Tag Archives: complex systems

Homer-Dixon on Risk, Uncertainty and Crises

Think Globally Radio recently posted a number of great interviews. Here is one interesting one with political scientist, and renown author Thomas Homer-Dixon from University of Waterloo (Canada) – one of the world’s leading scholars on the intersection of environment, security and crisis.

Direct link to the interview can be found here.

New Initiative – ASU Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

by Michael Schoon, Arizona State University
On April 21st, Arizona State University officially launched a new initiative – the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems.  The consortium attempts to advance a new area of science by approaching research and education through a complex systems perspective.  The primary work of the Consortium emerges from three member centers:  the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, and the Mathematical, Computational, and Modeling Sciences Center.
The Consortium and ASU’s Center for Global Health are the first tangible outputs of ASU’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative.  The Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative (CASI) is a collaborative effort to leverage trans-disciplinary relationships to address complex global challenges in health, sustainability, security and education by creation of entirely new technologies and novel solutions. This requires integration of diverse research disciplines across the University and building an extended network of global collaborations.
Over the coming months, CASI will help form additional trans-disciplinary research groups to better bridge across disciplinary barriers within ASU.  Beyond campus, the Initiative is creating linkages between institutional research partners around the globe, including CSIRO for Sustainable Ecosystems, Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the University of Barcelona Adaptive Behavior and Interaction Group, among others.  For a full listing of partner organizations, click here.

Stuart Kauffman on Innovation in Complex Systems

Another great lecture online from our friends at the Waterloo Institute for Innovation and Complexity – University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). In this talk, Stuart Kauffman, one of the founders of the field of complex systems, explains the principles which he proposes underlie innovation and economic growth. He illustrates these principles with real world examples from his experience in industry and the academe. Yuu can also find an interview with S. Kauffman on the same topic, in the Scientific American here.

Speaker Profile

Stuart A. Kauffman is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences, physics, and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology. Thirty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models, which are random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms “order for free.” He is the author of The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization, Investigations and Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.

Climate Governance Innovation meets Complexity Theory

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) at University of Waterloo has posted a range of interesting talks on complexity theory, governance and innovation. In this talk, Mathew Hoffman explores the applicability of self-organized criticality to the study of innovation in global governance. After introducing the concept of self-organized criticality, the discussion will turn to its utility for studying social systems. Matthew Hoffmann will present both an agent-based model of the evolution of social norms and empirical illustrations of innovations in global governance drawn from work on climate change and multilateral treaty-making.

Speaker Profile
Matthew Hoffman is an Assistant Professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and in the department of Social Sciences at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. His research interests include global environmental governance, social constructivism, and complexity theory. His 2005 book from SUNY press “Ozone Depletion and Climate Change: Constructing a Global Response” explored a complex adaptive systems approach to global environmental governance and his current book manuscript to be published by Oxford University Press investigates the phenomenon of experimentation with multiple forms of climate governance.

Capturing the Complexity of the Commons

International Association for the Study of the Commons North American Regional Meeting

Hosted by the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity and the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

September 30 – October 2, 2010, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (USA)

Capturing the Complexity of the Commons

The North American regional meeting of the IASC will have as its theme “capturing the complexity of the commons” reflecting the increasing efforts to understand commons over time at multiple levels of scale. The goal is to foster more discussion and collaboration especially among North American researchers working on commons from an interdisciplinary point of view. We invite scholars from the natural and social sciences as well as humanities and arts.

The conference is interdisciplinary and open to any individual interested in common-pool resources and common property issues. It is aimed at encouraging the discussion on the conference topics among researchers and practitioners living in North American or elsewhere. This should result in a stronger research network and an enhanced exchange of experiences primarily among North American researchers and students working on the Commons and also with scholars elsewhere.

The conference is organized in 3 subthemes:

This theme address the increasing focus of commons research on cases with historical depth, multiple resources and resource uses, and multiple levels of social and ecological processes. Topics included in this subtheme are the resilience of common pool resources, institutional learning and adaptation, and transboundary commons and conflicts.

New Commons
This theme includes commons that can be grouped in four broad classes: the urban commons, the virtual commons, the environmental services and public health. Research on those topics using conceptual tools designed for the study of commons has strongly increased in the last few years. Moreover, many of those commons are, at present, crucial for the welfare of human beings as a whole.

Multiple Methods to Study the Commons
This theme addresses the methodological contributions to study the commons including ethnographic case studies, collaborative field studies, experiments, formal modeling and participatory processes. Besides contributions of the individual methodologies we recognize the benefits of using multiple methods to address the same research questions.

We welcome proposals for panels, workshops, and individual papers relating to the three subthemes of the conference:

Panels and Workshops. Submit a proposal to organize a 1.5 hour concurrent panel session (3 to 4 speakers and session chair) or workshop (a practically-oriented session with 2 or 3 speakers, session facilitator, and sufficient time for audience questions). Proposals include an abstract of the goal and topic of the session (maximum of 350 words), include names and affiliations of the organizer and individual presenters, and provide abstracts for the individual papers (maximum 250 words).
Proposals for panels and workshops are due April 1, 2010.

