Research in a complex world

EMPAC is promoting the use of a model developed by the U.S. Army War College during the Cold War. Why you may ask! The conditions faced by policing and researchers now share a similar environment, of complexity and ambiguity: a situation VUCA was developed to help manage. EMPAC, driven by policing for policing, is acutely aware that the context and environment of policing is a crucial aspect to be aware of: research ill-informed by the realities of the policing context stands little chance of being useful.

VUCA is an acronym for:-

Volatility – the dynamics of change; its nature and speed

Uncertainty- the lack of predicability

Complexity – the lack of cause and effect and multiflex confusion

Ambiguity – confusion and the potential for misreads

VUCA has been used widely in military and strategic management and EMPAC is hoping to spread its use in policing research. VUCA offers a systematic way to plan in and around dynamic complexity caused by adversaries. In serious and organised crime, for example, policing is trying to combat constantly shifting and emergent tactics. Passively researching serious organised crime offers little to inform getting ahead of the game for policing.

Mirroring the theme of this year’s SEBP conference (‘curiosity and why failure is a good thing’) VUCA’s component parts offer insight and foresight into behaviour to inform strategic decision-making through learning. In the business world, VUCA has been deployed to help anticipate the issues that shape conditions, appreciate the interdependence of variables, manage risk and prepare for alternative realities, challenges and opportunities.

The use of the model to inform readiness and capacity creates a framework for dynamic risk informed research by probing the context of technical, social, political, market and economic realities of the environment.

If you want to discuss further the potential applications of VUCA in policing research, talk to EMPAC’s Director, Dave Hill on


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