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Complexity science approaches to the application foresight

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Abstract:

PurposeThis paper aims to present an exploration of recent work in complexity theory to explain why and how disruptive events happen in systems and how responses could be better, particularly in the policy-making arena. Design/methodology/approachThe main method applied is critical thinking combined with a review of selected aspects of complexity theory and a general experience of applying foresight. Several new and practical implications for foresight techniques and their application are derived. Promoting variation is examined as one way to make policies more resilient in a complex system. FindingsComplexity science demonstrates that disruptive events do not need an associated trigger, as they are a normal part of a complex system. This insight implies that if we are always looking for weak signals we will certainly be caught unawares. Practical implicationsThe assumption that disruptive events can be managed by planning and forecasting is not a workable option. Instead, policy making needs to assume that unexpected disruptive events will happen even with the best horizon scanning system in place. Foresight techniques need to be developed to embrace emergence and to provide capabilities such as reframing to visualise systems from very different perspectives, including those considered impossible now. Originality/valueAlthough neither complexity theory nor the concept of reframing is new in the area of foresight, the derivation of practical implications for foresight techniques is original.

Keywords: Complexity; Complexity theory; Disruptive events; Emergence; Policy making; Reframing; Strategic planning; Uncertainty management; Variation

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/14636681211256080

Publication date: 2012-07-20

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