Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy
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Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy

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.
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Chapter 5: ‘What’s the big deal?’: complexity versus traditional US policy approaches

Michael Givel


Policy outputs and outcomes occurring in the course of typical government business are often difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend with total certainty due to their frequently complex and even unpredictable nature (Miller and Page, 2007; New England Complex Systems Institute, 2011). Public policy outputs are what governmental political institutions including the executive, legislative and judicial branches do or do not do. For example, in the legislative branch, governments enact laws. Policy outputs can result in policy outcomes with unintended consequences, unexpected outcomes and novel events (Johnson, 2010; Miller and Page, 2007; Pressman and Wildavsky, 1983). A primary purpose of modern policy studies is to effectively evaluate policy outputs and outcome patterns and trends. The unpredictable nature of policy outputs and outcome trends are known as emergent phenomena in all policy niches such as, for instance, energy or health. Emergent phenomena are sensitive to the initial policy situation such as a new welfare policy in a policy niche and are influenced by numerous negative or positive feedback loops. Positive policy feedback substantially increases benefits and reduces costs in relation to current political, economic or social public policies to the advantage of the greater society or certain groups or individuals in a society. Negative policy feedback reduces the political, economic or social benefits and increases costs of a policy to society, groups or individuals.

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