Systems Thinking 2 – Day 5 – Do we always look for resilience?

Monday’s session of the Systems Thinking 2 course wrapped up the run of presentations we students have been doing on different thematic clusters with the eighth group presenting on social-ecological systems and regime shifts.
One main concept the group presented in that context was that of resilience. I am still not quite sure I’m fully able to wrap my head around that, yet. One main driving force for research on resilience is the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the definition they give is as follows:

“Resilience is the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.”[1]

There are two main questions that are currently flowing around in my head: First, do we actually always want systems to be resilient? And second, as I’ve been a member of group 6, dealing with coevolution, turbulence and anticipatory systems, how interlinked/overlapping are the concepts of resilience and coevolution?

Regarding the first question: It seems that resilience, as presented by the group on Monday and from what I have read/seen/heard in material from the Stockholm Resilience Centre is usually portrayed as a positive characteristic of a system. However, if I think of political or economical system there might be cases where I can imagine resilience being quite an annoying feature (at least to some) as it would seem to mean that a very resilient political system would be very adaptable to change and hence maybe only become slightly less worse over time instead of changing radically into something completely new. Therefor it seems to me, that resilience might sometimes actually be unwanted and rather a hindrance for potentially positive change.

Regarding the second question: Coevolution means that (at least) two systems have a causal influence on each other wich leads to at least one of those systems to evolve, meaning it changes by variation, selection or inheritance. The systems in question can be either social or environmental and evolution in that sense is not limited to genetical change.[2]
The way I understand the connection between resilience and coevolution so far is the following: In order to determine a system’s resilience it seems necessary to me that it is influenced by another (at least one) system. If both systems, the influencing one and the influenced one show a high level of resilience, meaning adaptability and capability to deal with change, they coevolve. If one or all of the systems fails to adapt they do not coevolve and it leads to collapse of at least one of the systems. Now the question would be whether collapse could be seen as a form of coevolution, even though quite terminal…

On Monday we also started preparing the final synthesis posters which are supposed to turn out as infographics, which connects back to my thoughts on note-taking earlier. I am curious to see what my group (as well as the others) manages to accomplish in the short amount of time left, but I hope we’ll be able to come up with a good visualisation which thus far proofs hard.


  1. Stockholm Resilience Centre: What is resilience? Availbale online at http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/2–19–2015-what-is-resilience.html [retrieved 17 February 2016]  ↩
  2. Paraphrasing Kallis G, Norgaard RB. Coevolutionary ecological economics. Ecological Economics. 2010 Feb 15;69(4):690. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.09.017  ↩

Systems Thinking 2 – Week 2 – Does note taking affect our interactions with the world?

The second week of the Systems Thinking 2 course at Aalto covered the following four thematic clusters: 4 – Dialogue, engagement, intervention, 5- Ecosystems, collapse, resilience, 6 – Coevolution, turbulence, anticipatory systems and 7 – Living systems, viable systems, metabolism. While I myself have been part of group 6 and thus presenting on coevolution, turbulence and anticipatory systems I will reflect on an idea/observation that has been developing for me during the past weeks and connects well with the presentation of group 4 on dialogue, engagement and intervention, specifically the idea they presented of using so called “rich pictures” in the context of soft systems thinking to understand complex problems.
I’ve been thinking about note-taking quite a bit during the past weeks and especially how linear versus non-linear note-taking affects the way one understands/remembers contents that the respective note is about. Personally I have always had quite a hard time taking notes on a computer. So, while I’m quite tech affine in all other regards and probably using a lot more software tools than most of my fellow students (at least by observing and talking to them) I have always been quite “old-fashioned” when it comes to note taking, relying simply on paper and pencil. Granted, I’ve always been a bit unhappy that those resulting notes weren’t full text searchable, but I still couldn’t get away from it and I think the main reason is that however advanced note taking apps on computers have been, I always found it quite cumbersome to easily use different structures and relationships in a text editor or tools like Evernote, eventually leading to very linear notes, starting with text in the top left and then just producing blocks of text. Of course, lists are relatively easy to use, but that still leaves me with the fact that it goes from top to bottom without an easy way of placing things next to each other, let alone in a circle or depicting other non-linear processes.
I also tried tools like Scapple, which allow for chunks of text and some mind mapping functionality to connect bits and pieces with arrows etc., but nothing really did the trick for me. Eventually I ended up using slightly more advanced paper, like the Whitelines Link, which was ok, but still left me urging for improvements, because, after all I’d really like to have all my notes digitally accessible, and eventually full text searchable.
Since the beginning of this term I am now using an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and an app called Notability. I feel very comfortable with it and compared to future attempts, I actually feel that it has improved my note taking. I can quickly draw shapes, create relationships and use symbols to speed up my note taking. I don’t have to switch between multiple pens to use different colours or types of pens to introduce hierarchy, I am actually quite happy and I feel my notes are becoming better and I am better able to capture complexity and hopefully eventually make sense of it.
This quite personal experience leaves me wondering: Why do we spend so much time during education learning how to write, but rarely any time in learning how to structure and draw concepts? The method of rich pictures group 4 presented in the context of soft systems thinking seems much more useful to me. Observing the note taking of my fellow students and asking a couple of them about their process, seems to yield some distinct field-specific preferences, with most business students using their laptops and Evernote, while nearly all designers and architects, rely on pen and paper.
This leaves me wondering, whether the different forms of note-taking and subsequent sense-making or communication process about said notes, lead to problems in how we interact with the world surrounding us. Or a bit different: Should business people stop taking linear notes, forcing them to put everything in a simple hierarchical process from top to bottom in order to create more of a sustainable environment?

