MAGIC - Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security

This research project is a collaboration between nine European institutions. It takes a fresh look at how the EU 2020 Strategy can achieve its goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, particularly undertaking novel complexity approaches to the integration of policies involving the nexus between water, food, energy, land use and climate change.

Project period
June 2016 – June 2020

Horizon 2020 European Commission DG Research

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB), The James Hutton Institute (JHI), University of Wageningen (WUR), University of Twente (UT), University of Bergen (UiB), EC-Joint Research Centre, Universitá degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Instituto Tecnológico de Canarias, Yale University


Project website

©James Diewald, Flickr

The emerging practice of evidence-based policymaking raise the question of what and how the narratives before collecting specific quantitative data are formed. Because these narratives or “stories” will direct the type and quality of evidence gathered, it’s important that they follow certain procedures and take into account certain interactions among different sectors.

The nexus between food, energy, land, water and climate is an important case for the consideration of such interactions. For example, when developing narratives for biofuels, policymakers must factor in resources and impacts in connection with the areas of land and water use, as well as climate change. Similarly, new developments in fracking should not be limited to the prospects in energy security and direct costs, but also account for measurable impacts on water quality and availability, greenhouse gas emissions in the source and from the burning of natural gas, stress on land-use, among others.

MAGIC aims to break with the past in the narrative building of policy formulation. It will seek to bring European Institutions, and foremost the European Commission (EC), up to speed with present thinking on the climate-water-food-energy nexus that originate from the field of complex adaptive systems, theoretical ecology, and history and philosophy of science and technology.

MAGIC’s solution is based on opening up the space of available narratives before a narrative is chosen and numbers are crunched to identify its optimal solution. This is called Quantitative Story Telling (QST). It integrates qualitative and quantitative styles of analysis.

QST’s quantitative engine is known as MuSIASEM – Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism. Rather than seeking to reinforce and confirm the selected narrative, QST’s analysis tries to falsify systematically a given option by identifying possible constraints and impossibilities. A storyline/option can be tested for feasibility (Do the resources add up?), viability (Can a society with its technology, and institutions implement it?), and desirability (Is this what that society wishes to achieve?). QST avoids the pretended accuracy of large mathematical models for the clearer simplicity of a flow-fund balance, assessing inputs and outputs of a given socio-ecological sub-system and how these interconnect to other sub-systems. MAGIC checks both existing policies and innovation trajectories.

MAGIC’s scope will range from the broader analysis of structural levels such as planetary boundaries and specific functional levels of relevant sectors, such as EC thematic directives on energy, water, agriculture, circular economy and biodiversity. It will also draw on some case studies to evaluate how certain innovations can be incorporated in the model.

As part of the consortium, Climate Analytics will aim at adding improved coherence to narratives and scientific base from a climate change perspective. It will incorporate the role played by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in each sub-system, also trying to bring a more dynamic understanding of how different climate change trajectories might impact the availability of flows and funds in MuSIASEM outputs.

For more information, please visit the MAGIC NEXUS website