Normal bureaucracy tends to centralise, standardise and simplify, and to serve better those people and places that are less poor and more accessible. Field bureaucracies have done well (a) where simple standardised programmes have found uniform conditions – like the human body with smallpox and yaws eradication campaigns, or irrigated plains with green revolution packages, and (b) where they have created and sustained uniform conditions, as with technically exacting time‐bounded programmes for single commodities such as tea and milk. For the diverse, complex, and risk‐prone farming systems found outside green revolution areas, normal agricultural research and extension for single commodities has a more limited part to play. Reversals are needed and occurring – to perceive, permit, and promote diversity, searching for what farmers need and providing not a package of practices but a basket of choices. This complementary paradigm of reversals in agricultural research – to decentralise, and to serve diversity and complexity – raises the question of its wider relevance and application in other domains and bureaucracies, to fit and meet the varied conditions and needs of those who are poorer, less accessible, and less powerful.