Sinthesisi oF some of the works on 
Complexity and complex systems
by Ugo Lucio Businaro

Macro-economics Systems 

The R&D system

Ecology and environment

Global Systems

Partecipation to the EU FAST project: Global Perspective 2010

Complexity, progress, action

The urban system

Macro-economics Systems

 The R&D system


The challenge of industrial base europeanization: mergers, technological cooperation, State aid for R&D and Competition Policy.

Businaro U.L.

Colloquium on Competition Policy, Brussels, June 1986

Competitiveness with manufacturer of other areas is the primary objective. Today, European industry must pursue a policy of restructuring, rationalisation, and innovation to be competitive.

Restructuring and rationalisation means making the production system efficient by "pruning" it and optimising the utilisation of production capacity. The pre-condition for this is the existence of a home market guaranteeing sufficient production and R&D economies of scale.

Innovation means product technological development to improve the quality and performance, to decrease production and management costs and develop new products and product's components and materials.

The E.E.C. 's industrial policy should therefore be directed at facilitating this process. This involves:

- a new competition policy to stimulate restructuring and rationalisation of the production           system,

- rational stimulation to innovate.

download the paper (pdf) 

Reflections on anticipatory systems: application to product design

U. L. Businaro

from a letter to prof. Robert Rosen

.... I have been always struck by the similarity existing in the dynamic behavior of very different systems, from biology, to epistemology, to technology. ... I tried to utilise the similarity to speculate on the progress in technology (dynamics in the world of products)... however very cautious in doing this since it seemed to me that using the behaviours observed in one field to get hints or explain behaviours in a completely different field could only be considered having heuristic value. 

I appreciated therefore on your book first of all the epistemological foundations you give to the use of metaphor. Secondly, I found that the metaphor of anticipatory systems helps illuminating some aspects of the dynamics of technology. To show how stimulated I was from reading your book, I jotted down in the attached memo, some first and very course reflections.....

to see the complete text

Ecology and environment


Report on technological opportunity.

Businaro U.L.

The Science of Total Environment, 56 (1986), pp 347-360, Elsevier Publisher, Amsterdam

The technological opportunities to predict and solve environmental issues as debated at the Conference together with the potentiality of related business development are presented here from a peculiar point of view: the Conference is considered to support the hypothesis that we are leaving in a period of transition of the "technical system". The increased difficulties, on one hand, to match the changes of the environment, and the development, on the other hand, of radical new technology such as that of remote sensing are both signs of such a transition.

The Conference have indicated that the technological trajectory to reach the goal of global monitoring is well defined: remote sensing will be guided by global models, and the data so collected and analysed will be the input of an easy to use knowledge base.

download the paper (pdf)

Global Systems

Partecipation to the EU FAST project: 
Global Perspective 2010


Globalisation - From Challenge perception to Science and Technology policy.

Businaro U.L.

EC -FAST report FOP 324, december 1992

The report aims at showing that a positive approach can be developed in terms of S&T policies to apply the potentiality of S&T to the globatization challenges. The report is divided into three parts.

In Part I, the challenges coming from globalisation are outlined referring to the basic features of the globalisation issues, and the related geo-political and institutional problems.

The globalisation process is characterised by an increase of the "density" of interactions between system elements as well as of the spatial range of the interactions (to the level of the entire world). All these changes should induce a restructuring of the "global system". We are faced with a basic disequilibrium that affects our ability to deal with the problems raised by the globalisation. The corresponding geo-political scenario, far from approaching the "global village" utopia, depicts an increase in localism and mercantilism, in the separation between the riches and the poor, between those that can benefit from the S&T and those excluded.

Since the globalisation issues usually go beyond the national dimension, what are the opportunity to face them? A new "vision of the world" to escape from the institutional ambiguity is emerging, that of Regional Multipolarism. The basic conclusion of the analysis of the globalisation challenges developed in the first Part is the need to address a proper problem-solving approach.

Part II is therefore devoted to suggests a methodological approach which accepts the intrinsic complexity of globalisation. The first step is to recognize that we are used to solve problem in condition of complexity. The design method is suggested as proper, together with the use of a complexity wisdom coming from our understanding and experience with complexity.

