Escaping the complexity dilemma
DOI link for Escaping the complexity dilemma
Escaping the complexity dilemma book
The complexity of social-ecological systems (SESs) presents policy makers with a dilemma. Such systems are driven by feedback interactions between a multitude of parts. The dilemma is that, although SESs are too complex to be studied as a whole, their interactive behaviour cannot be understood on the basis of studies of their parts taken separately. The challenge to sustainability science is clear. Is it possible to isolate relatively small, self-contained sub-systems that are only weakly coupled to the dynamics of the wider system and so provide a viable arena for robust policy development?
In this chapter we outline an approach, Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM), that is designed to support efforts to meet this challenge. CCM is intended to help a social group understand and manage the interactions between the parts of a system; between the past and future behaviours of the system; and between people with different backgrounds, worldviews, and allegiances. Our approach blends concepts from many disciplines. In particular, we make extensive use of concepts and tools from system dynamics – these methods are practical and accessible and help to establish a focus on feedback, endogenously generated behaviour, and collaboration.
In practice the CCM process has proven to be a useful way to explore promising approaches to escaping the complexity dilemma. Although the process has limitations, we have found that it provides firm but flexible guidance for transdisciplinary engagement and research and a practical way to blend history, system dynamics, and scenario construction. It also provides a very effective way to develop a shared, visual cause–effect language that supports group learning and knowledge generation.