Alexander Knapp Headshot

Research Topic

'Development Jazz': Improving international development outcomes through complexity informed methods and tools Personal website

Research Summary

Over the past seventy years, international development and humanitarian aid have saved hundreds of millions of lives, lifted a billion people out of poverty, and improved the quality of life and prospects for half of the world’s population. These advances, framed within a mechanistic and linear paradigm, are however delivering diminishing returns as global social, economic, environmental, technological, and political systems become massively more interdependent.

Though well established in the physical sciences, Complex System Theory has only rarely been applied to this important and global work, yet it has the potential to provide development funders, implementors, and local partners with an additional lens through which to understand 'wicked problems' such as climate change, sustainable resource management, or public health resilience. This research seeks to determine if training in ‘complexity’ and the provision of non-linear tools and methods to apply to multivariate development programmes quantifiably increase progress toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their targets.


Research Area


Alexander Knapp has worked for twenty-five years in international consulting, including strategy, policy, planning, hostage negotiation, fundraising, crisis management, operations, disarmament, and effectiveness. From 1995 to 2012 he served in the United Nations in sixteen peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction and humanitarian aid missions around the world including Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Angola, Liberia, Eastern Slavonia (it’s a real place), Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tajikistan, Darfur, Central African Republic, Syria, and South Sudan.

His applied research focuses on new approaches to wicked problems globally, applying biomimetic models from neuroscience, organic chemistry, genetic engineering, ecology, and quantum physics to similarly interdependent and probabilistic challenges like endemic poverty, environmental degradation, infection diseases, representative governance, infant mortality, food scarcity, and climate change.

He is a Visiting Lecturer in Complexity and International Business at Regent’s University in London, and a Visiting Professor of International Development at the American University School of International Service in Washington DC. He holds degrees in international relations, professional photography, international law, public administration, and Italian culinary arts, has been shot twice, shelled, held at gunpoint more times than he can count, car-bombed, declared persona non grata/expelled from three autocratic countries, and kidnapped, which has contributed to his calming demeanour under pressure, good sense of humour, and arsenal of amusing anecdotes about the challenges of change management.

Education and Qualifications

Institute Award Dates
University of Edinburgh Business School PhD (Candidate) 2022–present
University of Vienna Law School, Austria LLM International Law and Diplomacy 1995–1997
The American University School of International Service, Washington DC, USA BA International Relations 1991–1995

Professional Experience

  • Chief Executive Officer and Principal Consultant, The AKC Global Group, London and Washington DC (2014–present)
  • Senior Advisor, Strategy and Planning - Syria/Turkey (UNGARes46/182, SHARP), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) (2015)
  • Senior Advisor, WHO Sub-Regional Ebola Operations Coordination Centre (70:70:60), United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) (2014)
  • Specialist - Operations and Security, United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) (2011)
  • Deputy Director - Election Operations and Security, United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) (2010)
  • Deputy Director - Humanitarian Operations and Security, United Nations/African Union Hybrid Operations in Darfur (UNAMID) (2008)
  • Acting Director, Operations - Aceh Province (Tsunami Relief), United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) (2004)
  • Mission Advance, Regional Lead - Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (2004)
  • Mission Advance, Deputy Director - Election and Census Operations/Planning, Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq (CPA) (2003)
  • Director - Election Planning and Operations, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) (2003)
  • Deputy Director - Strategy and Planning, United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) (2002)
  • Mission Advance, Constitutional/Electoral Design Specialist, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) (2002)
  • Mission Advance, Deputy Director - Operations and Security, United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) (1999)
  • Mission Advance, Director of Elections (Interim), United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (1999)
  • Mission Advance, Head of Election Planning and Operations, OSCE Presence in Albania (OPA) (1997)
  • Mission Advance, Deputy Director - Voter Registration, United Nations Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) (1997)
  • Mission Advance, Operations Officer - Arms Control, Human Rights, Elections, OSCE Mission in Bosnia (OMBiH) (1996)