Complex Societal Problems

OR in a globalized, networked world economy


Dorien J. DeTombe

Chair Session Stream Complex Societal Problems


Call for Invited Papers & Participation


IFORS 2002 Operational Research Conference

8-12 July 2002 Edinburgh


Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems cordially invites you to join the conference by presenting a paper on the subject on

Complex Societal Problems

see info below

Deadline abstract: 15 December 2001

Send abstract by E-Mail: DeTombe + Conference Secretariat

Keywords: Complex Societal Problem


Corresponding address:

Dr. Dorien J. DeTombe, Chair Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems


P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe Tel: +31 20 6927526

Conference Secretariat: E-Mail:

See for more information on the subject of Complex Societal Problems:


Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems

Board of the Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems

Handling complex societal problems needs a special approach. Handling societal problems in an interdisciplinary way has become a must for our society and a challenge for the human sciences. The problems society is confronted with are difficult to handle. There is a growing gap between the complexity of these problems and the human capacity to deal with them. There is a need for better methods and tools, more knowledge and imagination. Scientific knowledge is needed to survive amidst these problems.

Therefore methodology for complex societal problems has become a new field of scientific attention. Some of the scientific reasons for this special approach are that the problems are seldom defined, change during their development, many actors are involved often with a different view on the problem, with different interest and with different ‘solutions’ in mind. Societal reasons for this special approach is the importance of these problems for society, the impact they have on many people, and the large amount of money involved. Combining the effort of scientists who are working in this field is an inspiring serious challenge from the perspective of a number of disciplines. Combining existing knowledge and creating new insights with methods and tools for supporting complex societal problems is a challenge for scientists from different fields.

The goal of the Euro Group on Complex Societal Problems is to increase and to combine the available scientific knowledge regarding the handling of complex societal problems. Means to reach this goal are organizing workshops and conferences, publishing proceedings and books in which the discussion on this subject can take place.


The number of members of the Euro Working Group is steadily growing. The members of the Euro Working Group come from different fields and are work at universities all over the world. There is a high degree of activity and interaction amongst the members of the group. By the reaction of the audience there is a feeling that this relatively new subject of the Operational Research field is winning more and more interest. There is also a growing interest from the side of policy makers who recognize that the problems they are confronted with are complex problems, which are not easy to solve, and which need an complex integral approach. The growing interest is needed, because the problems society is confronted with should be efficient and sustainable handled.


What are complex societal problems?


Complex societal problems like in Europe the recent difficulties in the Agro-industry as the Mad-Cow disease and the Foot- and Mouth disease, and the continue problems with in the area of transportation. The worldwide problems in the area of healthcare like Malaria and HIV/AIDS, and the Water problems (too less, too much and not clean).


In many areas of society problems occur that can be categorized as complex societal problems. Complex societal problems are real life problems. These real life problems are almost without exception complex, include much uncertainty and are therefor hard to handle. Complex societal problems are often unique in their performance although they might and often have occurred many times before. This means that no routine like way of solving is possible.


Complex societal problems are often ill- or multi-defined, hard to analyze, to structure and to change. Knowledge, and data are missing or contradicts each other. The causes of the problem are vague. It is difficult to see where, when, and by which and whom the problem was started, who is involved in the problem and who is not, and who is affected by the problem. Although many phenomena, actors, private and governmental, and many people are involved, it is seldom clear beforehand, which phenomena are involved, which groups, and which actors are involved. There can be a changing group of actors involved as well that there are often several departments involved. Each actor has its own view on the problem, its own goals, power and emotion.

Complex societal problems are unstructured, dynamical and constantly changing. Complex societal problems have a large impact on society on macro, meso as well as on micro level. Sometimes they are local problems; mostly they are region wide or even worldwide problems. Complex societal problems can be found in all countries of the world. It is often uncertain what impact the problem has on society, what the goals and interests of the actors are and what will be the outcome of the problem. There are no easy, simple answers for these problems. Solutions, if there are any, can only be found with great effort and are often only temporarily.


Complex societal problems are interdisciplinary including aspects that are subject of study in several scientific disciplines. Handling societal problems include knowledge, power and emotion.

The knowledge for handling complex societal problems comes from a variety of scientific disciplines.

Two kinds of knowledge are needed for handling complex societal problems: content knowledge, which means knowledge on the subject of the problem, such as healthcare knowledge or environmental knowledge, and problem handling knowledge.

The content knowledge comes from content experts, a doctor, or hospital manager or an actor in this field. The process knowledge comes from facilitators. These are scientists or practitioners working in this field of complex societal problems. These scientists and practitioners have backgrounds in different scientific disciplines, and use methods derived from their original field combined with methods specially created for the field of handling societal problems. Methods and insights used derive from the field of medicine, law, economics, societal sciences, mathematics, computer sciences, technology, engineering sciences, chaos theory and operational research.


Next to knowledge power plays a role in handling complex societal problems. The power is often divided in a democracy among the problem owner and the actors. Together they must find mutual acceptable ‘solutions’.


In all phases of the problem managing process emotions plays a role. Emotions towards the problem, or towards the desired goal, as well as emotions between the groups and actors, and between the people who handle the problem.

Published on the topic of Complex Societal Problems




Books of abstracts

All books can be ordered at

Greenhill & Waterfront

International Scientific Research & Development

Institute Complex Societal Problems

P.O. Box 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe

Entrepotdok 133, 1018 AD Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe


See for more information:


Agenda's of Research Meetings


Research groups on Complex Societal Problems


Year reports research groups


Abstracts books of conference presentations




Goal research groups on Complex Societal Problems


Become a member of the research groups?


See for information about  methods of Complex Societal Problems COMPRAM


For direct policy support in handling Complex Societal Problems  Foundation Greenhill & Waterfront


Corresp. address:


Dr. Dorien J. DeTombe, Ph.D.

Chair Operational Research Euro Working Group Complex Societal Problems

P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe

Tel: +31 20 6927526




Ó Dorien J. DeTombe, All rights reserved, update February 2002