.
Defined by technocratic approaches to public sector (re)building and reformit has
been monitored, measured and evaluated by New Public Management artefacts such
as logframes and ResultsBased Management. Through a case study on the capacity
development of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, I explore the possibilities for
using complexity theory to better understand, manage, and monitor capacity develop-
ment interventions. The analysis of interview data with police practitioners from both
sides of the interventionadvisors and local counterpartsreveals the explanatory
power of complexity concepts (such as interconnectedness, emergence, initial condi-
tions, and nonlinear change) in ways that could inform a rethink of how we frame
public sector capacity building interventions.
capacity development, complex adaptive systems, complexity, institutionalreform, programme
management, publicsector reform
Statebuilding in fragileand postconflict settings has been
characterised by rationalist, reductionist, linear change models. The
theories of change underlying such interventions provide technical
and bureaucratic solutions to underdevelopmentand conflict based
on the assumption that the liberal state and good governancepur-
sued through public sector capacity building and reformwill provide
the foundations for economic development and peace (Boege &
CurthBibb, 2011; Goldfinch & DeRouen, 2014). Such approaches to
statebuilding typically focus on the reform and capacity development
of bureaucratic expertise and machinery of governmentas well as
democratic and ruleoflaw institutions (including the provision of
property rights and corruption watchdogs; Goldfinch & DeRouen,
2014, p. 96).
This paper explores one such institution building interventionthe
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)and in par-
ticular, the capacity development of the Royal Solomon Islands Police
Force (RSIPF). Based on the analysis of semistructured interviews with
police practitioners, this paper explores a different ontological/
epistemological expression of statebuilding through examining the
explanatory purchase of key complexity theory concepts, including
interconnectedness, interdependence, and coupling; complex adaptive
agents (CAAs); emergence, localised interactions producing the global,
and selforganisation; coevolution; and sensitivity to the initial condi-
tions, feedback processes, and nonlinearity. Importantly, this paper
goes on to consider the practical implications for public sector capac-
ity development and policing interventions and how a complexity
understanding might inform a different approach to programme man-
agement and monitoring and evaluation. The findings resonate with
other recent work on postNew Public Management (NPM)
approaches (Andrews, 2013, Brinkerhoff & Brinkerhoff, 2015).
A great deal of statebuilding has been pursued through the transfer of
technical capacities from the donor country to the hostcountry in
various forms of technical assistance (see MacGinty & Sanghera,
2012). This approach to public sector reform involves
Received: 2 January 2019 Revised: 21 May 2019 Accepted: 26 June 2019
DOI: 10.1002/pad.1862
Public Admin Dev. 2019;39:133143. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons, 133

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