Resilience - System of Interest

Once we have established a System of Interest, before we pursue field research it would be helpful to assess its resilience. Such an evaluation could be used to inform our expectations and priority setting. What tools and techniques are at our disposal to guide us as we move forward?

Maybe your question, @engdan, is triggered by my lectures where I say that I generally don’t advise trying to change systems that are at high ecological resilience, i.e. in the phase of the adaptive cycle where connectedness is high and potential is high. This conservation phase is when the ecosystem is in its prime.

So, if we were to want to “help” a system, the more obvious places to do it would be in …

  • the K-to-omega release phase (i.e. the potential energy is getting eaten up, so connectedness could be reduced – dis-integrated!);
  • the omega-to-alpha reorganization phase (i.e. the potential is high, but order is low with parts uncoupled and ready to be reassembled); or
  • the r-to-K exploitation phase (i.e. the parts are becoming integrated, and excess potential is created through positive synergy).

However, we need to recognize when a system is in:

  • a rigidity trap where other systems of influence are supplementing the resources of system of interest so that it survives; or
  • a poverty trap where providing resources doesn’t enable long-term investment, only immediate survival (e.g. eating our seed corn).

We won’t be able to help if the system is in the process of collapse. In a definition by Joseph Tainter,

A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity.

During the collapse, the system would be in the K-to-omega release phase, so the best we might do is to speed up the collapse, rather than to have it continue as a zombie. The would move the system into the omega-to-alpha reorganization phase.

A good prospect for field research is a system that is dysfunctional. The question is whether it’s mildly dysfunctional so that the system still satisfies a reason-for-being. When the system is completely dysfunctional, then it may start to impact other systems who rely on it.

The theory associated with collapse says that the loss of complexity is rapid. If a complete ecosystem is affected, then we’re looking at a regime shift.

There is work on early warning signals of regime shifts, but the problem is discerning a perturbation from which the system will recover, as opposed to the major regime shift where the ecosystem changes.

So, if we’re really to look at ecosystem resilience, we’re not just looking at the system of interest, we would also have to take into account the systems of influence with which it interacts. If the systems of influence are tightly coupled with the system of interest, the prospects are either thriving together or dying together.

The question is whether, instead of increasing the possibility of collapse, we could find a prosperous way down, as proposed by Howard T. Odum. This would happen with the conservation phase is when the ecosystem is in its prime. Instead of continually looking to increase efficiency, the system leaders would be sufficiently forward-looking to accept lower efficiency in favour of sustainability, by decoupling the system.

Bad prospects are those systems that can’t see beyond the immediate. A good prospect might be described as an ambidextrous organization (as originally seen by James March), where there’s excess resources from current operations (exploitation) to be reinvested in potential risky ventures into the future (exploration). This would require both individual leaders and the organization as a whole be able to tolerate the opposable mind, as Roger Martin suggests.

The tenor of the question and the “several phases” of resilience … enplacement/achievement of “resilience” – functional viable range of “resilience” activities – disintegration of the “resilience” (self maintenance capabilities within environmental factors) … is going to be very specifically different for every alternative “system of interest”.

It is going to be different for atoms – stripped of shell electrons or nuclei destabalized by blasts of neutrons. Versus cosmic masses like moons … where the gravity field of a large central center of mass planet or sun … cuts across the gravity cohesion of a ‘moon or orbiting body’ … defeating -it’s- ability to remain resiliently accreted. Versus a corporation destructured by … (eg) external loss of revenues holding the production company operations together --or-- an internal vote of it’s governing board to dismantle the company~corporation.

Listing out all the isomorphically similar situationally distinct events relevant to different “systems of interest” … is to MISS … the recognition of the universal relations that template across ALL SYSTEMS.

Here are some readings to consider:

JNR 06/11/2020

Suffix remark: David’s “Phases” are excellent and essentially spot-on. My version of ‘phases’ is just that – an alternative wording/depiction. NOT a challenge or argument. My choice to use the term ‘integrity’ (in those linked readings) … tried to capture ‘resilience’, “autopoeisis”, and similar notions … and applications among systems. My diagram in my writings include David’s specific phases … where I refer to them, but never did detail them the way he went into doing. JNR

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