Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

Embracing Uncertainty: Policymaking in Turbulent Times

Key information

Subject area:

Public Policy, Politics & Security

Course type:

Executive Education

Credit level:


Credit value:



4 weeks

Available course dates:

To be confirmed

Course overview

Whether it is addressing a global pandemic, a financial crisis, transnational organised crime, climate change, migration, or the datafication of society, policymakers work in an environment that is characterised by high uncertainty, high unpredictability, and incomplete knowledge. Policy theorists call such problems intractable or “wicked’. The outcomes of policy interventions in such cases often generate unintended consequences due to the fundamentally complex nature of the world around us.

To effectively address such situations of uncertainty requires knowledge, attitudes, and skills that are commensurate with the intrinsic complexity of the world. This module provides insights into complexity theory, explains the key principles and mechanisms of complex dynamic systems, and discusses how these can be harnessed in public policy. As embracing complexity is as much a perspective as a set of skills, the module follows the principle of learning by doing, encompassing conceptual insights, practical application of the insights, and reflection on experiences.

The module is organised around a set of practical exercises that teaches you how to design a policy solution for a complex public issue of your choice. You will start with policy framing, then move on to a thinking exercise where you’ll need to consider the perspectives of different people working across the public sector. Finally, you will take the existing context into account and plan how to deal with unintended consequences during the policy delivery stage. By doing these exercises, you will learn how to adapt your thinking to changing situations; how to balance between welcoming and challenging alternative views; and how to design a policy intervention to address a complex public issue.

What does this course cover?

Week 1: Wicked issues and unintended consequences

In the first week, we will look at the nature of wicked issues and discuss their key characteristics; understand the role of policy implementation and the nature of unintended consequences of a public policy; and explore how policy framing works, how the same public issue can be framed differently and why this matters for policymakers. Two case studies – Global pandemic due to Covid-19 outbreak and Climate Change – will show how to apply this conceptual knowledge to policy practice. You will then complete exercises focused on a policy issue of your own choice.

Week 2: Complexity theory for policymaking

This week introduces the basics of complexity theory. We will focus on the key characteristics of complexity, explain how complex systems work, and discuss those aspects that are most relevant for policymaking. First, we will discuss the difference between a simple problem, a complicated problem and a complex problem. We will consider both the nature of a problem and our mental models to help us find an appropriate solution to the problem. Secondly, we will focus on policy resistance as one of the reasons why policymakers should care about complexity. Finally, you will have a chance to think about your own role within a system that you are trying to intervene in as a policymaker.

Week 3: Skills, tools and attitudes in approaching complexity

This week, we will learn how to turn knowledge and understanding of complexity into practice. Firstly, we will explore the so-called “complexity toolkit” for policymakers. This toolkit is designed to highlight some practices that can be adopted by both individuals and organisations to take account of the complex nature of the issues within society. Secondly, we will explore collaborative governance, cross-sector work, and inclusion of stakeholders. We will discuss are how you can make use of local and divergent knowledge to improve your policy design, and how you can design and engage in collaborative practice with colleagues working across different silos of government. Finally, we will recognise that government itself is a complex system and consider how to address complexity within governments.

What will I achieve?

Upon completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Make better-informed decisions in the face of uncertainty.
  • Provide a way forward even with incomplete evidence.
  • Adapt thinking and acting in changing and emerging situations.
  • Work across silos in government to design public policy.
  • Strike a balance between welcoming alternative and divergent stakeholder views and challenging these.
  • Design a public policy intervention addressing a complex issue or problem.

Who will I learn with?

Olga Siemers

Olga Siemers

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Who is this for?

This short course is for mid-career professionals. Standard entry requirements are a 2:1 degree plus 3 years of relevant work experience. Applicants without a 2:1 or higher degree are welcome to apply and typically require 5+ years of relevant work experience.

How will I be assessed?

One written assignment, plus participation in webinars and discussion forums.

Our modules offer high levels of interaction with regular points of assessment and feedback. Each four week module is worth five Master's level academic credits and includes three webinars with a King's lecturer and peer group of global professionals.

What is the teaching schedule?

Format: Fully online, plus 3 x 1-hour weekly webinars

This module has been designed specifically for an online audience. It uses a range of interactive activities to support learning including discussion forums, online readings, interactive lectures videos and online tutorials.

Fees and discounts

Tuition fees may be subject to additional increases in subsequent years of study, in line with King’s terms and conditions.

Further information

Module creators

Dr Olga Siemers is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the International School for Government at King’s College London. Her key research interests include political economy, strategy and decision-making, global studies, complexity theory and public policy. Before joining King’s, she was a Research Fellow and Tutor in Political Economy at the University of Oxford and Warwick University.

Please note that this is only indicative information. Lecturers and course content are subject to change. Please contact us directly for the most recent information.

Course status:

Places available

Full fee £950

Express interest

Discounts available

See all available discounts

Have a sponsor? See here


Offered by