A Complexity Theory for Public Policy

By Göktuğ Morçöl

© 2012 – Routledge

308 pages

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pub: 2014-02-13
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pub: 2012-05-28
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About the Book

Complexity theory has become popular in the natural and social sciences over the last few decades as a result of the advancements in our understanding of the complexities in natural and social phenomena. Concepts and methods of complexity theory have been applied by scholars of public affairs in North America and Europe, but a comprehensive framework for these applications is lacking. A Complexity Theory for Public Policy proposes a conceptual synthesis and sets a foundation for future developments and applications.

In this book, Göktug Morçöl convincingly makes the case that complexity theory can help us understand better the self-organizational, emergent, and co-evolutionary characteristics of complex policy systems. In doing so, he discuss the epistemological implications of complexity theory and the methods complexity researchers use, and those methods they could use. As the complexity studies spread more around the world in the coming decades, the contents of this book will become appealing to larger audiences, particularly to scholars and graduate students in public affairs. The unique combination of synthesis and explanation of concepts and methods found in this book will serve as reference frames for future works.


"Morcol’s book is the primary resource for understanding how the complexity sciences inform the study of public policy. This book is essential reading for both experienced scholars and for those new to this important lens on the world of public policy."

—L. Douglas Kiel, University of Texas at Dallas

"Complexity Theory for Public Policy is a must read for those exploring how complexity thinking enhances our understanding of public policy and administration. For those who are seeking new ways to interpret complicated issues, this work will contribute to how we begin to enhance our understanding. The value of this book, as with other works by Goktug Morcol, is that the reader is provided with necessary explanatory and foundational features of complexity thinking. Because of this approach, the book offers a learning opportunity along with an exploration and explication. This approach should make it attractive to both researchers and students exploring this subject. The book can also be a foundation for others to draw upon as they examine how complexity can be applied to public policy. This is no easy chore, and Goktug Morcol has the best approach in the field to this point."

—Jack Meek, University of La Verne

Table of Contents

Introduction Part I: Concepts 1. Complexity Theory and Public Policy 1.1 Public Policy: Simple or Complex? 1.2 A Definition of Public Policy from a Complexity Theory Perspective 1.3 What is Complexity? 1.4 Complex, Complicated, and Simple 1.5 Complex Systems or Complex Adaptive Systems? 1.6 Chapter Summary 2. Systems and Systemness 2.1 What is a "System"? 2.2 Open and Closed Systems 2.3 Systems and Networks 2.4 System Stability and Dynamics: Structures and Procesees 2.5 Systemness and System Integration 2.6 Who Defines a Systems 2.7 Chapter Summary 3. Emergence 3.1 Emergence, Micro-Macro Relations, and Agents and Structures 3.2 A History of the Concepts of Holism and Emergence 3.3 Emergence and Complexity Theory: An Overview 3.4 Emergence and Macro Structures 3.5 Mechanisms of Emergence 3.6 Irreducibility 3.7 Downward Causation 3.8 Structuration 3.9 Chapter Summary and Implication for Policy 4. Self Organization 4.1 A Brief History of Self-Organizational Thinking 4.2 Issues in Self-Organization 4.3 What is Self? 4.4 Self-Organizations Agents 4.5 Self-Organization in Nature 4.6 Autopoiesis and Self-Referentiality 4.7 Applications of Self Organization in Management, Planning and Policy 4.8 Chapter Summary and Implications for Public Policy 5. System Dynamics 5.1 System Dynamics and Complexity Theory 5.2 Self-Organized Criticality 5.3 Self-Referentiality 5.4 Co-evolution 5.5 System Dynamics and Public Policy 5.6 The Five Propositions Revisited Part II: Epistemology and Methodology 6. Epistemology of Complexity - Uncertainty and Contextuality 6.1 Determinism, Certainty and Predictability 6.2 Uncertainty in the Knowledge of Complex Systems 6.3 Objectivity, Generalizability, and Contextuality 6.4 Chapter Summary and Implication for Public Policy 7. Espistemology - Phenomenology, Hermeneutics and Post-Structuralism 7.1 Phenomenology 7.2 Hermeneutics 7.3 Postmodernism/Post Structuralism 7.4 Complexity Theory: Pluralism, Phenomenology and Post Structuralism 7.5 Chapter Summary and Implications for Public Policy 8. Methods in Complexity Research - Overview and Macro Methods 8.1 Quantitative and Qualitative Methods 8.2 Methods for Complexity Research: A Taxonomy 8.3 Macro Methods of Investigating Structures 8.4 Methods of Detecting Structural Change 8.5 Chapter Summary 9. Methods of Complexity Research - Micro-Macro Methods 9.1 Social Network Analyses 9.2 Agent Based Simulations 9.3 Qualitative Case Studies 9.4 Chapter Summary 10. Methods of Complexity Research - Micro Methods 10.1 The Problem of Artificiality in ABS and Experiments 10.2 Methods of Cognitive Mapping 10.3 Q Methodology 10.4 Concept Mapping 10.5 Repertory Grids 10.6 Chapter Summary 11. Closing Thoughts 11.1 What Kind of Theory is Complexity Theory? 11.2 Policies as Systems 11.3 Emergence: Policies and Outcomes 11.4 Systems Dynamics 11.5 Urban Dynamics and Sprawl: An Illustration of Complexity Thinking 11.6 In Closing

About the Author

Göktug Morçöl is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy in the School of Public Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg. His research interests are complexity theory, metropolitan governance, business improvement districts, and research methodology. He teaches courses in research methods, program evaluation, and policy analysis.

About the Series

Routledge Research in Public Administration and Public Policy

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / General