The purpose of this paper is to review the state of the art and practice of two strands of thinking encapsulated in the two disciplines of cybernetics (CN) and system dynamics (SD). These possess many similarities in terms of their fundamental philosophies but which have diverged significantly in terms of their audience and practical application. A brief theoretical review of both CN and SD is given which is then followed by a partial review of the literature and the description of a number of practical applications of both disciplines in the public policy arena. Findings from this theoretical and practical examination of both disciplines are drawn out.
This paper has two main threads: it compares and contrasts SD and CN and it carries out a survey of published works relevant to public policy in these two areas to facilitate comparison.
The paper concludes with a review of the contribution made by each discipline in the public policy field. It draws the conclusion that both disciplines have had and continue to make a significant contribution to a deeper non‐linear understanding of the complexity of developing public policy which is seen as an inherently complex and “messy” area.
From the analysis presented, it may be possible to draw out a means of combining both CN and SD methodologies in a synergistic fashion.
No direct comparative evaluation of this type has previously been uncovered. The value of this paper lies in its practical implications as mentioned above.
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