In Part III the possibility to approach the emergent globalisation challenges by using the suggested methodology is explored by suggesting a set of actions to be taken as part of a renewed S&T policy of the European Community.

The following recommendations for actions are suggested:

The entire report is available as pdf


Global perspective 2010- System analysis and Science and Technology policy needs.

Businaro U.L., Ancarani V., Campanella M., Perosino G.

CSS/fast -10 paper, 5 june 1992

The emergence of the globalisation challenges will be a strong determinant of change concerning the EC S&T policy. If the European region (may be enlarged in a softer cooperation to a macro-region extended to the East and the South of the Mediterranean basin) will emerge as a real subsystem, then EC should develop its full role as an actor that is responsible to deal directly with the European globalisation problems. Our conjecture is that, at this European level of complexity superimposed to the lower local complex level, the same full decision-making approach should be developed, including dealing directly with the cooperation/competition policies.

Our specific contribution here could only be limited to S&T. We have endeavoured, first of all to show how globalisation - i.e. an higher level of the usual complexity - hallenges, even more than usual, the possibility to take advantage of S&T potentialities for problem solving. We have dared to talk about the possibility to plan S&T, referring to the use of the recipe of starting the process by voluntary forgetting about intrinsic uncertainties (like we are used to forget about lower system or higher system level complexity in any type of actions). Provided however that we will compensate with cycles of top-down and bottom up iterations.

S&T itself is a system made of subsystem made of subsystems. Over-simplifying we have indicated three levels for planning innovation changes in a complex system: the component, the subsystem, the total system level. We can aim to innovate at any level, provided that we are ready to accept that the higher the level the greater the time needed, the resources, the uncertainties, the needs to make a larger number of iterations of innovations attempts (from the component, to the subsystem, to the system level). Fortunately, not all the globalisation problems require total system innovations.

This mode to look at the globalisation problems is somewhat parallel to that of considering the different dimensional scale of problems. In any case, there is the need that the actor who deals with the problems be at the appropriate level. The actor should have complete direct responsibility (limited by the need of intertwining with the higher and lower level actors).

The discussion can therefore easily now be reported to the role of EC in developing S&T policy for globalisation. For the issues for which the EC level is the proper one, then EC should have complete direct responsibility for the related S&T policy. Complementarity will still be an ingredient on the total EC S&T policy, but it will have to refer only to the role of helping cooperation among the national actors.

In conclusion, the recommendation for the EC S&T policy is that a complete revision of the way the present policy is framed be initiated in order to open up the possibility to give a direct concrete contribution to the globalisation

The entire report is available as pdf


Applying S&T to globalisation issues: reflections on globalisation, complexities and problem solving.

Businaro U. L.

CSSS/fast - 13, 25 October 1992

What the EC can specifically do to approach globalisation and global issues? We propose that the first priority action should be that to develop the role of the client.

Globalisation represents a change in human system complexity. To deal with it, it is necessary to assure variety of responses and flexibility. We need a creative approach on all the components of the action process: from organisation, to problem definition, to solution design.

Because of the uncertainties even in the definition of what the real problems at stake are, to assure a variety of approaches is more important than the attempt to select priority issues or to better focus the actions. We need to learn how to deal with the globality issues: so the approaches should assure, through variety and flexibility, that even errors will contribute to such learning. All that makes difficult to converge the necessary will power and resources to develop practical actions: in fact we tie too used to consider that action programmes should be well spelled-out and assure selection of priority.

We should therefore have the courage to admit that a clear and well focused programme will be misleading.

What we need is an experimental approach, vague enough to assure the creative contribution from different sources, and the possibility to make change of directions and priori as we learn from the progress of the actions.

To assure variety and flexibility one should avoid a centralised approach and look for multipolar interventions. Nevertheless, it is important that a proper climate be developed to alert on the needs for multipolar interventions, to provide leverage effects on actions (no matter where they come from), to assure a frame of reference for debate, co-operation, stimulation.

With that in mind, we can underline the important role that the EC will have in providing such climate to induce actions. We should therefore propose that the EC will launch an experimental programme on globalisation that will foster multipolar initiatives, call for creative contribution from a multiplicity of actors (both public and private), provide a starting frame of reference and the seeds for new initiatives.

