Knowledge Systems Project

Program Areas – Sustainability, Complex Socio-technical Systems

Project Team:
Clark Miller (CSPO)
Tischa Munoz-Erickson (US Forest Service)
Daniel Higgins (CSPO)
Chad Monfreda (CSPO)
Eric Kennedy (CSPO)
Dave White (Decision Center for a Desert City)

The dangers of misapplied knowledge have never been starker. Over the past half-century, public and private organizations alike have faced increasingly complex operating circumstances. A significant portion of this complexity derives from the globalization not only of markets and supply chains but also social dynamics, technological systems, and ecological degradation. At the same time, organizations have become more sophisticated and the tasks they undertake more difficult, intricate, and multi-faceted. In some cases, these tasks stem from emergent grand challenges, like finding new sources of energy to fuel global economies, regulating global financial markets, or negotiating solutions to climate change. Such challenges test the capacities of even the most effective economic and policy organizations. In other cases, like as the rise of derivatives and complex securitization practices within the banking sector, these tasks seem the inevitable result of hubris—a sense that simply because we can do something, we should.

Regardless of its underlying cause, the growing complexity of human affairs has fundamentally challenged organizational capacities for manufacturing and applying knowledge. In the past several decades, knowledge breakdowns have played critical roles in creating widespread social, economic, and policy failure, including: the nuclear meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima; the Challenger disaster; financial market collapses in Asia and the US; the controversial US Presidential election in Florida in 2000; the failure to prevent the attacks on September 11, 2001; the failure to properly assess Iraqi nuclear weapons capabilities; widespread exposure of US consumers to health risks from unsafe drugs in the late 1990s and 2000s; the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and the mismanagement of the emergency response; the oil leak by Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico; and the systematic policy failure to address climate change.

The Knowledge Systems Project is designed to develop new theories, new policy tools, and new pedagogical frameworks that enable organizations and institutions to critically evaluate and strengthen their knowledge systems, to identify and manage potential knowledge failures, and to provide knowledge solutions. The Project benefits from an extraordinarily rich array of research carried out over the past decade by CSPO faculty and graduate students. We welcome inquiries from public and private sector organizations interested in partnering with us in this effort. Please contact us at: [email protected].

Knowledge Systems Project Publications

Meet the Project Team

Principal Investigators

Additional Team Members