Complexity, Peace, and Social Change

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We believe that the complex challenges facing society today can be effectively addressed by integrating traditional techniques with more adaptive approaches made possible through complexity science and systems thinking. Research has shown that about one in every twenty conflicts – five percent – becomes stuck and seemingly unresolvable. We see an increasing need for novel approaches to solving problems that reflect the complexity of the world today – approaches that avoid the traps and unintended consequences plaguing well-intentioned “fixes” that ultimately fail. In support of this, we are working on multiple fronts to advance the science, practice and education of complexity science and systems thinking.

Our Complexity, Peace and Social Change program offers a paradigm shift in the study of peace and conflict dynamics. Currently, the majority of empirical research on conflict and peace from the interpersonal to the societal level has focused on identifying linear, cause and effect relationships between variables in a system. Our research takes a different approach and employs new models – based on complexity science, systems thinking, causal loop diagramming, and Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) – to engage and think anew about the complexity of peace, conflict and sustainability.

This program seeks to:

  • Enhance understanding about and considerations for the complex dynamics that contribute to peace and conflict;
  • Support policymakers, practitioners, scholars and local stakeholders in using innovate approaches to address conflict and promote peace;
  • Establish networks which advance approaches to exploring peace and conflict dynamics through the lens of complexity science and systems thinking.

Under the leadership of Dr. Peter T. Coleman, the Complexity, Peace, and Social Change program partners with academic institutions, private sector organizations, local communities, and practitioners in their fields in order to forge new pathways in the study of peace and conflict. Building on a legacy of research at Columbia University, current projects are focused on understanding the core dynamics of sustainable peace at the intergroup level and advancing the DST approach to addressing complex dynamics.

Current Projects

Getting Involved

The Complexity, Peace, and Social Change program is actively building partnerships around the world. For more information on getting involved, please email jd3298@columbia.edu.