Agility and Resilience in Policy-Making: Coping with Uncertainty and Ambiguity”

Hosted by Center for Public Policy Innovation Studies, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The concept of uncertainty has been developed and modeled in different disciplines such as the physical and mathematical sciences, engineering, economics, philosophy and psychology. But the linkage between uncertainty and policy-making has not been explored fully beyond such familiar but vague concepts as “bounded rationality” and the need to deal with “unstructured” or “wicked” problems. As a result critical questions in developing policy designs capable of dealing with different levels and types of uncertainty remained unanswered.

Most efforts towards reduction of uncertainties in policy-making to date have focused on overcoming knowledge gaps and gathering and mobilizing more information on policy problems and potential solutions. But this step by itself is often inadequate as policy-making uncertainties beyond cognitive or knowledge limits emanate from other factors such as the complexity of multiple stakeholders involved in policy processes and the presence of multiple alternative future scenarios. Significant challenges for policy design stem from the different perspectives, interpretations, interests and preferences brought to bear on policy-makers and policy-making by the many individuals and groups associated with the policy issue in question, and efforts towards seamless integration of knowledge between the academic and policymaking communities are also marred by the presence of different perspectives, timescales, vocabularies for concepts and processes, making the transmission of knowledge difficult. And policy designs themselves have generally become more challenging and difficult to formulate and implement as the interdependence and complexity of systems has increased along with the emergence new sets and possible combinations of policy tools and alternatives unavailable in the past. Attaining effective policy designs to deal with uncertainty through reflexive efforts at the creation of adaptive or resilient policies and agile governments and policy processes is one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers today.

This two-day conference, jointly hosted by Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore aims at bringing together cutting-edge research on these questions. The workshops aims to develop and refine the concept of uncertainty from the perspective of policy science in order to offer new perspectives for dealing with uncertainty challenges of all kinds: from those reasonably well known ones stemming from limited knowledge to those dealing with “deep uncertainty” or ambiguities introduced into policy making by the presence of ‘unknown unknowns’.

The Conference Committee specifically invites abstracts that discuss key theoretical, methodological and practical challenges related to addressing uncertainty in public policy making. Both theoretical and empirical papers can be submitted and may examine questions such as:

  • What are the root causes of uncertainty in policy process and how do they interact with each other? How does the level and type of uncertainty influence policy processes and activities such as policy formulation and design?
  • What are the current theoretical approaches for addressing uncertainty in the policymaking process? What are similarities and differences across, and the strengths and weaknesses of, these different approaches?
  • How does uncertainty influence current decision-making, implementation and evaluation models and approaches in practice?

The deadline for abstract submission is October 15, 2014.

Abstracts should be submitted to The abstracts should be no more than 300 words and provide a concise summary of the paper’s main arguments, including purpose, research questions, methods, data source (if applicable), and conclusions. Authors will be emailed the notification of acceptance by the end of October and full papers are due November 20, 2014.

Note: Selected papers will be published in a special issue for a peer reviewed journal and (or) an edited volume. Travel assistance is also available for selected papers to pay for travel and accommodations in Chengdu.

Conference Committee: Professor Yanhua Deng, School of Public Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, and Professors Michael Howlett, Xun Wu and M. Ramesh, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.