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Science & Technology Innovation as a Complex Adaptive System: Applying the Natural Processes of Complexity to Policymaking

31 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2010 Last revised: 13 Aug 2010

Liz Johnson

Public Policy Program & Complex Systems Institute

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

The challenges facing the design and implementation of science and technology policy can be analyzed in various contextual frameworks, but need to account for innovation as a complex adaptive system. Furthermore, in hard times, it is even more imperative to reevaluate how we conceptualize innovation to ensure we do not fall victim to the myth of isolated systems. The central purpose of this paper is to explicate science and technology innovation as a complex adaptive system and explore the properties and mechanisms that can be directly applied to the policy process. Since form follows function, and function continually reforms form, how can these principles be best applied to innovation as a complex adaptive system, and what form should policy take? Also, what is the form and function of technology and invention as interrelating components of innovation? Ideally, policymaking strategies need to move dramatically beyond practices of fractionalizing systems of the innovation whole, and reinforce the natural processes of complexity. Effective policy should encourage co-evolution in which systems learn and adapt to a constantly changing environment, in addition to increasing resilience to absorb shocks from random events and unexpected consequences of action. An understanding of system changes and new states of innovation will be evaluated in terms of proactive and reactive policymaking strategies with the goal of strengthening and sustaining the whole. Theoretical building blocks of system pace, action dynamics, and simplicity will also be considered for further policy application. Though the discipline of complexity is still in its early stages, it has enabled successful application and breakthroughs in fields like biology, economics, and consciousness. Studying innovation as a complex adaptive system can serve as a foundational tool in policy studies to expand our epistemological and ontological perspectives to build theory accounting for complexity, whether hard times or not.

Keywords: Innovation, complex adaptive system, holism

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Liz, Science & Technology Innovation as a Complex Adaptive System: Applying the Natural Processes of Complexity to Policymaking (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1657193

Liz Johnson (Contact Author)

Public Policy Program & Complex Systems Institute ( email )

9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223
United States

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