Teaching Complexity: The Limits of Evidence and the ‘Prospective’ Case Study

Amanda Wolf


Policy practitioner–students in a Master of Public Policy programme in New Zealand describe many problems and processes in their work environments as ‘complex’. Yet, they hold firmly to a belief in the merits of ‘evidence’ to guide their advice and decision making in the face of that complexity. This article examines the aims and pedagogy of a two-course sequence designed to help students replace over-reliance on analysing existing evidence with understanding of the ways complexity concepts can aid in estimating possible outcomes of policy interventions. Starting with identifying evidence challenges, students learn how to compare a status quo situation and a prospective case of that status quo in which a new policy has been implemented. This method draws on existing scholarship in lesson-drawing for policy applications. Students are eased into an appreciation of a variety of complexity frameworks and concepts by looking at a case about which there is, strictly speaking, no evidence. 


case study; evidence; lesson-drawing; New Zealand; public policy; teaching complexity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.20377/cgn-48

Copyright (c) 2018 Amanda Wolf

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