Complex Issues

Characteristics of Complex Issues

  • They keep us up at night.
  • There are many variables…[multiplicity]
  • The variables are constantly changing…[volatility]
  • The relationship among the variables is constantly changing…[compounding]
  • Many variables are beyond our control…[little or no influence]
  • We can only know cause and effect after the fact…[retrospective coherence]
  • We still have to make decisions…
  • People expect us to solve them.

Examples of Complex Issues

  • Building Our Innovative Capacity
  • Redesigning Human Resources Practices to Raise Productivity
  • NGO Funding Pressures amidst Global Financial Crisis
  • Optimally Working with Intergenerational and Intercultural Work Forces
  • Planning for Early Release in California’s Prisons
  • Climate Change Policy and AB32
  • Enhancing Stakeholder Engagement in Policy Making
  • Becoming the Employer of Choice in a Region in our Industry
  • Obesity and Federal/State Policies on Surplus Foods
  • Charter Schools and Standardized Testing
  • Long Term Water Policy for California
  • Supply Chain Security Amidst Volatile Fuel Prices
  • Sacramento’s Local Taxation Policy and the Economic Recession
  • Green Building in State-Owned or State-Leased Buildings
  • Transparency in State Budgets and Policy Making

What are your Complex Issues?

Why does it matter that we can identify Complex Issues?  Most importantly, the shape of leadership for Complex Issues is different that it is for Routine Issues.  The Chart below elaborates how we can categorize Issues to identify the type of leadership that is optimal.

In using Systemic and Critical Thinking approaches, we find that they enhance our capacity to work with Complex Issues.  Systemic methods are likely over-kill when a Routine Issue faces the organization; in Routine Issues, cause and effect among the key variables is known.

However, in a Complex Issue, we don’t know if A is causing B, and thus we have to enter into an effective broad exploration of the possible variables and identify patterns, where we can, that indicate association and causation.  Then we can design probes to test the systems, and from this information, we can build pilot programs.  Systemic methods require a highly diverse group of participants; they are both highly time-efficient and the participants enjoy sharing their knowledge.

The leadership can explore many new emergent ideas, and build on choices and thinking that was previously buried within the organization.