Everyone seems to be talking about 'complexity' and 'complex systems' these days, but understanding what these terms mean can be difficult. Academic texts are often impenetrable for novices, and even experts might struggle to find accessible and compelling resources to share. In conducting our own research on complex systems, we slowly stumbled across a few 'hidden gems' that we found ourselves pointing other people towards. These resources aren't the typical textbooks and research papers, but are engaging representations and explanations of complexity suitable for a wide audience. Unlike most standard introductory guides, these gems draw examples from a variety of application areas you might be interested in and so make different aspects of complexity more tangible.

Several of the resources are visual or interactive, and all of them are freely available for academic and non-academic audiences alike. Because an alphabetical index is seldom what you really want, we mapped the gems onto two different ways of thinking about 'complexity': the constructs that are used to describe and explain it (e.g overlapping hierarchies, emergence, ...) and the application areas that study, manage and exploit it (e.g. management, sociology, ...).


The explorable visualisation was developed as a proof of concept, to demonstrate new ways of categorising and presenting information about resources. We imagined it as a modern version of the traditional 'annotated bibliography'. However, rather than a static list, we wanted to permit some flexibility in how the the bibliographic information was sorted and presented. Whilst we focus here on accessible complexity resources (the 'gems'), the general approach would work for other kinds of resources and other disciplines.

You can see all the resources behind the visualisation here. Alternatively, you can download them with all their annotations as a JSON file.

The visualisation was created by Chih-Chun Chen and Nathan Crilly and is part of a wider project funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K008196/1). Some related outputs from the project are available here, including an animated short film, a theoretical 'primer' and a comparative study of synthetic biology and swarm robotics.