“The most important implication[s] of the complexity of social-environmental systems is that you can’t do just one thing (p 63) […and] fitting the pieces together..requires an ability to understand how changes in one..asset..are likely to interact with the other assets…Doing this perfectly is not within our reach. But the revolutionary advances of the last decades understanding the dynamics of social-environmental systems provide a solid foundation on which to do it better” (p 51), according to Stanford’s Professor Matson, Harvard’s Clark, and UC Boulder’s Andersson in their recent framing of the emerging science and practices of social-environmental system resilience, in their book Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice (2016 Princeton Univ Press).
To do more than “merely one thing” is to realize that everything is connected to something else, and that each of those “something elses” belongs to someone, someone who makes decisions about it. This level of understanding of how parts of the system interact, and how local decision structures influence them focuses on systemic decision structures.
While the complexity of dealing with many moving parts, which are each influenced by multiple, different stakeholders, can seem overwhelming at first glance, many of us in the fields of decision and systems sciences have spent many years finding efficient ways to integrate the best of human understanding and wisdom with robust technologies, increasing the strategic clarity a group of individuals can achieve together. You can find many examples of strategic systems mappings of large-scale, complex systemic decision structures (here), as well as examples of groups mapping the underlying systemic agreement structures that influence the decisions made in the system (here).
“Without an integrated appreciation and understanding of the social-environmental systems in which decisions are being made, unintended and negative consequences will too often result” (p 53).