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  4. 2.08 Systems Thinking and Complexity Science for Policing

2.08 Systems Thinking and Complexity Science for Policing

Academic team: Prof Jeffery Johnson, Prof Joyce Fortune, Dr Jane Bromley, Phil Davies
Policing partners: Greater Manchester Police, National Crime Agency, Dorset Police, Thames Valley Police, Metropolitan Police Service, Lancashire Police, Gwent Police, Merseyside Police
Status: Complete


This action research project introduced police officers and staff to the basic ideas of systems thinking and complexity science, and enabled them to develop a practical understanding of the theory by applying it to real problems from their professional experience.

Individuals and groups engaged in criminal activity form many intertwined networks whose emergent dynamic behaviour can be very complicated and unpredictable. Yet even in this complexity there are dynamic patterns that can be recognised to inform action and policy, and by using a complex systems approach implicit knowledge can be formalised into models to make the patterns clearer and their detection more reliable. The project:

  • gave hands-on experience of using the ideas in practical policing
  • developed simple gaming systems to allow interactive explorations
  • explored hands-on how Big Data can be used by teams in policing organised workshops with teams developing and using computer models to identify areas for further investigation and research.


Title Outputs type Lead academic Year
Multilevel systems and policy Book section Johnson, J 2018
Systems thinking and complexity science for policing Executive summary Johnson, J 2017
Global systems science and policy Book section Dum, R 2017
An application of systems thinking to the process used to collect, store and use information to fight organised crime Working paper Fortune, J 2017
Systems, networks and policy Book section Johnson, J 2017
Open questions in multidimensional multilevel network science Conference paper Johnson, J 2017
Hypernetworks: multidimensional relationships in multilevel systems Journal article Johnson, J 2016
Embracing n-ary relations in network science Book section Johnson, J 2016


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