Individual Papers. Submit an abstract to give a 20-minute oral presentation. Abstracts should be a maximum of 250 words. Include the name, title and affiliation of each author. Abstracts will be peer reviewed and are due April 1, 2010. Confirmation of acceptance of the abstract will be sent by May 1, 2010Final papers are due September 1, 2010 (details will be sent to authors upon abstract acceptance).

Conference Proceedings. All abstracts and submitted papers will be made available online (digital library of the commons). All conference paper submissions will be peer reviewed and a selection of the papers will be considered for a special issue of the International Journal of the Commons.

Submission of Abstracts . All abstracts must be submitted electronically in Word, text, or pdf format. Abstracts should be submitted via the conference website.

Are There Limits to Adaptive Governance?

by Emily Boyd

From a development perspective adaptive governance (AG) raises questions about how do you measure fair, efficient and effective processes, who are the winners and losers? The concept of ‘good’ governance in the context of development is about procedural justice and fairness and all that entails to try to stamp out inequalities. It is normative and connected to human rights. Many rely on concepts of ‘good’ governance to set transparent goals in decision-making processes.

For instance, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai stated recently that without good governance, Africa was unlikely to overcome its numerous poverty challenges. In the case of SES or coupled climate and development, we are still searching for ways to think about what governance means for understanding coupled, complex, interconnected climate change, ecosystem and development challenges across multiple actors in cities, forests, coastal areas etc. The question that haunts us is whether AG is a ‘utopia’ where getting the principles right leads to a system of management that hides inequalities across scales?

AG emerged from understanding about adaptive management and co-management in natural resource management. AG is in a sense the scaled up version of co-management across hierarchies of decision-making and knowledge. Co-management is by no means a panacea and encounters broad challenges of who is accountable and for what? (e.g. see the work of Plummer and Armitage). Early research from the development community tried to break out of the hegemonies that surround natural resource management and sought to increase understanding for, and interest in, the continual evolution of local knowledge, through farmers own experimentation with crops, soils, and irrigation and with the dynamics of social networks for spreading knowledge as well as risks (for example the work of Chambers, Scoones & Thompson, Leach) (www.ids.ac.uk).

What came out of that work was a revisionist agenda that was much more nuanced about the politics of knowledge. Yet, what was missing from that early work was the resilience dimensions of ecological and climatic change – the stuff that we know now, e.g. the importance of flips, thresholds, feedbacks etc. – and also how knowledge relates to resilience. This is perhaps where adaptive governance can lend a hand specifically to ask questions about how to govern complex climate – development interactions given the imperfections of the ‘real’ world and the inequalities of uneven development.

Let us think about adaptive governance simply as a heuristic to help to pose new critical questions and tease out understandings about features of change, institutional flexibility, scale, and learning in social and ecological systems. Adaptive governance opens up arenas for asking questions about up scaling collective action e.g. the work of Per Olsson and others on the governance of the Great Barrier Reef. Another example is in examining the importance in ecological forecasting (Clark et al 2003). An emerging imperative is to incorporate feedback mechanisms into ecological forecasts, which are essential to predicting ‘potential’ tipping points. How best to manage tipping points also requires consideration of the social dynamics and ways to collectively understand and think about this. The co-production of knowledge looks to be an important part of this.

Adaptive governance also opens up new ways to conceptualize how actors and organizations respond and reorganize following shocks in coupled systems, e.g. the 2005 dieback in Amazonia and 2005 floods in Mumbai and helps us to ask questions about how networks and learning platforms (e.g. in planning for a 2 degree world) connect across different levels of organization in managing for resilience.

Thus to conclude, yes there are limits to adaptive governance. We must avoid panaceas. However it is early days, and the concept has opened up avenues to think critically and engage across disciplines. It is now from further theoretical and empirical work we will get a better grasp of the utility and limits of AG. In the meantime, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Further reading

Clark, et al (2003). “Ecological Forecasts: An Emerging Imperative”, Science 293, 657.

Plummer, R. and DR. Armitage (2007). “Charting the new territory of adaptive co-management: a Delphi study”, Ecology and Society 12(2):10 [online] URL:http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art10/

Derek, A., Melissa, M. and R. Plummer (2008).” Adaptive co-management and the paradox of learning”, Global Environmental Change Vol.18 (1):86-98.

VIII. You say “transition”, I say “transformation”…

The need to support transitions, or transformations, towards sustainability has become one of the hottest topics amongst sustainability scientists the last years. A range of theoretical approaches deal with different aspects of transformational system change, including scholars of “transition management” and “resilience theory”. These communities have worked separately for decades, but seem too be converging. But, what is the difference between “transitions” and “transformations”? Really?

Listen to Dr. Derk Loorbach from the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (Drift, Erasmus University Rotterdam), as he explores what he sees as the main similarities and differences between the two schools. Listen also to Dr. Per Olsson at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University), as he responds to Derk’s observations.

Interview with Dr Derk Loorbach [external link]. What is “transition management”, and how is that different from “transformations”? And which policy interventions support transitions?

Interview with Per Olsson by Eric Paglia at Think Globally Radio. What is a “transformation” in a social-ecological system? How is it different from “transition management” approaches? And how can transformations be supported?