The EC should try to experiment the role of the client for globalisation issues. The EC experimental programme - even if focused on the S&T contribution - will itself be multipolar. Ac series of initiatives are described which could implement the described role for the EC.

The entire report is available as pdf


Complexity, progress, action


Applying the biological metaphor to technological innovation.

Businaro U.L.

Futures, December 1983, p. 463

A synthetic theory of evolution is taken as representing the metaphor for the process of innovation. The model is employed to highlight major characteristics of changes in technological innovation and in the time phasing of industrial inventions and innovations. Analysis at the level of the industrial sector is used as a heuristic example of the metaphor, with a focus on innovations in the car industry.

Forecasting future products is seen as related to materials requirements, primary human needs and the role of the service sectors.

The paper is available as pdf



Towards a praxis for complexity: developing a wisdom for decision-makers?

Businaro U. L.

2nd European Congress on System Science, Praga, Ottobre 5-8,1993

We are used to complexity of different levels. We face it everyday. However, in reacting to complex issues classified at different levels of complexity do we use different problem solving procedures according to the level of complexity?

The word "rational" for a problem-solving approach bears an intrinsic analytical / reductionist flavour. To deal with the globalisation issues, we need a better and less compromised word. We propose that the approach is better represented by the use of the word "wisdom". Our basic hypothesis is that there is "wisdom" available that allow us to deal with complexity.

To the building of this wisdom we have contributed by making few very general assumptions on the system characteristics. Specifically we have assumed:

From the experience of problem-solving in complex situation we have pointed out the "design paradigm" as the one that capture the intrinsic features of complexity. In fact the design paradigm accept: vagueness of problem statement, strong interactions and blurring of roles of the different actors involved. However, it also provide a "recipe" to find ways out from an endless looping of interactions. Referring to the design paradigm permits to point to very simple general "wisdom" recipes (such as that of recognising the "dimension" of the problem in order to choose proper actors) for the behaviour of each actors, even before starting the real problem-solving activity. It also provides more detailed "wisdom" recipes for problem solving.

The three general hypothesis on system characteristics plus the design paradigm help to define a corresponding structuring of decision-making to respond to challenge:

  1. complexity problem - no matter how great and novel the complexity - can be considered from the practical point of view as having the same type of structure, a system with few hierarchical level delimited outside by an environment and inside by unbreakable components;

  2. when an actor has already emerged to react to a system challenge, he needs to consider the passing from the perception of the challenge to the specification of the terms of reference of the problem to be solved as the first important aspect of decision-making. And to do this he has first of all to delimit the system on which to act. The design paradigm can be used at a meta-level to perform this task;

  3. there are different ways and actors that can react to a system challenge. To assure a better response one should first of all decide what is the best way to delimit the part of the global system that has to react to the challenge. A meta-design approach can be applied to this effect to the meta-problem whose output will be the selection of the actors to takes the challenges as their owns;

  4. to assure greater efficiency and probability of success to the action plan one should try to make use of inertial trends of the system evolution.

The paper is available as pdf


Artificial Morphogenesys and complexity

Businaro U. L.

Cononference at Accademia delle Scienze di Torino (27-29 maggio 1993)


What processes underpin the human morphogenetic (building of physical and social ’products’) activity?
In the philosophical debate, one distinguishes between to construct (realizing a product that respond to a set of drawings or, in any case, to a defined plan) and to act (the unplanned starting, responding to a initial pulse, of a process to realize something which will become clear only during the doing). In both cases uncertainties, chance, errors and noises will play an important role. In the theory of complex systems, one takes that into consideration by a parallel distinction between the building of order and of complexity.

The necessity to lay a bridge between the two cases emerges in particular when one has to respond to great social challenges. Examples are the debates on the worldwide diffusion of hunger, on the drugs, on the aggression to the environment. The readiness to act is a pre- requisite condition, which, however, is not easy to realise (the more so, the more the issues are global, have a worldwide scale). Such readiness has, however, to be transformable into a teleological process that respond to a project. Notwithstanding the capacity which has been shown by humankind to respond to ever more complex challenges, we might ask if there will not be a limit, a degree of complexity too great to assure the possibility to pass from the perception of challenges (the pulse to act), to the specification of the problems to be solved to which to apply our capability to use the available means to construct a response.

