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Transforming Critical Infrastructure: Matching the Complexity of the Environment to Policy

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Phil BlytheORCiD


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The application of complexity science to policy for critical infrastructure systems has never been more important. A number of issues highlight the need for policy to match the complexity of the co-evolving environment: increasing interdependency between utilities, uncontrolled demand leading to over use of diminishing resources, diverse technological opportunities with unclear investment choices, governance at different scales, public-private ownership differences and emerging business models. Systems are now so complex that people do not understand the interdependencies. Individual utilities are optimised with limited redundancy so that even minor failures can lead to major impacts throughout the whole infrastructure environment. This article proposes an ontology of critical infrastructure in which the points of conversion in the system are the generic units of analysis. Each conversion point has a set of properties representing its real world description. This ontological perspective highlights the inter-disciplinary nature of critical infrastructure systems. It also allows, through the adoption of an agent-based modelling approach, the simulation of different environmental constraints, such as those of resource availability. Methodologically, such modelling provides an abstracted view of infrastructure systems that simplifies the real world but allows policy options to be tested based on assumptions about behaviour in response to exogenous changes. Epistemologically, it focuses on a dynamic, co-evolutionary understanding of the system transition over time by examining holistic, systemic outcomes, connecting micro behaviours with macro structures. A case study of critical infrastructure in Yorkshire in the UK provides an exemplar of complexity in the real world. The model, a metaphysical representation, demonstrates how policy can be connected with the real world. This paper focuses on the infrastructure in the UK but the principles will apply to other countries

Publication metadata

Author(s): Varga L, Camci F, Boxall J, Toossi A, Machell J, Blythe PT, Taylor C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International journal of e-planning research

Year: 2013

Volume: 2

Issue: 3

Pages: 38-49

Print publication date: 01/01/2013

ISSN (print): 2160-9918

ISSN (electronic): 2160-9926

Publisher: IGI Global


DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2013070104


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