Complex Systems Governance

I investigate complex (social-ecological) systems by untangling problem structure and governance networks at the same time - with the goal of finding conditions for successful outcomes.

As a researcher with a strong interdisciplinary background, the study of social-ecological systems have always fascinated me. This has led me to take an ever increasing interest in complex systems and their governance in general. I generally approach the study of complex systems governance from two angles:

  • A causal problem structure setting including among other components a set of interconnected governance issues actors work on and how these affect outcomes, such as indicators of Sustainable Development Goals.
  • An actor network specifying how actors involved in governance issues are related for example through collaboration, information exchange or formal and informal power.

Getting a good look into the causal problem structure of a complex governance problem is essential to both analyze and inform governance. One of the key personal insights for me in this regard was that we can learn much from systems mapping approaches in this regard. This means to disentangle complex problems into a more managable set of causally interconnected parts.

Having an understanding of the problem structure helps because it provides the necessary context for understanding governance networks around a set of governance problems.

Related: Environmental Governance Networks

This can answer both questions of understanding and about which courses of action to take. Why do certain actors not work together? Maybe it is because the causal structure implies that their activities are only interrelated very indirectly and they therefore see no reason to. Who should work together? Whom should we give more formal responsibilty for an issue? One approach would be to identify governance gaps, where organizations work on causally interrelated issues but do not coordinate their actions.

I believe that this combination of systems mapping and network analysis is a promising and exciting way forward to provide a solution-oriented perspective to complex governance problems. This not only, but especially in social-ecological systems and complex sustainable development challenges. As an approach, it is both holistic enough to take complexity seriously, but also feasible by providing a certain level of abstraction.

I work on developing both software tools to apply this approach through multi-level network analysis as well as working on the theoretical foundations for it. I am lucky to be able to exchange with a small but nice community of researchers all around the world working on social-ecological networks, which have been the starting point and basis, with regard to this. In a way, this work is also a nice confluence of both the actor networks I focused on in my PhD, the combined actor and problem networks I studied in my Postdoc at Eawag and an even more in-depth focus on sustainability policy I was able to take in my Postdoc at WSL.