Friday, February 8, 2008

A little redundant, but what the hell...

Pursuing this path to integrate systems thinking and patterns I have been thinking about combining the basic principles of both. First, I was considering the utility of system dynamics modeling as the quantitative process for investigating social and environmental processes connected with emergent energy production.

Some of these energy alternatives or supplements could be biodiesel and ethanol produced from agricultural goods or from forest products. Another thought I had was the use of waste materials such as trash compressed in land-fills to produce methane for use in natural gas based combustion engines. The idea of systems modeling could provide an easy way to numerically understand the nature of "flows" into and out of the "stocks" of an energy system, as well as the potential effects upon the environmental systems that these fuels are supposed to protect.

However, modeling these flows in and out of the system is only a part of the equation when we are dealing with energy production and consumption, especially when we consider the effects of an emergent agro-based energy economy. Once we enter into issues of social empowerment, equity and community-defined approaches to development the systems modeling approach is weakened as it fails to account for the numerous variables that are hard to quantify within a system. In these situations we must move to another approach that can help us understand the other variables within the system.

It is my feeling that patterns as an approach to analyzing the qualitative elements of a system are to be the most useful in providing managers, community development officers and socially oriented NGOs with another set of effective tools necessary in decision making, advocacy and policy development. First of all, patterns present a model for looking at the central elements effecting a system. This I have termed the “problem space” this problem space helps us to understand and visualize the various interactions between forces within a system that effect communities abilities to promote or pursue their development programs and policies. These forces can be described as myriad of elements, but some common forces that undermine development have to do with structural hindrances within the political system, problems with education and literacy levels, access to resources such as technologies, low-levels of social capital or minimal accumulation of durable assets. While some of these can be quantified the purpose of understanding the interactions between forces does not necessitate a quantifiable model, instead we want to know the factors that generate the problem space.

Secondly, as patterns (that represent “ideal practices”) grow, the number of solutions to address various forces increases giving communities the ability to more effectively respond to these complex set of interacting forces. While these patterns are often abstracted ideas they do in many cases provide practical solutions to a number of the entrenched issues that commonly effect people and the communities they live within.

For instance, if one takes a look at the list of patterns cited below, you can see the basic problems, context or forces and the description of the solution to address the problem.

Citizen Science

Community Currencies

Grassroots Public Policy Development

Conversational Support Across Boundaries

Public Agenda

Appropriating Technology

Appreciative Collaboration

Labor Visions

This can provide a model for envisioning not only the use of an abstracted pattern, but communities can also co-construct the actual implementation of a pattern to address the specific environmental and social context that they face.

Together, systems modeling helps us understand the possible effects of certain policies upon the economic and environmental systems (again these are the elements we can easily quantify), whereas the pattern modeling approach helps us fill in the gaps that must address the social dimensions of pursuing and implementing such policies.

It is also possible that patterns could be devised regarding environmental mechanisms, as well, and these could be further analyzed through the systems modeling process.

A good reference for systems modeling is provided here (Check this book out!): Modeling the Environment: An Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling of Environmental Systems.

Note: I will be posting the basic method of defining a problem space and the development of a corresponding solution or pattern map as a response to the problem space. I hope that this rather simple process can help readers cut through some of the language that can be difficult to muddle through as people try to understand the elements of systems thinking and how it can be applied to problem solving at the community level. This will also help people see the basic model developed in my thesis, without having to read the thesis…

1 comment:

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