There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.1
The previous chapter identified the shortcomings of extant theory and practice of M&E in relation to UNPOL in UN peace operations. In particular, it highlighted seven key areas where current orthodoxy does not adequately cater for the impact assessment and learning needs of the full gamut of UNPOL activities and objectives. This chapter explores the possibility of harnessing insights from the study of ‘complexity’ to help understand how to analyse, monitor and evaluate multidimensional UN peace operations that are invariably part of conflict and peacebuilding systems in highly dynamic and nonlinear environments. There is an increasing recognition in both research and practice that, unlike their traditional antecedents, the majority of modern peace operations are now complex undertakings. In the 1990s, humanitarian agencies began using the phrase ‘complex emergencies’, while the language of ‘complex peace operations’ is now ubiquitous throughout the peacekeeping community in describing the multi-agency and multifunctional character of twenty-first-century peace operations.2 However, regarding attempts to monitor and evaluate the impact of missions, this recognition has been largely a rhetorical one. Whilst there has been widespread acknowledgement that complexity is rife in the business of peacekeeping, this has not been adequately reflected in pervasive M&E practice.3 Current convention displays a limited appreciation of what complexity means for how the impact of mission activities should be captured and interpreted. This has significant implications for design, planning and ongoing management of missions, to which M&E informed by complexity theory could be a valuable contributor. In this chapter I argue that complexity theory brings novel insights to the study of peace operations. In particular, I argue that the central claims and concepts of complexity theory correspond well with the challenges
facing M&E for UNPOL that I identified in the previous chapter and that consequently complexity theory can usefully inform the development of more appropriate approaches. The chapter proceeds in four parts. First, it briefly charts the origins of complexity theory, distils the core concepts of the paradigm, introduces the features of a complex system and notes the increasing application of such concepts to the social sciences as well as enduring contentions. Second, it draws upon the emerging literature viewing peace missions and their operating environments as complex social systems and proceeds to expand on this nascent field using realworld examples to substantiate the suitability of such a representation. The third part demonstrates how the central tenets of complexity theory provide an alternative theoretical framework for addressing the weaknesses of extant M&E in peace operations. It proceeds to looks at what employing a complexity lens means for – and brings to – the task of monitoring and evaluating progress and change in complex systems. Finally, the chapter concludes by articulating the core implications of complexityoriented M&E for contributing to subsequent development of a framework for UNPOL in peace operations.