Niki Ellis | Separating the ‘complex’ from the ‘complicated’
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Separating the ‘complex’ from the ‘complicated’

19 Mar 2015, Posted by Professor Niki Ellis in Uncategorized

In the course of this work the question emerged: “What is the difference between complex and complicated?”. The first time I read this it did my head in, even more so than my new daily ritual of The Age crossword.

The answer is (I think), complexity is a property of the system and complicated is a reference to an intervention applied to that system. According to Allan Shiell, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Intervention and Prevention Science (CEIPS) in Victoria, speaking at a conference in 2013, “Communities, work-sites, schools etc … are complex adaptive systems … more ‘biological’ than ‘mechanical'”. Complex adaptive systems require complicated interventions.

“A complex (complicated) intervention is ‘built up from a number of components, which may act both independently and inter-independently.’ This makes it hard to define the active ingredient.” Shiell again, writing with others in 2008.

Systems thinking focuses on the whole and relationships and connections within. Interventions based on systems thinking work with or around relevant properties of systems, and have an emphasis on implementation, quality improvement and adaptation to context, according to Shiell.