Applied Complexity Projects

These projects occupy an often ill-explored, liminal space between the traditional domains of academic theory and application. We are currently running three such projects: 

i)     Scaling of Human Social Organizations

ii)    Applied Belief Dynamics

iii)   The Complexity of Sustainability

Applied projects are led by SFI faculty, powered by SFI Applied Complexity Fellows, and are supported by industry sponsors and private foundations.



Over the last 25 years, SFI has enabled a significant research effort to understand the mechanisms that drive scaling, starting with the now famous West et al. (1997) paper on the mechanisms that underpin allometric scaling in biology. Over the last 15 years, significant strides have been made applying these insights to the scaling of cities (see Bettencourt et al. 2007). Our understanding of urban scaling continues to evolve (see for example Mora et al. 2021). More recent work focus on scaling of other forms of human organizations such as firms (Zhang et al. 2022 [Draft]) and universities (Taylor et al. 2021). SFI’s Applied Scale project continues to extend this work on the scaling of universities and for-profit firms. 

SUPERVISING FACULTY: Geoffrey West, Chris Kempes 





Over the last 25 years, new communications technologies have altered the way that humans communicate. This has complicated, and in some cases exasperated problems such as misinformation, disinformation, hate, and polarization. These same technologies have also provided a treasure trove of data that can be used to understand the dynamics that operationalize these processes (see for example Turbic and Galesic 2022 [Draft]). More broadly, the increased urgency of these problems, combined with the availability of heretofore unimaginable datasets from online interactions, is fueling a new inquiry into mechanisms and principles governing belief dynamics (see Galasic et al. 2021). The Applied Belief Dynamics project began with a focus on hate and counterspeech online (see Garland et al. 2022). The project is now pivoting to consider more broadly the attributes that make communities resilient to shocks, such as misinformation and disinformation. 

Applied Belief Dynamics lives in a domain that is still ill-understood by the academy, industry, and civil society. However, each of those stakeholder groups sees a different part of the whole. To help bridge the knowledge gaps that these divisions can create, SFI’s Applied Belief Dynamics group organizes a quarterly CounterBalance seminar involving academics as well as practitioners from industry and civil society. 





Climate change is real, and it is impacted by human activity. Increasingly, human activity is also affected by climate change. As a result, questions about climate change are notably complex: The mechanisms that govern earth's climate are complex. The economic systems which govern the majority of humanity's impact on the climate are complex. The political systems that attempt to both regulate those economic systems and anticipate society's adaptation strategies are complex. The complexity inherent within all these systems is exacerbated by the nonlinear interactions between these systems, and the radically different timescales on which these systems operate.

Starting in early 2023, SFI's Applied Project on the Complexity of Sustainability will seek to develop and disseminate tools and insights that bring complexity into climate practice. One initial focus of this project investigates the adoption of new technologies, which will a play crucial role in humanity's ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The rules governing the advancement, selection, and adoption of these technologies are determined by a complex set of interconnected factors, including physical constraints, regulations, incentives, beliefs, and institutions. There is voluminous scholarly work exploring these factors in isolation. However, it is the interactions among these factors that ultimately arbitrate technology adoption.

We will be hiring an Applied Complexity Fellow in this space soon. Check back in late December 2022 for more details.

SFI is grateful to our Applied Project sponsors and supporters, including:
Baillie Gifford, The Omidyar Network, Shopify, and Siegel Family Endowment

If you think your organization might be interested in sponsoring one of the Applied Complexity Projects, please contact us at