References

  1. Wikipedia: Rich Pictures [retrieved February 15, 2016]
  2. The Open University on Youtube: Rich Pictures – The Art of Rich Pictures (3/8) [retrieved February 15, 2016]
  3. The Open University on Youtube: Using Rich Pictures – The Art of Rich Pictures (4/8) [retrieved February 15, 2016]

Systems Thinking 2 – Day 2 – Values missing…

In the second session of the Systems Thinking 2 course at Aalto University we dealt with the topics “Boundary, Inquiry, Perspectives”; in the morning and “Learning categories, Postnormal Science, Ignorance” in the afternoon.
Even after almost two days of trying to process all of it, I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. As my group was also responsible on challenging the second group, I will focus on a couple of thoughts I had around each of the three subtopics.

Learning Categories

In class I mentioned a talk I attended at re:publica 2013: Neil Harbisson, Moon Ribas: Life with extra Senses – How to become a Cyborg.. (A shorter version is available as a TED talk: Neil Harbisson: I listen to color)
The reason this relates to the learning categories for me is the question of what passes as Learning IV. In class we discussed it mainly as genetic change in the system, learning across generations. I am wondering, whether we have come to a point where by extending our body by technological means we could transcend ourselves to something envisioned as Learning IV, even though it might not actually be genetical learning. How do nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and e.g. exoskeletons connect to this topic? Ideas that are e.g. explored by Ray Kurzweil, who predicts humans to build new bodies for themselves by extending it with technology, eventually leaving fewer and fewer options to not follow this path as the advances of using those alterations become to high in comparison to resisting those alterations (Kurzweil 1999).
To me that also brings up the question of choice: genetic learning over generations isn’t anything I could choose to do or not do. The technical alterations and extensions seem like a choice at first, but might eventually be necessary if the environment is altered in a way that it becomes impossible to interact with it without such extensions or modifications which would lead me to connect it with socio-ecological coevolution as “cases where evolution in the social system affects the bio-physical environment, which in turn affects evolution in the social system (Norgaard, 1994)” (Kallis and Norgaard 2010:692).
So even though this wouldn’t classify as genetic change it still requires the system/organism to change and adapt in ways that require a significant change to itself, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily see it as one of the other Learning types, as suggested by a course mate who argued it would merely be Learning I. In the case of Neil Harbisson I would say it was Learning IV, the alteration to his body itself, that subsequently enabled many new process of Learning I that would otherwise not have been possible.
I’m not sure I am missing something major here, though.

Postnormal Science

When we were discussing Postnormal Science the thing that struck me the most was the question of values. To me it remained unclear how the values that seem to be necessary to govern science are determined.
This is also a question in our group’s topic, where we are dealing with turbulence, as Emery and Trist suggest that in order to cope in what they call “turbulent fields” “values that have overriding significance for all members of the field” need to emerge. (Emery and Trist 1965:28) The question that remains for me is how we, as a society, create these values and how to determine which values are “better” or “worse” than others. The linking of science with policy making that seemed to be connected to Postnormal Science reminded me of Ulrich Beck’s text “The Politics of Risk Society” (1998) in which he argued that in order not to become trapped in “uncertainties of scientific knowledge” politics and morality need to gain priority over scientific reasoning (Beck 1998:14).
From the presentation in class I understood it so that “Normal Science” is always based on underlying values without making it transparent, while “Postnormal Science” argues, that we need those values and they are necessary in order to determine which science to pursue and which not. In that regard I have to think of a drama by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The Physicists (in German: Die Physiker), which questions the ethics of Sciences and whether something that has been though once can be taken back or whether anything that can be thought will eventually be though, no matter which values are governing the sciences.
It seems to me like a bit of a trap to call for values or morale to predetermine which science can be done and which shouldn’t as I think the results are what need to be discussed and evaluated based on current values. Science’s outcomes are also a way of shaping values to me and important in asking necessary societal questions. Again, maybe I misunderstood something completely, but the definition of the necessary still seems unclear to me.


