Asim Zia, Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont
208E Morrill Hall, Burlington, VT 05405 | 802.656.4695 | Email:

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Policy Analysis of Complex Systems:
   arrowThe Analysis of Complex Governance System Dynamics

This project plan is currently under review at National Science Foundation’s program on Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI).


The goal of this project is to implement a comprehensive research and modeling project that will derive fundamental insights on social systems comprising of multiple interacting elements. It will build the capacities of the social sciences (particularly the policy and administrative sciences), engineering, computer science, and complexity sciences to model the dynamics of complex governance networks that emerge in human societies for dealing with "wicked" public policy problems. To date, there have been no attempts to develop integrated models analyzing the complex structures and operational dynamics of inter-organizational networks that emerge to govern the regional-scale planning regimes across traditional administrative boundaries. This project applies complex systems dynamics (CSD) and agent-based modeling (ABM) simulation techniques to understand the emergent patterns of formation, operation and performance of social structures of multiple policy actors taking part in the governance networks of a given region. These models will be utilized by decision makers operating within these governance arrangements through the use of decision support systems (DSS) that support the interface between agents and the governance dynamics shaping their interactions.

The aim of the project is to develop an integrated model of regional planning governance networks using CSD and ABMs, generating a clear and compelling set of "governance informatics" in the process. Governance informatics is information regarding the process dynamics of a network's underlying governance structures and functions. The following research question will be addressed: How can the diffusion of informatics concerning the governance dynamics of a regional planning network through the development of cyber enabled DSSs shape the selection and implementation of particular policy strategies?

This project relies on a systems view of problem solving (Mitroff et al., 1974) that links extensive data collection and theory building, conceptual modeling, cyber enabled modeling, and decision support system development with strategic adaptive planning and implementation. Drawing on a governance network framework of analysis (Koliba, Meek, & Zia, 2010), researchers will render. Drawing on comprehensive case study analysis of three participating regional planning networks in northern New England of comparable size and complexity, governance network characteristics will be operationalized, relying both on qualitative comparative analysis and statistical decision making methods to design models of the decision heuristics of regional policy "agents" in ABM simulations calibrated through pattern-oriented CSD models that are integrated in a cyber enabled DSS.

The project advances our "understanding complexity of natural, built and social systems" by breaking new ground in administrative and policy studies and organizational studies, transportation and civil engineering, and complexity sciences through the development of models and DSSs that account for the complex interactions of social (e.g. interorganizational networks), built (e.g. transportation, housing), and natural systems (e.g. ecosystems, agricultural lands, watersheds, air sheds) that are driven by human decision makers at various geographic scales and public, private and nonprofit sectors. This project also supports the transformation of “data into knowledge,” by initiating a new field in policy and administrative sciences that will be called "governance informatics," and is also relevant to the CDI theme of Virtual Organizations, as innovative online DSS interfaces for our sampled regional planning networks will be developed. The impacts of this project are twofold: 1.) The calibrated ABMs and CSDs created from this research program will be a ground-breaking attempt at modeling inter-organizational networks as complex adaptive systems, which will provide policy makers with an innovative policy tool to manage increasingly complex governance networks spilling across jurisdictions and scales; 2.) The DSSs created out of this research will provide network decision makers with a situational awareness of their complex governance system, aiding in their capacities to anticipate areas of consensus and resistance to policy decisions, tracking resource flows across the system at regular intervals, and making modifications to existing network arrangements. The end result will be the development decision makers' capacities to "harness" the complexity of their governance system. Such applications are not yet common in civil engineering and urban planning and our work will serve to help transfer the approaches to these fields. These applications will aid in decision making relating to transportation infrastructure investments, land-use planning, and environmental regulation decisions.

Relevant papers and presentations:


  • Koliba, C., Mills, and Zia, A. (In Press) Accountability in Governance Networks: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Public Administration Review
  • Koliba, C., and Zia, A. (2009) Dispelling the Myth of the Invisible Hand: An Argument for Democratically Legitimate Inter-Organizational Governance Networks. Administrative Theory & Praxis 31(2): 417-423

Books and Book Chapters

  • Koliba, C., Meek, J., and Zia, A (In Press) Governance Networks: Public Administration and Policy in the Midst of Complexity. Taylor and Francis
  • Koliba, C., Meek, J., and Zia, A (In Press) Gordian Knot or Meta-Theory? Conceptual Dilemmas in Governance Network Analysis. In The Future of Governance. Taco Brandsen and Marc Holzer (Editors). American Society for Public Administration


  • Zia, A., Metcalf, S., and Koliba, C. (2010) Management of Complex Governance Networks: Opportunities and Challenges for Agent Based Models of Policy Analysis. Annual Meeting of the American Society for Public Administration, San Jose CA, April 2010