To construct is a complex process, characterized by different actors which complement themselves (the client, the designer, the builder), which undergoes various phases: from problem specification, to conceive a solution, to implement it. In English, the process is designated by the word design. The same scheme apply to cases of very different complexity, thank to a trick used by the interested actors (first of all by the client) in order to ”simplify” and to delimit the complexity: the system object of change – considered as a system made of systems – is delimited (from the bottom of the hierarchy) by ”atomic” unchangeable components and (from the top) by a neat separation between the system and the environment.

A first hypothesis for the artificial morphogenesis is that there is a self-similarity in the construction activity based on the use of the same process (the design) applied to complexities of different degree, but always reducible to an ’internal complexity’ (which is the object of the change) delimited internally by given components and externally by a well separated environment. The building of this simplified system to which the action is turned, is a process of closure that select a system among many possible alternatives. The choice is not univocal: even when the problem to which the action is referred is the same, the choice depends from the actors which will take care of the action. With the notion of to act one may identify this activity of system closure (which is upstream of to construct) and which is characterized by the definition of the ends to be met (to pass from the perception of the challenge to the specification of the problem). The second hypothesis is that also this process is morphogenetic – at a non physical level – and that it utilize the same methods to build a solution, in this case a meta-design process.

In synthesis, the morphogenetic activity of homo faber represents a wider class with respect to the biological morphogenesis: men design the design (meta-design) and can handle not only ”materials” but also ”forms” and ”ideas”. The standardization (of materials, forms, ideas and components) is a possibility, not a bound.


The urban system


Technology and the Future of the Cities - Responding to the urban malaise: an Agenda for the European Union.

Businaro U.L.

EC -FAST report FOP 380, july 1994

The approach to the city issues starts by a perusal of the available literature and, specifiically, of the reports prepared for the FAST study "The Future of European Cities: the Role of Science & Technology".

The result is reported in Part I which is structured as a recurrent attempt to approach the complexity of urban issues from different point of departs. One gets confirmation of the difficulty to pass from the perception of city challenges to the specification of actions to respond to the challenges. The search, however, fulfils the important task to get better acquainted with the system. The conclusion from Part I is the confirmation that the quest for solutions to urban challenges, to be fruitful, requires a specific approach to problem-solving, to circumvent the paradox-between the holism-of challenges and reductionism of actions.

Part II starts by describing the "design problem-solving paradigm" and then it pursues the attempt to apply it to urban issues. The starting point is to define the perceived challenges to which a response - taking advantage of R&D and technology potentiality - has to be developed. The selected challenges are described as a kind of ‘urban malaise’. The approach resists the temptation to define too quickly the initial challenges in ‘reduced’ action oriented terms, even when they appear clearly related to a specific city sub-system. In fact, to start challenge’s perception from the top holistic level of the system is a precondition to avoid a too quick jumping down to lower system levels looking for solutions.

If the challenges can be perceived and described - although in vague terms - at the global system level, then solutions in offer could also be described at that level in terms of scenarios. The circuitous turns at the global level can now be guided by the problem-solving procedures as a systematic comparison between the challenges and the potential solutions. The aim of the approach is not to really start the solution development phase, but to define the terms of reference of the problems to be solved. The process of comparing challenges and solutions to define the problems, assures that the terms of reference are realistic (amenable to solution development). Provided, however, that the portfolio of solutions is broad enough. Due to the novelty of the challenges, this will seldom be the case. The description of solutions to better define the challenges are under the form of general scenarios which serve as a guide to show how the portfolio has to be completed with more detailed solutions, to be able to get out of the holistic level with the description of the problem’s terms of reference. Part II concludes recommending a series of studies and researches to be performed to increase the portfolio of potential solutions as a prerequisite to better specify needed actions to respond to the urban challenges.

In Part II, the specifications for new solutions to be developed to enrich the portfolio is done without detailing specific technology contributions. It is still a top-down specifications for solution searching. In practice, to try and develop such solutions one should consider the important effect of the push from current technology development. 

