On the Emergence of Interdisciplinary Culture: The York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA) and the TRANSIT Project

  • Leo S. D. CavesEmail author
Part of the Emergence, Complexity and Computation book series (ECC, volume 35)


The York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA) is an interdepartmental, cross-disciplinary centre at the University of York with a focus on interdisciplinary research on complex systems. At an early stage, YCCSA was awarded a 3 year grant, the TRANSIT programme, whose goal was the development of a research culture that lowered the barriers to interdisciplinary engagement. TRANSIT was conceived as a (complex) system of interrelated activities that focused on “coming together”, “thinking together” and “working together”. Experimental activities included non-traditional seminar formats with eclectic programming, a focus on group orchestration through facilitation and thinking systems, and mechanisms for supporting feasibility studies though lightweight access to funds and to summer students. The programme was community-driven with an ethos of openness, creativity and risk-taking. This period saw the emergence of a distinctive culture of deep interdisciplinarity, exemplified in new language and patterns of interaction, novel and reflexive proposals for (the organisation of) processes of interdisciplinary research in complex systems, a levelling of the academic hierarchy, and the self-organisation of teaching, learning and supervision.



I would like to express my thanks to:

Susan Stepney for her support, mentorship and friendship through challenging and exhilarating times. Her openness, curiosity and generosity are inseparable from her fierce and fluid intelligence and her humility and humanity.

Other members of the TRANSIT team (Gustav Delius, Angelika Sebald, Jon Timmis, Jamie Wood) for their roles in developing and steering the programme.

Caryn Douglas, as the original YCCSA Administrator, for embracing the craziness and keeping us on-track.

Sarah Christmas, who continues as YCCSA Manager, with great grace and skill.

Tim Clarke, for contributions to and information on the origins of the YCCSA SIG.

James Dyke, for your contributions and commitment to the Real World bid, and for spending hours on Skype, often with children at your feet … (oh and your forgiveness for Fontgate).

Emma Uprichard, for turning up at a key time and asking “What can I do?”.

John Forrester, our resident Anthropologist, for steering me into transdisciplinarity.

Adam Prothero, Chuck Dymer and James Meyer for your flexibility and patience in learning how to facilitate in an academic environment (“a wheelbarrow full of frogs”?).

Matthew Collins, Director of the highly interdisciplinary BioArCH centre, for being our neighbour and enthusiastic friend.

Richard Law, for his unending enthusiasm, support, encouragement and commitment to YCCSA.

Ottoline Leyser, for having the original vision for a complex systems centre at York.

YCCSA stalwarts: Alastair Droop, Corrado Topi, Simon Hickinbotham, Phil Garnett, Jenny Burrow, Jess Wardman, for their selfless energy, enthusiasm, and support.

The YCCSA community.

The EPSRC for funding (and trusting) such an interesting series of projects in the first few rounds of the Bridging the Gaps programme.

A special thank you to Simon Hickinbotham for his review (and for waiving anonymity in the YCCSA tradition of openness) that prompted valuable improvements to the manuscript. The one thing I could not do was tell the story from others’ perspectives. Maybe this will happen one day?.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.São Félix da MarinhaPortugal
  2. 2.York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis (YCCSA)University of YorkYorkUK

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