Dynamic Pattern Synthesis for Modeling Complex Systems. An Interview with Phil Haynes


Courtesy of Brian Castellani's 'Sociology & Complexity Science' Blog.

Phil Haynes is Professor of Public Policy and researches and teaches public policy and management, as applied to a variety of contemporary circumstances. His research focuses on the application of complex systems theory, often using applied statistical methods. His research has been funded by the ESRC and the government and voluntary sector. He has published in a wider variety of journals including Social Policy and Administration and Public Management Review.  He is author of several books including Managing Complexity in the Public Services (2015) now in its second edition.

His most recent book, which is part of our complexity in social sciences series at Routledge, is aptly titled, SOCIAL SYNTHESIS: Finding Dynamic Patterns in Complex Social Systems.

Finding The Common Ground

Finding the common ground

Along with several lead and co-authors, as part of a British Ecological Society Agricultural Ecology Group convened workshop held in December 2017, a report has been produced entitled "Finding the Common Ground", which sets out an ecological perspective on how future agricultural policy should develop as a consequence, and in relation to, Brexit.

The following blog by Steve Peel, Independent Eco-Agronomist sets out the main arguments:

Brexit is going to influence many aspects of life in the UK, few more so than farming and the environment.

Carillion may have collapsed, but public-private partnerships can be so much more...


public private partnerships

Pete Barbrook-Johnson @bapeterj

Last month, Carillion, one of the largest companies in the UK which regularly entered into contracts with government to deliver public infrastructure and services, went into liquidation. Since then, public-private partnerships (PPP), and their pantomime villain superstars - private finance initiatives (PFI) - have received an unprecedented level of criticism. The Guardian Opinion section – and my love-hate relationship with it - has gone into overdrive!

Teaching Evaluation of Complex Policy and Programmes

CECAN Syllabus

By Corinna Elsenbroich, CECAN Research Fellow

CECAN develops, tests and enhances methods to deal with complexity in policy evaluation, trying to advance research, policy and evaluation practice. To ensure that these methods will influence an ever widening audience, CECAN has now launched a syllabus for building capacity and supporting the application of complexity sensitive evaluation nationally and internationally.

Putting Values Back in Evaluation.

putting values back in evaluation

By Richard Gunton, CECAN Research Fellow

Policy evaluation is about assessing the value of policies, but too little attention, it seems to me, is paid to the meaning of “value” in all this.  The English word “value”, of course, has multiple meanings that include numerical (e.g. “a parameter value”), economic (e.g. “good value”) and ethical (e.g. “a value judgment”).  And herein lies an interesting problem, because this multiplicity of meanings makes it easy to present questions having an ethical component as if they were objective problems that might be solved in purely mathematical or economic terms.  Evaluating the National Curriculum’s mathematics programme is not at all like evaluating x-squared when x equals a half!  The ultimate question that evaluators ask of policies is: how good is this policy?  And that is primarily a question of value in the ethical sense, because goodness is a normative concept.

Building Collaborative Narratives and Developing Trust in Policy and its Evaluation.

dont steer blind


Reflections from the 6th European Environmental Evaluators Network forum: Betheney Wills, CECAN PhD Researcher.

On the 23rd and 24th November 2017 members of the CECAN team, Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Clare Twigger-Ross and myself attended the EEEN conference in the beautiful surroundings of the Royal Society in Edinburgh. Facilitated by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), civil servants from environment agencies, consultants, practitioners and academics came together to share experiences and ideas for the future of environmental policy evaluation.

The conference’s theme - Evaluating Innovation in Environmental Protection and Sustainability - considered whether evaluation is evolving in line with the societal and environmental challenges policy faces. Participants were asked to keep the following questions in mind over the two days;

How do we evaluate innovation and how do we innovate in evaluation?

There was a variety of talks and subsequent discussions around topics including the circular economy, EU laws, the use of economic mechanisms, government policy, low-carbon incentives and innovation.

An Extra Claus for the Santa Book? Evaluating Christmas the CECAN Way!

