The Virginia Tech Complexity Science Academy, in conjunction with the university’s National Capital Region (NCR) Operations, recently sponsored a workshop, "Policy Informatics in an Interdependent World," drawing both national and international invited experts from government, industry, and academia.
Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, was the keynote speaker at the workshop, which was held at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), Herndon, Va.
The workshop focused on the increasing interdependence of very large, composed, and diverse systems – including energy, food, transportation, communications, and defense systems – and the difficulties that arise for assessing, predicting, and prescribing useful courses of action when issues emerge within the context of those systems.
According to Chris Barrett, professor, Department of Computer Science, and the director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, who organized and chaired the meeting, attendees at the day-long workshop discussed how the tightening of interdependence caused by increasing technology dependence and escalating use of resources by a growing technology-enabled population is causing policymakers to face one unexpected consequence after another whenever a major event occurs.
“The workshop consensus was broad and clear,” says Barrett, “and is being captured in a statement of purpose that will be circulated among the participants for endorsement.” It is anticipated that subsequent meetings will take place, both in the U.S. and abroad, to further address the topics that emerged at the workshop.
Some of the salient points generated at the meeting are:
- Humans, human resource requirements, and human effects are both large and complex with respect to their impact on the planet. This complexity is relatively new.
- Human institutions are not keeping up and humanity is, in a sense, at risk.
- Traditional disciplinary science is not very effective when dealing with complex systems. One of the problems is that issues that require policy attention are increasingly transdisciplinary. While individual disciplines may have useful information to contribute to a policy decision, the transdisciplinary characteristics of a problem means that there are important interactions among disciplines that must be taken into account in order to accurately assess a situation and develop effective policies in response to (or in anticipation of) a major issue.
- Governing, academic, and commercial/economic organizations all have structural boundaries that are ill-suited to the diverse complexities that they confront in the emerging technology-mediated interdependent world. For example, a marked increase in tempo due to transport, power distribution, and the ubiquity of information resources (i.e. the Internet and 24-hour news channels) argue that modern society is faced with a new phenomenon that deserves serious scientific attention.
“Complexity science offers and needs to provide the conceptual basis for the integrated scientific support policymakers in dealing with these problems,” says Barrett. “Moreover, informatics is the revolution that will enable more effective support.”
He continues, “This workshop met all of the goals we set when we organized it, and even exceeded some of them.”
Details of the workshop and future products of the Policy Informatics Initiative sponsored by the Virginia Tech Complexity Science Academy can be found online.