Center for Complexity Sciences ∗ Mexico

Center for Complexity Sciences - National Autonomous University of Mexico
Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

National problem-based interdisciplinary and inter-sectorial research

Mexico City, Mexico

The Center for Complexity Sciences promotes collaborative, interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral work to address national problems that, due to their multi-factorial and multidimensional nature, require comprehensive analyses and interventions.

Since 2008, The Center for Complexity Sciences (C3) has sought to address one of the most important shortcomings of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM): the gap between its members and institutions, as well as with other sectors of society, and that prevents it from taking full advantage of the intellectual capital of its community to attend to national problems that, due to their multi-factorial and multidimensional nature, require comprehensive analyses and interventions.

This is precisely the objective of the C3: to catalyze relevant discussions and develop the structural, conceptual and methodological tools that make it easier for any member of the university, regardless of his field of knowledge or affiliation, to have the appropriate conditions to work collaboratively (inter or transdisciplinary) in these transversal problems, contributing with his diverse approaches and knowledge. This is true both for long-term projects and for the effective response of the academic community to emerging and urgent problems.

Among these tools, the C3 has devised, so far, the holding of focal meetings and analysis forums, the loan of its facilities for meetings between the university community, the undertaking of seminars, courses and conferences organized under umbrella programs (which transversal character and relevance are periodically evaluated) — several of them accessible to external agents thanks to a telecommunications system that allows their live transmission through the internet, extending its impact and facilitating alternative ways of communication and cooperation.

C3 uses the paradigm of complexity, which questions the capacity of current disciplinary tools of research, teaching and dissemination, to understand and address these problems, and which provides new approaches, resources, methods, and methodologies.

The Center’s organization and administrative structure is flexible to guarantee the relevance, integrality and resilience of its project.

It has:

1) created functional (eg teaching, research, etc.) rather than thematic (eg systems biology, ecology, etc.) coordinations that favor transversal research.

2) not opened academic positions but only a limited number of technical administrative positions and invited, instead, the temporary participation of researchers from other ascriptions in research visits, sabbaticals, post-doctorates, etc. This allows for results in research, training and dissemination with a low investment in salaries, benefits and facilities for such personnel.

The profitability of the project also has to do with the multiplying effect created by the researchers that collaborate with the C3, which bring the form of work that it proposes to their own affiliation centers.

The experience of C3 shows that promoting inter or transdisciplinary work, as well as any other innovative collaboration, requires generating the incentives and the right means for this to occur naturally and smoothly, and removing systemic barriers and inertias natural of the profession, that hinder collaboration (both institutional and communicational), for example:

  • funding whose approval passes through disciplinary-minded evaluation commissions;
  • performance evaluations that only take into account publications and not other types of project, and that prevent participants (including authorities) from devoting sufficient time to develop the Center and its project.
  • concepts and methodologies that are difficult to transfer between disciplines.
  • power dynamics based on hyper-specialized expertise
  • lack of connections with specialists from other sectors; etc.

The experience of C3 shows that launching ambitious projects to transform the way of thinking and acting of a sector with deeply rooted customs such as the academy, requires dedicating a lot of time and work exclusively to develop the right model to do so and to overcome its challenges, with a long-term view that allows it to identify what it wants and can do differently and above all, how it can be achieved.