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)   Epistemic Valence in Hybrid Communities

iv)   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 RESEARCHERS: 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. The project is now pivoting to consider more broadly the attributes that make communities resilient to shocks, such as misinformation and disinformation. [To explore the nature of these communities, the current project is developing a computational model of the dynamics of how the collective mind of a community reacts to external events and how it magnifies and reproduces that information internally.]

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. 





When a platform has positive epistemic valencece, spending more time on the platform typically increases a users understanding of realty. In contrast, one’s understanding of reality decreases as more time is spent on platforms with negative epistemic valance [1]. Achieving positive epistemic valance is hard, as it is impacted by the community’s norms and rituals as well as the platform’s affordances. However, positive epistemic valance is essential for intellectual communities attempting to advance knowledge. Many areas of complexity science are relevant to this problem, including belief dynamics, emergent engineering, collective intelligence, and collective adaptation to name a few. Because of the strong interactions between (i) the community’s norms and rituals, and (ii) the platform’s affordances, theory alone cannot solve this problem. Rather, it is necessary to compare data from naturally occurring, real world experiments. This project attempts to create such an information exchange and digital tool repository among several SFI-adjacent communities trying to build hybrid communities with positive epistemic valence.



Climate change is an undeniable reality, intricately intertwined with human activities. Conversely, these activities are increasingly influenced by the impacts of climate change. Consequently, the discourse surrounding climate change is notably complex: the mechanisms governing Earth’s climate, the economic systems shaping human impact on it, and the political frameworks regulating these systems and anticipating societal adaptation strategies all possess layers of complexity. This complexity is further compounded by the nonlinear interactions between these systems and their radically different timescales.

The intertwining between Earth’s climate and socioeconomic dynamics is particularly evident within the global food system, which is undergoing transformative shifts. As we navigate this complex landscape, the consequences of such shifts may challenge the sustainability and resilience of our food system, urging interdisciplinary studies that can inform a holistic approach to secure our future food supply in the face of climate change.

SFI’s Applied Project on the Complexity of Sustainability aims to develop and disseminate tools and insights that embrace the complexity inherent in climate practice. One primary focus of this project delves into the adoption of new technologies, pivotal in humanity’s efforts to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. The rules dictating the
advancement, selection, and adoption of these technologies are dictated by a multifaceted interplay of factors, including physical constraints, regulations, incentives, beliefs, and institutions. While extensive scholarly work exists exploring these factors in isolation, it is the intricate interactions among them that ultimately shape technology adoption.

SUPERVISING RESEARCHERS: Simon Levin, Jessika Trancik



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

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