Emergent Strategic Management and Planning Mechanisms in Complex Adaptive Systems

Anthony Bovaird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

73 Citations (Scopus)


Complexity theory demonstrates that there are fundamental conceptual difficulties in the concepts of 'planning' in any open system which contains a significant level of decentralization of decision making. This paper presents a revised conceptual framework for strategic management in the public domain, consistent with the restrictions on 'system predictability' inherent in complex adaptive systems-a strategic shaping and 'meta-planning' role, rather than strategic planning. The article illustrates how this reconceptualized role can be applied in a case study of Best Value (BV) in local government in the UK from 1997 onwards. It shows how the behaviours and strategies of agents owed at least as much to emergent complex interactions within the policy system as to the cognitive processes occurring in any one agency. This underlines the weaknesses of over-elaborate analysis of single agency interventions into public policy, strategy or governance within policy systems whose interactions are only partially understood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-340
Number of pages22
JournalPublic Management Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • strategic shaping
  • complexity
  • meta-planning
  • emergent strategy


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