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Addressing Complexity with Playable Models

This report examines the nature of “complex systems,” explains the difficulties involved in dealing with problems in complex systems, and explores methods of improving governance and public engagement through the use of interactive models of complex systems, or playable models, both in public policy and journalism. We are interested in exploring the following questions:

In what ways is our world becoming more complex?
What are the major barriers our governance systems face in addressing complex system problems?
What are the primary challenges in communicating complex systems to policymakers and the public?
How can we improve communication and public engagement processes? More specifically, is journalism up to the job?
Could playable models – interactive models of a complex system with which people play – be useful in fostering deeper understanding of complex systems?

We undertook more than 25 structured interviews with people from a variety of backgrounds: systems analysts, experts on complexity, journalists, game designers, media specialists, literacy scholars, and people who study the policymaking process. These interviews, combined with additional research, informed this paper with a focus on how to improve public engagement and communication methods around complex systems.

This Public Engagement in a Complex World project is a part of the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Wilson Center. For more information, please visit:


Science and Technology Innovation Program

The Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) serves as the bridge between technologists, policymakers, industry, and global stakeholders.  Read more