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  ↩

1 thought on “Systems Thinking 2 – Day 5 – Do we always look for resilience?”

  1. Resilience thinking usually frames problematic situations as a poverty trap or a rigidity trap. This doesn’t really capture the richness of variety in power, where some people are in a better position to ride the adaptive loop, or make it through a regime shift.

    However, there is a hard choice between maintaining a system that is somewhat dysfunctional, as opposed to taking a chance on a transformation that will surface unknown unknowns. Are we better off with a devil we know, versus a devil we don’t?

    Aiming to reconcile resilience thinking with coevolutionary thinking is a laudable direction. However, it’s possible that this would lead to a Bateson Level 3 learning requirement, as most people already have problems dealing with the multidimensionality of Level 2 learning. Resilience thinking tends towards thinking about time, whereas coevolutionary thinking is more contemporaneous about the environment enclosing the system. Just as three-dimensions are squashed down to two-dimensional maps for understandability, perhaps four-dimensional thinking will have to be compressed as well.

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