Complexity theory and systemic change in education governance


Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapters


Education governance has among its principal responsibilities initiating and sustaining positive change – whether at system, district or school level. The insights offered by complexity theory suggest a radical rethinking of some of the more traditional notions about how this might be achieved. This paper accordingly considers the challenge of sustainable change in education from the perspective of complexity theory. Complexity theory’s concept of emergence implies that, given a significant degree of complexity in a particular environment – whether an education system or a particular school – new properties and behaviours emerge that are not necessarily contained in the essence of the constituent elements, or easily able to be predicted from a knowledge of initial conditions. These concepts of emergent phenomena form a critical mass, associated with notions of lock-in, path dependence, and inertial momentum, contribute to a perspective on continuity and change that indicates what conditions might need to be in place for the emergence of sustainable, positive, system-wide change in education. Copyright © 2016 OECD.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGoverning education in a complex world
EditorsTracey BURNS, Florian KÖSTER
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherOECD Publishing,
ISBN (Print)9789264255364, 9789264255357
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


Mason, M. (2016). Complexity theory and systemic change in education governance. In T. Burns, & F. Köster (Eds.), Governing education in a complex world (pp. 41-53). Paris: OECD Publishing,


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