Complexity Demystified - A Guide for Practitioners
In 2011, Patrick Beautement and Christine Broenner wrote “Complexity Demystified - A Guide for Practitioners” which was originally published by Triarchy Press. A pre-publication version of the book is now downloadable here as a PDF (10MB).
This book was written to offer solutions to practitioners to help them bring about real-world change - to provide them with an approach for 'putting complexity to work'. There is a complexity demystified blog here which explains the approach in detail.
Practitioners have been saying “We need to do something differently but are not sure what to do or how to do it”. They say: 'Scientists explain complexity but don't tell you what to do about it in practical terms'.
The value of this book is that it takes insights from complexity science and explains how to apply them when faced with real-world challenges. Having demystified academic theory, the book offers an in-depth, systematic framework which practitioners can use to focus on the dynamic phenomena already active in their working context. The framework enables people to shape and influence these phenomena 'on the fly' to bring about beneficial outcomes in the face of uncertainty.
Eleven Principles of practice have been derived from the experiences of practitioners who have used the framework. An example of how these principles can be used is shown by the ‘Liveable Cities‘ project which, in 2017, published a series of short booklets illustrating complexity thinking at work.
Also, there are six case studies in the book, showing these techniques in action, for:
- fuel protests in the UK in 2000;
- upgrading Slum Housing in Cameroon;
- dealing with Social Housing in Ludlow, UK;
- adapting to the challenges of Journalism in Lebanon;
- explaining how the Deep Water Horizon (DWH) Oil Rig crisis was inevitable;
- illustrating the difficulties of community engagement in the case of 'Lost Town' at Dunwich - an East of England Development Agency project;
These illustrate how the systematic framework reveals a better understanding of the stresses and strains experienced ‘in the field’ - and how these might have been different had an appreciation of the underlying complexity been part of standard practice. The book then critiques the effectiveness, and otherwise, of the Approach.
Drawn from their own experiences, and those of other practitioners, the authors have produced a clear and erudite 'bible' for realising the inherent benefits of 'putting complexity to work'.
Recommendation: "This book is a very valuable and timely contribution to that body of scholarship and practice, bridging as it sets out to do and does, academic abstraction of concepts and methods and the stark reality of social, economic and physical situations. It should be on the bookshelf of anyone seriously engaged with any complex issue."
Professor Brian Collins, CB, FREng
Chief Scientific Adviser. Department for Transport (DfT) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS, 2011)
[As at 31 Jul 2023]