Evaluating Christmas

Anne Liddon, Science Communications Manager / Fran Rowe, Research Assistant / Amy Proctor, Research Associate, Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University

As we all know CECAN is pioneering, testing and promoting innovative policy evaluation approaches and methods across Nexus domains through a series of “real-life” case study projects - it’s about measuring best value in complex, inter-connecting systems.  And what could be more complex and “real-life” than Christmas?  We are all busy people and we want to get the best out of this annual festivity but what are the best methods for evaluation that can help us to do that?  We have been consulting with the most important actors involved (elves, reindeer, over-excited children, and, of course, Santa Claus himself) to consider the challenges and opportunities.

CECAN’s ‘The Visual Representation of Complex Systems’ at Environment, Economy, Democracy: Flourishing Together #RSD6.

Visual Representation of Complex Systems

By Dr Joanna Boehnert, CECAN Fellow

As the first step in developing my CECAN research project titled ‘The Visual Representation of Complex Systems: A Typology of Visual Codes for Systemic Relations’ I was thrilled to have the opportunity to engage with the Relating Systems Thinking and Design community last month. The Environment, Economy, Democracy:  Flourishing Together RSD6 conference (at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway, October 18-20, 2017) was an ideal place to collect ideas from designers, academics and sustainability practitioners with expertise in systems mapping, design and the visualisation of complexity.

A Whole New World – What Next?




Toby Lowe, Newcastle University

It’s been a month since we launched ‘A Whole New World: Funding and Commissioning in Complexity’ and the response has been incredible. Over 120 people came to the two launch events, and more than 1000 people read the report online in the first week. We’ve also started to have some excellent conversations about how to take this work forward.

In this post I want to briefly outline the key ideas, and talk about what we might do next.

‘New Public Management’ is dying – about time too

New Public Management (NPM) has been the dominant paradigm for public services for the last 40-odd years.  Its worldview is based on the idea that public servants cannot be trusted to organise and run public services, and so must be extrinsically motivated to perform well – by means of competitive markets and performance targets.  It seems that an increasing number of people recognise that this way of funding and commissioning public services, and other social interventions, is no longer helpful.

Complexity Settings to the Rescue: A New Lease of Life for Evidence-Based Policy?

complexity science


CECAN Fellow Sara Giorgi shares her perspective on some of the key insights from her research.

It would be naive and, potentially, ill-advised to have evaluation solely drive policy direction. Good, open, evidence-backed policy, however, does need to be informed by evaluation results and insights.  My CECAN Fellowship provided me with a rare opportunity to investigate how evaluation is applied in real life within a government department – in this case Defra – and how it can be used to plan for future policymaking. 

Models as ‘Interested Amateurs’

models as interested amateurs

From '' 24th January 2017

Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Research Fellow at the Policy Studies Institute at the University of Westminster & Knowledge Integrator Research Fellow at the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN) at the University of Surrey. 

How can we improve the often poor interaction and lack of genuine discussions between policy makers, experts, and those affected by policy?

Taking The Temperature of Trust - Henry Leveson Gower

taking the temperature of trust

Henry Leveson-Gower shares emerging findings of in-depth interviews he has conducted as part of his ongoing research project on trust in water.

It is over two years since Ofwat set increasing trust in water as its key objective for its 2015 five year business plan.To establish what has happened since, I interviewed 19 senior and influential figures across all parts of the water sector. I am seeking wider perspectives via a survey (click HERE to participate) and hope this article will stimulate you to take part.

One Researcher’s Anecdote is Another Researcher’s Data

one researchers anecdote

Frances Rowe, Newcastle University

A couple of days ago, a DEFRA policy official told me that the uncertainty over EU exit was creating a fertile environment for evaluation, as champions try to ensure their favoured policies have a place in the forthcoming landscape, post Brexit. This struck me as interesting, and I made a note of it. While some may call this anecdote, for a qualitative researcher this is data: incomplete, uncorroborated, yes, but data nonetheless.  It might in a future analysis about evaluation uptake prove to be gold dust, an insight that unlocks others, a necessary factor in assessing evaluation effectiveness. Who knows?

That Way Lies Prosperity: Sustainability and the Nexus

sustainability and the nexus

Dr Adam Hejnowicz, University of York

Sustainable Definitions

Sustainable Development and its relative Sustainability, concepts which have a rich history of appeal and animosity, have nevertheless become the dominant conversation framing environment-development policy in recent decades.

The most recent version of Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012 reads as follows:

“We also reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development by: promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living; fostering equitable social development and inclusion; and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that support inter alia economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and merging challenges.”