Office of Applied Complexity

The Office of Applied Complexity helps the broader world access actionable insights from SFI’s scientific work. Examples of complexity science’s application to real-world problems can be found here. Our office partners with corporations, government agencies, NGOs, nonprofits, and individuals. These partnerships help us better understand how complexity science can meaningfully impact the broader world. We identify the areas of complexity research that are most relevant to particular challenges and develop strategies to translate and disseminate our science accordingly. In addition to making SFI science more impactful, this process often yields insights that advance the science.


Types of Engagement

Applied Complexity partnerships typically serve to connect SFI with non-academic organizations, such as governments and industries.

The Applied Complexity Network (ACtioN) is our most common vehicle for collaborating at the organizational level. ACtioN helps members cultivate an understanding of complexity within their organizations. Through Topical meetings, ACtioN also cultivates a community in which Institutional scholars and membership leadership teams jointly consider the applications of complexity science’s newest insights. 

Sponsorship of an Applied Complexity Project allows for the deepest engagement with SFI. Our three current projects focus on (i) the application of scaling theory to firms and other human social organizations, (ii) application of belief dynamics and collective adaptation to online communities, and (iii) the application of complexity theory to climate change, food security, and technological disruption.

The Studio program enables members to send a team to the Institute to work intensely with SFI scholars on the application of complexity science to a specific problem.


The Three Laws of Applied Complexity

"A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." - Isaac Asimov

The Santa Fe Institute exists solely to expand the boundaries of complexity science and uncover universal mechanisms that generate complexity. Therefore, all activities conducted by the Office of Applied Complexity are governed by three laws. First, our applied activities must provide a net benefit to our scientific pursuits. These benefits may include providing the research community with access to data or exposure to individuals possessing unique insights about the applied world. Second, no Applied Complexity activity can ever be allowed to diminish, or in any way pervert, the quality, integrity, and direction of scientific inquiry. It is our academic community who determines how research is directed and executed at SFI. Third, the limitations of translation must always be acknowledged. While there are many insights and intuitions that Applied Complexity staff can accurately disseminate, there will always be questions that only our scientists can answer.

These Three Laws are more meaningful than they might initially seem. Not unlike Asimov’s famed "Three Laws of Robotics," preserving the sanctity of SFI’s scientific enterprise governs all Applied Complexity activities.