We live in a world undergoing a rapid series of transformations and crises, and policy has not kept pace with these changes. In large measure, the failure of policy is due to an inherited cognitive framework that is ill-suited to an increasingly complex  world. Disciplinary boundaries that do not map well to the world's problems aggravate the mismatch. As a consequence,  institutions are ill-equipped to manage emergent and often disruptive processes. This has negative consequences on the lives of individuals, their communities, and the Earth's ecosystem. Although policymakers and other leaders are slowly paying more attention to these consequences, the principles that sshould drive policy formation, inform implementation methods, and investigate the diverse impacts of interventions on heterogeneous populations remain unclear. Moreover, fruitful interaction between disciplines is rare even though talk of the need for interdisciplinarity is widespread. Complex systems studies, because of their focus on adaptive systems, interactions, and nonlinearity offer a framework for advances in these areas. Furthermore, the cross-disciplinary nature of complex systems studies holds promise for a better alignment of the globus intellectualis and the world's problems.

The Complexity and Policy Studies (CAPS) Conference offers a forum to explore the potential of complex systems approaches in the policy sphere. In a space that fosters interaction and collaboration it brings together researchers and practitioners who incorporate or who do want to incorporate complex systems thinking into their research and practice. Drawing on complex systems thinking participants can ask questions, share their experiences and insights, reflect on their understandings, and conceive of joint projects.

The 2020 CAPS Conference seeks submissions from practitioners, policy makers, and researchers that address all aspects of complexity and policy. Submissions can be short summaries of real-world projects, traditional research papers, case studies, or exploratory pieces that open new avenues. This year, the conference particularly welcomes submissions that touch upon issues of equity and gaps in access to basic needs or technologies. For example:

  • How can analytical techniques that embrace complexity illuminate the heterogeneous impacts of policy?

  • How can policy making be improved by understandings derived from complexity studies?

  • How can we use our emerging understanding of complexity, human action, and adaptive social systems to the benefit of individuals, societies, and all of humankind?

  • How can knowing more about the complexity that shapes our personal relations, collective action, and the sustainability of social institutions lead to healthier lives and increased well-being?

  • When and how exactly do complex systems approaches outperform traditional approaches?

  • Can complex systems approaches help to identify root causes of inequity and point to levers that avoid future exacerbation?


Ongoing, non-linear interactions between a diverse set of participants in a policy-focused coworking space will be at the center of the conference experience. The organizers hope for the emergence of unpredictable and desirable system-wide patterns.


  • Mirsad Hadzikadic (Chair), UNC Charlotte, Director Complex Systems Institute

  • Ted Carmichael, TutorGen, Senior Research Scientist

  • Elissa Cohen, American University, PhD Student

  • Saikou Diallo, Old Dominion University, Associate Professor

  • Brian Goode, Virginia Tech, Research Scientist

  • Liz Johnson, Journal on Policy & Complex Systems, Managing Editor

  • Bianica Pires, MITRE, Lead Modeling & Simulation Engineer

  • D. Cale Reeves, University of Texas at Austin, Postdoctoral Researcher

  • Bernard Ricca, St. John Fisher College, Associate Professor

  • Martin Schmidt, International Development Consultant