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 15: Local government service design skills through the appreciation of complexity

Catherine Hobbs


Following seven years of research and 29 years working in local government in road safety, transport and environmental planning, what compelling thoughts have brought me at this point to question the potential links between local government management and complexity? For me, the learning approach to be gleaned from an appreciation of complexity represents a hidden gem which can help us to disconnect those things we persistently pretend are connected, and connect those things where connection is often (sometimes conveniently) denied. Adopting this learning approach leads us straight to a rich store of knowledge about complexity and systems thinking which is ready and waiting to be applied to the ongoing capacity-building demand of local government service design and developed further in the twenty-first century. Many resourceful people are needed to attend to this gem, to polish the darkened stone, and my doctoral research about local government capacity-building, applied systems thinking and leadership will play but a tiny part in what I believe to be a larger process of evolution in the theory and practice of public governance. This chapter challenges why there is an apparent disconnection between the process of public service reform and an appreciation of complexity, particularly when the timing of the connection is so apt. First, the plea for a more fundamental reform in public service is summarized, suggesting that complexity represents the first stepping stone in rising to this challenge.

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