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 11: Policymaking as complex cartography? Mapping and achieving probable futures using complex concepts and tools

Kasey Treadwell Shine


While recognizing that there is a vast body of literature on complexity and chaos in the natural sciences, as well as their potential applications to the social sciences, this chapter uses the term ‘complexity theory’ as a shorthand reference to the general principles of complex phenomena. It reflects an ontological and epistemological perspective on phenomena that exhibit unexpected, unpredictable properties and behaviours that collectively differentiate them from other phenomena (and hence require a different mode of scientific inquiry). In the natural sciences, these ‘complex’ phenomena are emergent (greater than the sum of their parts) and non-reproducible (non-linear; contingent on other phenomena and systems; extremely sensitive to small changes in conditions), yet also maintain observable, non-conscious patterns throughout time and space – a kind of dynamic equilibrium, or what I call ‘stability-through-change’. This chapter argues that socially complex phenomena can be viewed in the same light.

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