Brendan Ryan, University of Nottingham
There is an ever expanding set of disciplines that is adding to the knowledge and debate about complex systems. These contributions come from engineering /technology, sociology, psychiatry, policy studies, economics, mathematics and statistics, computer science and operational research, as well as our own field of ergonomics / human factors. The emerging research highlights new perspectives on complex systems (e.g., new ways of delineating system boundaries and understanding patterns of emergent behaviour and causality), exposes new problems (e.g., dealing with non-linearity), offers new methods and data sources (e.g., methods for predicting future events and analysing big data), and proposes new solutions (ranging from descriptive accounts of ad-hoc or piecemeal interventions to more planned and well thought through programmes after thorough systems based analysis). Evaluation of the success of an intervention is often absent or only considered in part, though there are examples of more systematic evaluations and meta-analyses of the likely effectiveness of solutions to some problems.
This paper identifies some of the most challenging examples of problems in socio-technical systems. We present findings from a review of literature on complex systems across a range of disciplines, to characterise the relative points of focus (e.g. data types and sources, methods used, purposes such as prediction, description or understanding), and strengths and weaknesses of the different research approaches.