Science and Technology Innovation Program

Public Engagement in an Age of Complexity

Mar 21, 2014

The complexity of the interconnected systems we increasingly depend on – including social, technological, economic and environmental – has far outstripped our ability to communicate about them. The lack of an appropriate language, metaphors and mental models limits debate, engagement and, ultimately, the search for solutions. This presents a challenge not only to decision-makers, but to those whose job it is to inform our citizens about the important issues of the day, such as think tanks and the media.

The purpose of this project is to take a deeper dive into the issue of complex systems and use the findings to improve methods of communication and public engagement. We are interested in exploring the following questions:

  • In what ways are systems becoming more complex? 
  • How well does our public policy system deal with complexity? 
  • Are we better in some areas or some geographic scales than in others? 
  • What are the primary challenges in communicating complex systems to policymakers?
  • What are the primary challenges in communicating complex systems to the public? 
  • How can we improve this communication? 
  • Who is already doing this well? 
  • What needs to change to understand and engage in a more complex world?

We will be undertaking structured interviews with 20-25 people from a variety of backgrounds: systems analysts, experts on complexity, journalists, designers, technologists, media specialists, policymakers and people who study the policymaking process to create a white paper with a focus on how to improve public engagement and communication methods around complex systems challenges.

Check back here for more information.

Experts & Staff

  • David Rejeski // Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program; Interim Director, Commons Lab
  • Joe Filvarof // Program Manager/Researcher, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Todd Kuiken, Ph.D. // Senior Program Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Aaron Lovell // Writer/Editor/Program Manager, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Eleonore Pauwels // Program Associate/Researcher, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Anne Bowser // Researcher, Data Science and Visualization, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Elizabeth Tyson // New Projects/Technology Scout, Science and Technology Innovation Program