How do You Create an Enabling Environment?

We, as colleagues in MiDDLEGROUND, had learned something about stubborn problems while working to develop leaders in Africa. Five years ago, with my colleague Elana Friedman, we found Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly from whose work (on “complexity” at the London School of Economics) we learned a good deal more, and came up with a joint plan.

Where does the term “complexity” come from? A gathering of high powered but frustrated people, a mix of business, political and academic leaders, in Sante Fe New Mexico in the mid 1980s, held tortuous discussions about erratic stock markets, human aggression, eco-system collapse, climate change. They asked each other why as leaders they kept failing at their biggest challenges, and came up with a new category of problem.

This problem they called “complex” because it arises amongst living intelligent people who are connected, inter-dependent and constantly moving. Such problems may never be solved, and they cannot be well-managed if leaders keep treating the people in the problem as mindless, static objects.

What is an “enabling environment”? Inspired at Sante Fe, Eve founded the Complexity Research Group at the LSE, and has over the last 20 years developed a theory of complex social systems and a methodology for addressing such complex problems. In this the role of a leader is to co-create with stakeholders an “enabling environment” for better managing the problem, and Eve noticed that what MiDDLEGROUND actually does is to create such enabling environments!

How are we taking this forward? Jointly with Eve and the LSE, we have developed and delivered a 3 day programme in which Eve teaches the core concepts behind her complexity methodology, and MiDDLEGROUND teaches the leadership part. Now in its fourth year the programme is highly rated by participants, and since 2014 offers a step on a pathway to a new leadership award from the British Council.


  • To enrol or find out more go here.