The systems studied at ESS involve many actors and users, who can each own, regulate or influence a part of the system, and will take decisions based on their own objectives. These decisions are taken in a dynamic, unpredictable environment. Such systems evolve over time and are therefore very difficult or impossible to blueprint. Since complexity science conceptualises systems as evolving, interacting subsystems, that show emergent, often unpredictable behaviour, complexity science is a key underlying paradigm of research at ESS.
Studies carried out by the department show time and again that successful long-term design and management of, and policymaking in, such systems involves taking flexible measures that allow for an uncertain future.