Complexity Science and Convergence Research: A Match Made in Heaven?

Reflections from co-hosting the NSF workshop

Gemma Jiang, PhD
17 min readOct 15, 2020


My recent experience organizing and participating in NSF Convergence Accelerator future topic selection workshops gave me great food for thought. Combining my experience as the developmental evaluator for the NSF-GCR circular economy project, I cannot help but think that complexity science and convergence research are a match made in heaven. As a complexity leadership scholar and practitioner, I am interested in applying principles and practices of complexity in accelerating convergence research. Below are my initial musings.


A convergence accelerator team, consisting of diverse disciplines and stakeholders, works to converge upon breakthrough solutions for society’s complex challenges. Convergence can be challenging to achieve, given the current cultural and institutional roadblocks that have created disciplinary and stakeholder-based siloed structures. The volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) nature of the challenges convergence accelerator teams seek to address calls for innovative educational efforts. Principles from complexity science, such as ecosystem consciousness, multidimensionality and emergence, could be applied to enhance the educational effort for current stakeholders and future generations. Three types of ‘containers of transformation’ are recommended to carry out the educational efforts and facilitate the convergence process. These containers are developed and tested in the current NSF-Growing Convergence Research project[1] where I serve as the developmental evaluator.

[1] Award ID:1934824, NSF-GCR: Collaborative Research: Convergence Around the Circular Economy

Problems of Organized Complexity

The complexity side of the story

Warren Weaver, scientist and mathematician, articulated the importance of the type of problems convergence research addresses in his famous article Science and Complexity in 1948.

“These new problems, and the future of the world depends on many of them, requires science to make a third great advance, an advance that must be even greater than the nineteenth-century conquest of problems of simplicity



Gemma Jiang, PhD

Senior Team Scientist, Colorado State University; Complexity Leadership Scholar and Practitioner; also at https://www.linkedin.com/in/gemma-jiang/