Aligning Policy and Evidence for the Age of Complexity

Aligning Policy and Evidence for the Age of Complexity

Gary Kass, Visiting Professor, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey

As the world changes in complex and unpredictable ways, Government is changing too.  As it does so, the need grows for policy-making and the evidence that informs it to be alive and responsive to the increasing pervasiveness of complexity.  In public service systems the increase in complexity often means that  no single institution is ever ‘in charge’ or has direct control over how changes unfold.  In response, as policy-makers and service deliverers begin to recognise the new reality of pervasive complexity, we see a fading of inadequate notions of one-size-fits all, predict-and-provide and command-and-control approaches.  Rather, we see a brightening of newer notions such as open policy-making; outcomes-focus; and service-driven adaptive approaches.

One key driver of these shifts is the growing recognition that complexity and uncertainty are pervasive and dominant features in the world with many of the certainties and stabilities of the past being eroded or removed.  A key requirement, then, is to build capacity to set and deliver public policy as these changes unfold.

Complexity High on the Agenda at the EES 2016 Biannual Conference

EES conference

Dione Hills, Tavistock Institute

Maastricht was the location of this year’s European Evaluation Society (EES) conference over a sunny week in late September. At the end of first day, we were treated to a civic reception in the building in which the Maastricht treaty was signed in 1992, bringing up mixed emotions for some of us.

700 participants from across the globe attended over 200 presentations and workshops that spanned high quality discussions about the current state of evaluation theory to practical accounts of interesting – and innovative - evaluations ‘on the ground’.

Likelihoods - by Stuart Astill, IOD Parc

Blog by Stuart Astill IOD Parc

By Stuart Astill, Principal Consultant, IOD PARC


The scope of the CECAN project runs wide as well as deep; complexity in the energy, water, environment and food domain would most immediately be thought to arise from the physical systems at the nexus core. Yes, complexity in weather systems, biological populations spring quickly and easily to mind as do the ‘user level’ human interactions with these systems and other local and global physical systems. However, when we are addressing remedial interventions, or even ongoing management of nexus concerns, we quickly realise a double dose of complexity if, as we certainly should, we look towards governance.

CECAN - funded and supported by the following organisations