Nick Winder, an anthropologist from Newcastle University, is the project coordinator of COMPLEX, an EU-funded project that focuses on pathways to a low carbon economy.

Over the course of the project, COMPLEX has created simulation packages, published 70 peer reviewed papers amongst many other achievements.

During the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, the EU set up a bid in which they wanted modelling infrastructure that could handle cyclical systems, particularly those that are non-resilient, however, this was found to be extremely difficult.

Resilient Systems

The idea of a resilient system from C. S. Holling’s 1973 paper (Resilience and stability of ecological systems) shows how a system can breakdown and regrow.

An example of a resilient cycle.

However, when a cycle doesn’t return to its original state resilience is lost, which can result in irreversible changes. A single change in a system can change the path of a system in a way you could have never imagined it and many models cannot see past this change.

One of the issues Complex has taken on is “How do we build modelling tools that enable people to manage systems that can completely reinvent themselves?”. This can be tackled by participatory modelling.

Participatory modelling

One of the issues with participatory models is the relationships between stakeholders involved in the project. Often there is a power dynamic that requires evening out.



During his time at COMPLEX, Nick has found that this can be achieved through the construction of many models, going from a bad model to a good model. This often allowed the stakeholders involved to see that what they originally asked to be modelled, wasn’t actually what they wanted to be modelled.

Due to this shift in attitude, a good model can be created and used to simulate scenarios, find weakness’s and therefore create policies.

Contradictions in Models

Whilst creating these models, Nick explained the importance of expecting apparent contradictions and multiple levels of causality. This was shown in a river system; water flow affects the shape of the landscape, however, the landscape also affects the flow of water.

The final thought Nick ended on is the idea that all models have a best before date, there will always come a time that a model becomes either meaningless or too uncertain, after which the model should be destroyed and the knowledge, gained from the previous model, used to create new models.

My opinions and how this will affect my future

Although at first I struggled to grasp the main points Nick was making in his seminar, I found I thoroughly  enjoyed  listening to his points of view forged during his years of experience, particularly those on building unavoidable relationships with stakeholders, and believe that if I go into policy making, the points made during this seminar will allow me to be successful in putting my points across.

I also believe unavoidable relationships are required in all aspects of life, and this seminar really encouraged me to get out there and try networking, although at this time I am still finding this hard to do due to nerves.

If you want to know more about COMPLEX visit their website, facebook, twitter or email Nick Winder.