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The blog post at hand belongs to a series highlighting the various keynote presentations of our public event labelled ‘Get on top of your complex challenges’ which was hosted by the public:START consortium on the 14th of October as part of the 35th edition of the annual ERASMUSDAYS.

A broad spectrum of speakers representing public organization and research institutions provided an enlightening insight into how they are currently dealing with complex challenges in their own domain. Now, we want to share their success factors with you.


In recent years, the concept of "complex challenges" has reached the public administrations in Europe and around the world. However, as the administration is starting to move from being a service provider to a creator of answers to complex problems that require specially designed solutions, the definition of what “complexity” is remains somewhat nebulous. Dr. Anu Manickam, International Business Researcher at Hanzehogeschool Groningen, a pioneer in the research on complex systems management, is developing knowledge and practical guidelines for organizations and policy makers challenged with such urgent issues.

Although there may be some truth to the romantic idea of a solitary genius working alone, Dr. Manickam has been observing a growing need of collective intelligence in response to our contemporary challenges. These issues, she highlights, are sometimes so complex that they are driving the evolution of entire sectors of our economies, social infrastructures and behavioral models. In other words, it is the very nature of complexity that is pushing our societies to transition to new paradigms. Besides being difficult to narrowly define and directly approach, complex problems, such as climate change or mass migration, are also multi-layered, as they may affect societies, single organizations and individuals alike. They are dynamic, varying in impact from region to region and from time to time. Finally, they are linked to wide networks of other issues. This last trait, however, allows us to choose from a wide spectrum of interventions, as an intervention in one dimension of the issue can start to influence all other dimensions.

If we wish to successfully approach these challenges, Dr. Manickem suggests, we should consciously embrace a shift of paradigm, from our traditional, hierarchical and fixed models to experimental, flexible and social paradigms. For public administrations, this would mean to embrace new roles (as initiator, facilitator, negotiator or simple participant), to better engage with stakeholders and to open the institutions to the practice of co-creation and co-design; this would allow the public sector to truly foster and gather the collective intelligence needed to tackle complexity and to drive organizational innovation. The public:START project team could not agree more, and will keep Dr. Manickem advice to heart as it moves forward in its work.

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