Barlaeus dinner on complexity

February 6, 2019

On Monday January 28th 2019, Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA office UvA-HvA) and the UvA Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) jointly organised the 6th Barlaeus dinner at the Allard Pierson Museum. The central question of the evening was: what is effective and responsible policy/governance in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world?

Complexity is a feature of our new reality: we must learn how to deal with it. And there is a sense of urgency to it, because we change the world much faster than we can reason about it.

In a world where everything is interwoven with everything else, and where cause and effect are hard to unravel, more powerful methods are needed to predict the outcomes of possible strategic interventions. We must resist the temptation to reduce large wicked problems into isolated elements. This would risk missing the bigger picture, since many challenges are interconnected and interrelated in complex ways.

For this Barlaeus dinner, we invited high-level representatives from government and industry to discuss how to get a grip on complexity. Each table had a specific domain to focus on: energy transition, public health, crime, and market stability. Additionally, the guests pondered the overarching topic: complexity and responsible policy/governance. Several common denominators were found (e.g. in all domains there is a need for reliable forecasting and ‘what-if’ scenario development; the system-level response of human behaviour is hard to predict; many potential threats are beyond our direct influence, which calls for improving the resilience of systems; in complex adaptive systems there is no central control, which changes the way we should look at governance, etcetera).

About the Barlaeus dinner

The Barlaeus dinner is an initiative of IXA office UvA-HvA. The dinner is organised twice a year, always focused on a different theme. With these dinners, the UvA brings together researchers with representatives of government and industry to discuss topics of mutual interest, strengthen network relations and establish new collaborations. The Barlaeus dinner is named after Caspar Barlaeus, one of the founders of the Athenaeum Illustre, which is commonly regarded as the predecessor of the University of Amsterdam. In 1632, Barlaeus gave his illustrious  lecture on ‘the Mercator Sapiens’, the wise merchant.