Complexity and Policy Visualization: Implications for Poverty Advocacy

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Public Policy: Fall 2011

Presented by Evert Lindquist
Professor of Public Administration
University of Victoria
Monday, December 5, 2011;  12:30 - 1:30 p.m., questions / discussion until 2:00 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Dr. Evert Lindquist (PhD Berkeley, Public Policy) is Professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration. He has been Director from 1998-2009 and returns to that role in January 2012. During 2010 and 2011 has held the ANZSOG-ANU Chair in Applied Public Management Research at the Australian National University. He is an Adjunct Faculty Member, Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University.

Professor Lindquist has published widely on topics relating to public sector reform, governance and decision-making, central agencies and initiatives, policy capability, think tanks and consultation processes. He is working with colleagues at the Australian National University and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government on several research initiatives, including projects on the impact of the global financial crisis on national budget systems, complexity and policy visualization, perspectives on policy analysis and implementation, and theories of central agencies in government.

Professor Lindquist’s first academic appointment was in the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science (1988-1998). He was the first Visiting Scholar at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (1992-94), a Visiting Scholar at Griffith University in 2004, and a Senior Academic Visiting Fellow with the Canada School of Public Service. Professor Lindquist is Editor-Elect of Canadian Public Administration, the country’s flagship journal for scholars and practitioners published by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, starting in January 2012. He sits on the editorial boards for Australian Journal of Public Administration, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, and Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research.


The literature and practice in the areas of information visualization, graphics and information display, and visual thinking and facilitation for thinking and strategy are rapidly expanding. These fields are diverse and exciting, generating considerable enthusiasm among practitioners as applications spread to different disciplines and practice domains, including public policy-making and management. Finding betters ways to convey information should be relevant for accountability, project oversight, and engaging ministers, citizens, and stakeholders in more productive dialogue on the directions for reforming policy and service delivery regimes.

Despite the advances in many fields with visualization (consider gaming, simulation, digital graphics, architecture, etc.), government has generally been a late adopter. First, with the exception of the security and crisis management domains, governments have made relatively small investments in the technologies and techniques for visualizing and conveying complexity (i.e., compared to outlays for IT systems and public relations and communications). Moreover, there has been little consideration of how visual representations compete with other streams of information and types of visualization for the attention of policy-makers, often in highly contested, stressful circumstances with high flows of information. Likewise, the policy and public management literature had not started to explore the potential and risks of visualization for analysis, advising, and engagement.

This presentation will identify, review and assess diverse traditions and perspectives on visualizing and conveying complexity. It also considers the strengths and limitations of different visualization approaches for grappling with policy complexity and the overlapping challenges of undertaking policy analysis in government, advising political leaders, and informing dialogue and engagement. It will report on findings from recent roundtables with practitioners and experts exploring the state of practice and potential of visualization technologies, and consider the implications for poverty researchers and policy-makers. The goal of this session is to stimulate dialogue with poverty researchers and practitioners about their experience with using visualization techniques for analysis, advising, and engagement on poverty issues.


See the slides from this presentation here.