To demonstrate that this is not in contradiction with the design approach, in Part III the process is deepened to the level of characterising the potential solutions within a given promising technology. The important case of the new ICT (Information and Communication Technology) is considered.

The entire report is available as pdf



City Action RDT Programme. Towards a better liveable city. Background paper.

Businaro U.L.

EC Fast papers, Brussels, 31 may 1994

To counteract to the syndromes of the urban malaise one need first of all to deepen the diagnosis of the situation identifying options for cure and then plan corresponding actions. The situation is in many cities so compromised that one need to rethink and to replan the tit y to regain liveability and governability, far from the ill effects of saturation.

The aim of the program is to contribute building a portfolio of ideas and potential solutions as options for updating and reviving urban planning. It is a most important aim since today the ability to even think of urban planning seems to be lost.

The scope of the programme refers to the diagnostic aspects by developing instruments to deepen the understanding of the city problems and the cure aspects by pointing to increasing the portfolio of options.

The program is subdivided into three objectives and 5 actions.

The entire report is available as pdf



The future of city: the role of Science and Technology. Proposal for actions.

Businaro U. L.

STOA Workshop, The technological city, EU Parliament, Brussels, 14 Aprile 1994

The challenges and problems facing cities are numerous, complex and difficult to delimit. For the sake of the discourse, we propose to class the challenges and related problems into three groups:

To a certain extent the grouping corresponds to the different scope of intervention of local authorities or to the emphasis in the public debate on priority of urban issues.

In fact new concepts are emerging that synthesise aspirations towards a better future for the cities which correspond to the three groupings of problems:

The above groupings will help, first of all, to understand the motivation (the why) for calling in RDT to approach the city challenges. Then, we should deal with the procedure (the how) by which RDT can contribute. Finally, we will list a series of possible RDT programmes (the what).

The entire report is available as pdf



ICT and the new urban development.

Businaro U. L.

13th World computer congrss 94, vol. 3, K. Duncan, K.Krueger eds. Elsevier, North Holland, 1994

For an efficient urban planning, society needs to agree on the priority values and objectives, spelling them out in a desired ‘scenario’. A new vision of urban plan is needed. Is technology available for whatever scenario ? The answer is positive as can be argued by the two following extreme and caricatural scenarios:

The scenario for a human-centred city could refer to a revisiting of the city of the past where the urban space where organised - at the fine local scale of the quarters - to allow a complex mix of activities and functions. Individuals interacted easily in an informal ways in the streets and piazzas. We refer to this scenario as that of an agora city. The space organisation should in any case favour the natural needs for socialisation of the human being, favouring solidarity and social cohesion, while the technological options should permit to regain the efficiency of the city ‘machine’. To revisit the urban plan one can focus on four main functions: shelter, education, work, leisure.

The entire report is available as pdf


Report on the AGORA Workshop

Businaro U. L.

Berlin (november 1995) at Conference Urban Utopias: new tools for the renaissance of european cities" 

Looking at the city as an organised space, one can ask how much the citizens are aware of the characteristics and peculiarities of the space modifica­tions and the extent to which their lives depends on them. 

What causes the success of the specific city, the decline of another? As anything to do with the form that the spatial occupation and organisation has taken over the years?

Supposing that one can envisage the optimal 'form' of the city in terms of maximum economic efficiency, will such a form assure also a satisfactory'agora' effect?

It is important to understand what are the physical characteristics of the urban space organisation that contribute to the realisation of an Agora city utopia, and to propose models to guide actions towards it. However, it has to be recognised that the citizens perceive the space according to their use of it, their habit and culture, their idiosyncrasies.

According to the individual citizen's perception there are city spaces that produce a state of 'euphoria' and others that lead to discontent (sites of 'urban disphoria').

The complexity of the urban system, the difficulty to understand and to classify urban characteristics that underpin its success or failure, to match the physical landscape and the perceived ones, the rapid planned or unplanned change of the city, the difficult to get consensus between all the interested ac­tors, all that throws serious doubts on our ability to optimal planning and take actions to adapt the city to the changed situations.

These are some of the issues debated at the workshop.

Download the report (pdf)