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Complexity Interactive
Online | Exploratory | Transdisciplinary

Program Overview

A new program from the Santa Fe Institute combines the guided interaction of an in-person course with the flexibility to learn from anywhere in the world. This three-week, part-time, online course offers participants a theory- and applications-based view of complexity science. Complexity Interactive will focus on providing a foundation for thinking broadly about complex systems, encouraging participants to explore syntheses across systems in an open dialog with SFI faculty. SFI-CI will be limited to ~ 50 participants to ensure everyone has ample opportunity to discuss with faculty and with each other.



Complexity Interactive is aimed at practicing researchers from academic, private, non-profit, and government sectors who wish to understand how the methods and philosophy of a complex systems approach may enhance their work. The curriculum is especially suited to graduate students and postdocs (or those at similar career stages) in a particular discipline who wish to develop a more trans-disciplinary, mutualistic approach in their work.

Dates & Times

14 June - 02 July, 2021 (three weeks)

“Live” events* [All times Mountain Time (GMT –06:00)]

Monday - Friday: 08:00am –  10:30am

It is expected that participants will participate in the “live” sessions in order to engage in the discussions, ask questions of the speakers and interact with fellow participants.

* minor variations are possible; applicants offered admission will be notified of the final schedule prior to registration

Participants should plan to spend an additional 5 hours per week of self-scheduled time in order to contribute to interest group discussion(s), collaborate on a group project and review course materials. Participants who wish to pursue a more technically intensive path through the course, in the group project and/or optional problem sets, should plan on a total of about 10 hours per week of self-scheduled time.


●  A series of live* lectures and discussions organized around select themes in complexity science. Content will cover methods/approaches, applications, debates, and open questions. 

●  Thematically organized interest groups will facilitate deeper exploration of topics of interest in a highly collaborative setting.

●  Group projects and optional problem sets will provide opportunities to apply the foundational concepts and approaches introduced in lectures.

●  Curated recorded materials as well as recommended readings will provide a reference and resource for foundational theory.

       * Recorded and archived for participants during the course. 

Participants will receive a certification of completion from the Santa Fe Institute at the conclusion of the course.


The curriculum will focus on the broad themes of trade-offs, optimization, and adaptation as evident in a variety of systems. In particular, the course will consider several examples of socio-behavioral systems and institutional complexity.


The Complexity Interactive faculty incorporates the diverse interests of SFI scientists. Speakers include:

Miguel Fuentes • Course Director

Rob Axtell • Economies & ABMs
Liz Bradley • Non-Linear Dynamics
Elizabeth Bruch • Social Markets
Aaron Clauset • Networks
Andrew Dobson • Food Webs
Jessica Flack • Collective Computation
Laura Fortunato • Kinship & Cooperation
Ross Hammond • Public Health
Rudolf Hanel • Thermodynamics
Willemien Kets • Cultural Diversity
David Krakauer • Complexity
Pablo Marquet • Evolution
Henrik Olsson • Decision-Making
Rajiv Sethi • Prediction Markets

Plus extra Complexity of Music sessions with Marco Buongiorno Nardelli


Interest Groups & Group Projects

Because of the short duration of the program, Complexity Interactive group projects focus on questions and approaches, placing importance on the process of uncovering common interests with colleagues and experiencing the insights made possible through multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Week 1 -  Small-group discussions, facilitated by the course director, will address a series of self-organized topics.

Week 2 -3  -  These interest groups will evolve into project groups, each of which will then define a specific question or hypothesis relating to complex systems. Some groups may choose to move their project into a research phase, undertaking analyses or formulating models.

Final Day of the Course  -  All groups will give a presentation on the question they explored.



If accepted into Complexity Interactive, participants will be expected to pay a $500 tuition. A small number of scholarships are available to participants who can articulate a need for support; scholarship application instructions will be provided upon acceptance into the program.

Tuition helps us pay stipends to the program Teaching Assistants and course director and to offer our faculty a nominal honorarium. Most of our faculty have substantial teaching duties at their home institutions and we greatly appreciate and wish to recognize their willingness to make time to contribute to SFI educational programs.

Program Goals 

After completing the Complexity Interactive, participants will be able to:

  1. Recognize cross-system regularities that govern complex systems and have a vocabulary for describing those properties. 
  2. Describe the mathematical and/or physical bases of information, computation, and complexity.
  3. Discuss the approaches used to understand and model complex systems and considerations for employing different approaches.
  4. Quantitatively compare complex systems across scales and compositions.
  5. Apply methods from information theory, computational theory, evolutionary theory, and/or game theory to a question in complex systems science.



We will be using the following platforms to provide content and facilitate interactions: google classroom, Zoom, Discord, YouTube, AWS. Please ensure that you can access all of these in order to participate fully in the program.

Application Requirements

Applicants must submit an online application, Apply Here, which will include:

- Completing the application form. 

- Uploading a current CV or resume.

- Uploading a statement that describes your interest in the course (1 page maximum).

- Uploading a short essay to describe a question, issue, or problem that you have a deep interest in (1 page maximum). 

It is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that all materials have been submitted by the deadline.

To Apply

Online applications will open from February 1, 2021, and close at 11:59 PM MDT March 31, 2021. Please start your application now to meet the deadline. Applicants should be notified by e-mail regarding the status of their applications in late April 2021.

Questions: email (We are not available by telephone at this time.)

SFI Complexity Interactive (SFI-CI) compared to Complex Systems Summer School (CSSS)

SFI-CI and CSSS are complementary but distinct programs.

SFI-CI is an online course that runs part-time for three (3) weeks. The curriculum focuses on a few themes in each offering to enable participants to fully explore those ideas across diverse systems.  Its projects are necessarily limited in scope, intended to provide practice in applying the tools of complexity science. It serves participants who are interested in thinking broadly about complex systems. SFI-CI also fills a gap for participants who cannot devote four weeks of full-time study in Santa Fe for CSSS because of professional or personal obligations, financial considerations, and/or travel complications.

CSSS is a residential, in-person course that meets from 9-5 weekdays for four (4) weeks with extracurricular activities on evenings and weekends. The curriculum spans the breadth of complex systems concepts.  Its projects are wider in scope and many of the projects reach publication after the program. It serves participants who have expertise in a particular domain but who want to enhance their approach with a complexity perspective. The course requires a four-week commitment to an intensive, scientific retreat-like environment.