Understanding Change in Complex Systems
This is the first of a three part
series on applied complexity thinking
By: Kevin Kelly (Rhodes)
I will begin by reflecting on the general epistemological challenges and problems associated with attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and programmes designed to achieve specific socio-economic and environmental outcomes. I will suggest that most attempts to measure change miss the plot in attempting to measure effectiveness against the counterfactual; the situation that would pertain in the absence of the intervention. In considering an alternative approach to understanding programme effectiveness I will draw on the emerging field of complex adaptive systems theory. I will focus on the need to understand how systems comprised of multiple and distributed agents organise and develop across time, and how cross-scale interactions of agents can lead to unpredicted outcomes. The Panarchy model of transformation in human and natural systems will be proposed as a promising framework for understanding and managing change processes in self-organising systems.