Computational Modelling Group

Seminar  10th June 2011 4 p.m.  University of Southampton, Building 58 (Social Sciences) Room 1003

Modelling Complexity, Evolution and Innovation

Professor Peter M Allen
Cranfield University, School of Management

Web page
Agents, Archaeology, Built Environment, Cellular automata, Classification, Complex Systems, Design, Ecology, Economic Networks, Evolution, Evolutionary Algorithms, Human environment interaction, Social and Socio-economic Systems, Social Networks, Transport
Petrina Butler

Complex Systems Simulation Seminar Series (CS^4)

from the Institute for Complex Systems Simulation, the Complexity in Real-World Contexts USRG, and the Computational Modelling Group.


Professor Peter M Allen BSc PhD, Emeritus Professor, Cranfield School of Management


Complex systems’ thinking tells us that change in social and economic systems is driven by the interplay of processes that create novel elements, micro-diversity and new connections within systems, and the differential dynamics that these exhibit over time. This constitutes an on-going, continuous dialogue and co-evolution between the different levels of the complex system. At the micro-level it is the exploratory plasticity of micro-behaviour with potentially new features, as well as new bundles of such elements offering emergent capabilities that lead to strategic organization and re-organization of structure at the level above. This reservoir of inner diversity can either be simply creative or can allow the system to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to different possible system futures.

The presence within systems of characteristics and dimensions of behaviour not currently ‘required’ means, necessarily that on the basis of any single criteria of performance the system will appear sub-optimal. However, it will be precisely this sub-optimality that will bestow on the system the capacity to evolve, adapt and change over time.

Innovation and change spring from this inner wealth of ideas and possibilities, which may of course be stimulated by external and internal communications. At any time it will be impossible to value precisely the range of possible ideas and so the innovation portfolio of a company must provide room for real exploration of a range of possibilities before focusing down on particular choices.

The author has developed many different complex system models: ecologies, markets, cities and regions, organizations, supply chains and Smart Grids. These examples will be briefly presented to show how the ideas can help innovation policies and processes. These ideas reinforce a fundamentally pragmatic view of an unending learning process, in which our interpretive framework and models guide our actions, and our resulting experiences lead us to modify our interpretive framework. Where repeatable experiments are not strictly possible, knowledge is seen to be only belief, a view that tends to favour tolerance, humility and the acceptance of multiple perspectives. Since the actions of agents are required for complex models of social systems, and these will be affected by knowledge of the model outcomes, models cannot be objective descriptions but must necessarily become part of the politics of the system.


Professor Allen founded the Complex Systems Research Centre that is now headed by Dr Liz Varga. The Centre is and has been involved in a wide range of research projects. These currently include: an EPSRC funded research project with De Montfort University on creating Smart Grid models to help policies and infrastructure decisions for future energy production and distribution; an ESRC funded joint project with Sheffield University "Modelling the Evolution of the Aerospace Supply Chain"; an EU Sixth Framework project "Quasiopportunistic supercomputing for complex systems in Grid environments" (QosCosGRID), concerning the development of evolutionary supply networks; OMEGA, a multi-university consortium carrying out research concerning Aviation and Environment. The project is looking a different scenarios of the European Carbon Trading scheme and the impacts that this may have on innovation in the aviation sector.

Professor Allen is Editor in Chief of the Journal Emergence: Complexity and Organization. He has a PhD in Theoretical Physics, was a Royal Society European Research Fellow 1969 - 71 and a Senior Research Fellow at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles from 1972 - 1987, where he worked with Nobel Laureate, Ilya Prigogine. Since 1987 he has run two Research Centres at Cranfield University. He was also co-founder of the Complexity Society that has organized courses and research seminars across the UK. For over 30 years Professor Allen has been working on the mathematical modelling of change and innovation in social, economic, financial and ecological systems, and the development of integrated systems models linking the physical, ecological and socio-economic aspects of complex systems as a basis for improved decision support systems. A range of dynamic integrated models has been developed in such diverse domains as industrial networks, supply chains, river catchments, urban and regional development, fisheries and also economic and financial markets. Professor Allen has written and edited several books and published well over 200 articles in a range of fields including ecology, social science, urban and regional science, economics, systems theory, and physics. He has been a consultant to the Cambridge Econometrics, the Asian Development Bank, the Canadian Fishing Industry, Elf Aquitaine, BT, GlaxoSmithKline, DERA, DSTL, the United Nations University, and the European Commission.


Available from 3:30pm, lecture starts at 4pm.

Complex Systems Simulation Seminar Series

For the complete CS^4 schedule please click here:


Petrina Butler
Multidisciplinary Research Co-ordinator
University Strategic Research Groups
Research and Innovation Services
02380 593244