References

  1. Beck, Ulrich. Politics of risk society. in: Franklin, Jane (editor). The politics of risk society. Institute for Public Policy Research, 1998. pp. 9–22.
  2. Emery, Fred E., and Eric L. Trist. The causal texture of organizational environments. Human relations 18.1 (1965): 21–32. doi:10.1177/001872676501800103
  3. Harrison, Neil. I listen to color. TEDGlobal 2012, June 2012. available online at https://www.ted.com/talks/neil_harbisson_i_listen_to_color#t–556787 [retrieved 07.02.2016]
  4. Harrison, Neil and Moon Ribas. Life with extra Senses – How to become a Cyborg. re:publica 2013, 07.05.2013. available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hUg48vf0QI [retrieved 07.02.2016]
  5. Kallis G, Norgaard RB. Coevolutionary ecological economics. Ecological Economics. 2010 Feb 15;69(4):690–9. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.09.017
  6. Kurzweil, Ray. The age of spiritual machines: When computers exceed human intelligence. Penguin, 1999.

Systems Thinking 2 – Day 1

After I got my blog fixed and ready to go after five years of inactivity this is a repost of my thoughts on day one of the Systems Thinking 2 course:

The first session of the Systems Thinking 2 course featured a general overview about Systems Thinking by David Ing and a presentation with final discussion of “Appreciative Systems”.

Appreciative Systems by Geoffrey Vickers were presented by the first group as a concept of understanding sense making. Vickers himself seemed to be mainly concerned with social systems, from a personal scale up to the society and, if I understood it correctly, especially with the meaning of any form of communication. This action, analysing the meaning of communication, he called appreciation.

The concept of Appreciation Judgement was presented as a three step process consisting of Reality Judgement, concerned with the communicated facts, Value Judgement, concerned with the value theses facts have for oneself and Instrumental Judgement, concerned with how that translates into actions.
Personally I am still struggling a bit with the distinction between judgements and decisions as to which builds on which. For me, in order to make a decision I am judging the matter in question based on certain criteria, ultimately leading to a decision, but I am not quite sure at the moment how that connects to  the statement of a decision being a narrower term than judgement in that a decision to me is comprised of on or many judgements.

Further concepts we discussed were Planning, Mess, and Transformation & Adaption.

With regard to planning it was mentioned that planning  itself needs planning, which feels a bit tricky and remembers me of a situation in which I was a member of a group of about 70 people who were to decide on two representatives, out of a couple of candidates. After a longer discussion we held a vote on how to vote for those two candidates and whether that vote would be public or private. Eventually that discussion, though justified to some extend, led to quite a bit of frustration among parts of the group as the whole process took ages. So the question is, where to start in order not to end up planning the planning of the planning for the planning (or voting on the process of voting on how to vote).

The quoted “plans are useless, planning is essential” made me think of my own group’s topic of coevolution, where it becomes obvious that sticking to a plan without taking into consideration changed realities becomes very useless very quickly. Constant evaluation of the environment and suitable readjustment in actions can potentially lead to success – though what that is should also be open for redefinition.

For me personally the though of evaluating communication in the presented appreciative systems is interesting on the one hand, as it leads me to think in more depth about communication going on around me, but on the other hand I feel a minor possibility of overthinking things, as  Paul Watzlawick said “One cannot not communicate” therefor I feel a bit torn, yet, as to whether the concept of Appreciative Systems will prove helpful for me during my future work, but the concept as presented served at least as a good reminder to question forms of communication and apply a decent amount of media critique that should always be present when e.g. consuming news.

Reset 2016

Ok… Now It’s been about five years since I first set up this website and, as you can see, nothing much has happened since… Shame on me!

I mainly got it up back in 2011 to host my diploma thesis online (which you can find under CNE and thought I would dump some ideas here over the time, but then I never did. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have any (good) ideas – or so I hope – I just never really got around to posting them here and also I was also asking myself “Who cares?”

In the meantime, I have moved to Finland, once again, and started to study Creative Sustainability at Aalto University in Helsinki. As we’re asked to blog our course reflections of the Systems Thinking 2 course in public, I’ll use that as a motivation to start writing something here, and who knows, maybe this time around I’ll also put up some other thoughts. If not, well, who cares?