Table of Contents

Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy

Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy

Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series

Edited by Robert Geyer and Paul Cairney

Though its roots in the natural sciences go back to the early 20th century, complexity theory as a scientific framework has developed most rapidly since the 1970s. Increasingly, complexity theory has been integrated into the social sciences, and this groundbreaking Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy has brought together top thinkers in complexity and policy from around the world. With contributions from Europe, North America, Brazil and China this comprehensive Handbook splits the topic into three cohesive parts: Theory and Tools, Methods and Modeling, and Application.

Chapter 8: Effective policy making: addressing apparently intractable problems

Eve Mitleton-Kelly

Subjects: politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy


Policy and decision makers are often faced with complex problems, which appear very difficult to address or even unsolvable and which challenge existing methods and approaches. The problems are complex and multidimensional, yet they are addressed in a relatively simplistic way, usually addressing a single dimension. For example the emphasis may be on culture, or finance, or new technology, when all those as well as many other dimensions may be contributing to the problem space. This chapter will describe an approach based on complexity theory, which has been developed and tested over two decades in 30 different research projects. The approach, which is part of the EMK methodology, identifies the multiple dimensions of the ‘problem space’ which may include social, cultural, technical, physical, political, economic, leadership and other dimensions. Organizations often feel overwhelmed by what they perceive as the enormity of such a task because it is seen as an endless list of issues to be addressed. However, by identifying a set of critical co-evolving clusters, policy makers are able to set up enabling environments that can effectively address complex challenges.

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