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CABDyN Complexity Centre

CABDyN Complexity Centre

Complexity, Resilience and Risk

Growing complexity lies at the heart of many of the challenges that society faces in the 21st century, with important implications for systemic resilience and risk. The primary purpose of this research cluster is to use an interdisciplinary perspective and methods from complexity science to address two key questions. First, what structural and behavioural characteristics make many of the infrastructural, ecological, economic, financial, social and technical systems that underpin modern life inherently robust or fragile, and to what extent are we able to identify and design mechanisms that can enhance their resilience? Second, how should we measure, evaluate and manage systemic risk in a highly connected and uncertain world, where the relationship between individual and collective behaviour is highly non-trivial? Our aim is to develop novel, interdisciplinary frameworks and methods for addressing the challenges of resilience and risk in a complex world, drawing on and cutting across the thematic domains of the Oxford Martin School.

The global financial crisis and the collapse of financial institutions, instabilities and imbalances in global trade, the failure of critical infrastructure systems and threats to global supply chains, and accelerating habitat destruction and biodiversity reduction all point to the importance of understanding the factors and mechanisms that drive the fragility or resilience in an increasingly connected world. Similarly, increasingly complex interdependencies between actors or system components are likely to generate unanticipated outcomes, thwarting our efforts to evaluate or manage systemic risks. In each of these domains, there are of course conventional and in some cases highly developed methods and techniques for designing resilience and managing risk (e.g. risk measures routinely used by insurance companies), which can work reasonably well under the right conditions and in the right context. However, the limited success of such approaches and the ubiquity of complex interactions and interdependencies in many different problem domains suggests that real progress requires a cross-cutting perspective, underpinned by sustained interdisciplinary collaboration. Moreover, complex issues around resilience and risk typically do not fall neatly within the boundaries of well-defined disciplines, but instead lie at the intersection of traditional fields, such as the social and the technological, or the economic and the ecological. Hence, focusing exclusively on particular domains or fields is unlikely to prove fruitful.

Our objective is to leverage interdisciplinary research on resilience and risk grounded in complexity science in order to produce original academic findings and beneficial impacts on non-academic communities related to major global processes that will affect the future of societies, economies and the environment through their generation of opportunities and problems.

Eduardo López, Martino Tran, Felix Reed-Tsochas (Principal Investigator)

Project funded by Oxford Martin School

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