Adaptive thinking for complex policy development

Crawford School of Public Policy | Executive course
Executive program


Frameworks and processes to understand and enable adaptive change in complex and uncertain policy environments.

How to lead and manage in a complex and uncertain business landscape.

A range of global and national forces inter-relate with each other and surge and decline at different times and at different scales to create the complexity and uncertainty that we experience on a day-to-day basis. Much of what we witness is self-organising and emergent which means that it is unpredictable. The increased level of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity creates a highly challenging environment for policy and strategy developers.

To be able to lead and manage effectively in such a dynamic world, decision-makers in government and business need new frameworks and processes to better understand complexity and uncertainty. These frameworks and processes will enable them to perceive this emerging landscape in new ways that enable them to be adaptive and responsive to a volatile social, business and policy landscape.

This course enables participants to build their current and future capability and expertise to better understand complexity and uncertainty and develop programs and processes that will support adaptation within the organisation and the society that they serve. The principles and practices of complex adaptive systems will be presented. Participants will use these principles to explore contemporary and emerging issues to develop adaptive responses.
See related:
- Emergent leadership series (extended)
- Strategic thinking and planning in a complex and uncertain world
- Foresighting skills to design and implement adaptive practices

Course overview

Topics include:

  • An overview of the concepts and principles of complex adaptive systems;
  • Application through group-work of those principles to contemporary issues identified by participants to better understand complexity and how to respond to it;
  • An overview of how we can use the concepts of complex adaptive systems (CAS) to better understand human behaviour relating to decision-making, strategy and policy development and the implications for leading and managing as adaptive organisation and projects; and

Workshop structure:

  • Examples and case studies are presented prior to presentation of theory to provide the participant with experiences that they can relate to
  • Tools, theory and frameworks are presented to assist the participant to make sense of their experience
  • Exercises, group discussions and stories presented by the participant as a means to make sense of the theory are encouraged and supported.
  • Participants will also work in small groups to complete various tasks and exercises to deepen their understanding of the principles and concepts.

Learning outcomes:

  • The capability to lead and manage for adaptation to a complex and volatile social, business and policy environment
  • The capability to lead and support cultural change
  • Learn the skills and techniques that will assist to develop adaptive policy and strategy in response to issues that are emerging in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous operating landscape
  • Understand and apply the principles of complex adaptive systems to better understand complex policy environments
  • Understand and practice how people work together, to make decisions, develop strategy and policy using the frameworks and principles of complex adaptive systems
  • Identify with the Worldview of complex adaptive systems

Anticipated behavioural and business impacts include:

  • Participants will be able to frame the issues/external operating landscape from a complex adaptive systems perspective. Such a perspective will provide deeper understanding why and how issues are arising and propose appropriate pathways to managing these issues. This process strongly supports new kinds of conversations within the business that lead to new insights
  • Based on the material presented in this course, participants will have frameworks to support them to lead in a volatile and uncertain business landscape. They would be able to identify key driving forces shaping the system and consider the complexity around those driving forces.
  • Participants will have frameworks that support them to conduct conversations based on the principles of CAS and to develop contextually relevant strategy and policy responses that are aligned with the principles of CAS in response to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the operating landscape.

Who should attend?

  • Managers who are required to develop strategy and policy in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous operating environment.
  • Project leaders who are responding to complex problems, yet do not believe nor feel that they are gaining a sense of satisfaction through their efforts.
  • This course is suitable for APS6 - SES, or equivalent level.


“I did your course in Adaptive Thinking for Complex Policy Development when I was on a secondment at the Department of Communications and the Arts… I just wanted to say how wonderfully useful this training and the notes I kept from it have been in the strange times we are now in. I have been using this learning almost daily… So - thank you!”

“Interesting and intriguing subject matter. Felt glad to have Gary’s experience driving it.”

“I would strongly recommend this course to leaders in the policy space to gain a new perspective in your work and how you deal with people.”

Course presenter(s)

Dr Gary Saliba

Dr Gary Saliba is Director of Strategic Journeys, a management consulting company, which assists people in organisations in strategy development work.

The unique role of Gary and his company is the integration of systems thinking, complex adaptive systems with futures studies and strategy development. This approach has enabled him to consult extensively across a range of government and commercial enterprises to develop organisational strategy that is based on plausible futures, using the scenario development methodology.

Gary’s approach is to work with people to enhance their processes in understanding their organisation’s operating environment and their own ways of operating. This all leads to more informed decision-making and improved responsiveness and flexibility in an ever increasingly complex environment.

Gary holds a BSc(Hons), PhD in Applied Mathematics and Dip Ed from the University of Sydney. He is a Fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Previous positions include:

  • CEO- Regional Development Australia- Murray Region
  • Manager Australian Taxation Office
  • Projects Officer and participant on the Middle Managers Program- Department of Defence
  • Manager, Ionospheric Prediction Service- Department of Administrative Services

Updated:  28 October 2021/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team