Complexity defines modern life. Even people living lives of relative isolation are impacted by complex social, economic and ecological processes that govern their living environment. Many positive changes, such as global improvement in standard of living, thanks to ever-advancing technologies, have benefited from, and added to, the complexity of our daily lives. More negatively, this complexity can exclude and distance people from the processes that shape their lives.
Our capacity to learn about these complex processes has not developed in step with the systemic and substantive complexity of modern life. The resulting alienation and disengagement are obstacles to public participation, undermining democratic decision-making.
The capacity to learn is a pre-condition to successful polycentric governance (van Zeben, 2019) but the complexity of, especially but not only, large polycentric systems is making this increasingly difficult. How can we create governance systems that allow for meaningful learning, even under conditions of complexity? Is complexity undermining the effectiveness and/or feasibility of polycentricity? What about the complexity that polycentricity itself creates through its state of constant change? What happens when the learning in polycentric systems is a result of not just humans learning, but machines?