In addition to my hissy fit about the “agreement x certainty” matrix I have also been in a bit of a lather about the typology in the Cynefin model that identifies four states of systems – simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. I like this model and I think it is exceedingly useful for helping people understand the program and evaluation scenarios they are working in. But at the same time I always bristled at it, and I finally figured out why.
As I see it, the way Cynefin draws on complexity concepts only partially overlaps with the way complexity science deals with complexity. Those four domains only partially overlap with what CAS researchers and theoreticians think of as complex systems. As I read the complexity literature I find no discussion of “simple” and “complicated”. Those concepts are not part of the research and they are not part of the theory.
The Cynefin tradition borrows from the CAS tradition in some ways but not others. And, the borrowing is not rigorous. For example the notion of “complex” in the Cynefin mode pulls on ideas such as “emergent” but the CAS folk never discuss “probe- sense – respond”, which is how Cynefin proposes that complex activity be treated. PSR are human activities that we use to understand and guide our actions. But they are not complexity science concepts, the understanding of which has nothing to do with how human beings do planning, management, or evaluation. Also, I don’t know for sure but I’d bet that the PSR definition of “emergence” is not totally congruent with the definition in the CAS tradition. Ditto for ”chaos”.
All this makes for great confusion, not to mention mental health stress for me. Or at least it has, because I could not get away from the notion that both traditions were using words in the same way. They are not, but the words always seemed similar enough that I could not escape believing they were the same. What I need to do is to disentangle the conversations, and not assume that one is related to the other. Ah, I feel much better.
Much better but not completely cured. It all still bothers me because I think the there is widespread belief that the Cynefin view says something about complex systems as the rest of the world thinks of complex systems. (Prove me wrong, I would be very happy to be disabused of this notion.) The result is that the real value of understanding complex systems is lost to our field.