The Change is there. It started about five years ago. Sustainable policies are mainstream now. Mainstream for governments (as well national, regional as local), companies, schools and individuals. We do not need to argue anymore except with some of the cynicists. I suggest that we stop that discussion. It take to much energy. Energy is something to handle with care: waste is a waste of time and more.
Now sustainability is mainstream in many forms: climate policies, environmental activities, energy supply and materials/resource management. It brings shift in thinking and even new paradigms start to get reality. This is what we identify as systems innovations. These are far more important for change then technological innovations. Let me get in to systemsthinking a bit more.
Working on energy efficiency in a neighborhood renovation does not improve the social insecurity. It is a single-issue approach. Sustainable development is always multi-issue oriented, which means that we should look at the whole. Partial solutions lead to ‘patchy’ work. Crucial for creating a real “leap” towards sustainable development is a complete system approach. This, however, is like entering a world of abstract science, which makes it far from easier.
Systems come in various sizes and types. Mainly there are two distinct approaches. First the system thinkers who assume a mechanical approach to reality which is led by generally accepted principles or laws. A system exists in this perspective of a complex set of elements, each ‘doing what they should do. We might be able to create an app that counts the results of interventions in a mechanical result. See for instance the game ‘Alchemy‘ for your Iphone or Android. But there are systems thinkers who rely on a dynamic approach. Here we have the vision of modern science, with the central element is the idea that multiple systems or domains intersect. Establish relationships based on intuition is a basic. A real leap to sustainability is aimed at breaking the existing standards and develop new ideas. In addition, both systems concepts – mechanical and dynamic – a role. Some fundamentals for systemsapproach on sustaining your city, area or street:
Rest and unrest
Every system has elements that are related to each other. Fortunately, there are a number of generic processes to be appointed, who can bring order into this chaos. So each system has its own dynamics. This applies to a postwar neighborhood but also a network of professionals. In all cases it is useful to examine the dynamic system and see what is peculiar. Dynamics can be identified and even more we can make a distinction between the ‘natural dynamics’ of a system and the ‘external dynamics’. Then you might see what type of intervention that requires. Be attentive to see what’s reenforcing the natural dynamics and what you do as ‘external added dynamics’. These should be handled with care as we can learn from nature. This involves the added external dynamics, such as a higher authority or an interest group. Rest is a relative term in this perspective, it represents the absence of external interventions. Unrest represents the externally added dynamics that leads to disruption, or at least flattening: disruptive change.
Systems thinking seems complicated, but this is especially apparent. Philosopher Edward de Bono made it clear with his suggestion to our main questions to be converted from ‘what is this’ to where does this lead to or what new value is created’. This puts the system -de Bono- thinking immediately in the position where the most used value: the practice. From the principle that sustainable development must be seen primarily in the context of human added dynamics, it is possible to achieve a practical tool with principles for a system-oriented sustainable development. “Where does this lead?“, The key question of Bono, can be directly linked to the interests of sustainable development, as well in ecological, economic and social sense.
Suggestions for control
Any intervention in a system leads to change. Sustainable development therefore means the careful handling systems. To control has three basic rules of interest:
1. Provide rest in methodology
Interventions are a disturbance of the existing order. Sometimes it is necessary within a system ‘to shake the cushions’. Proper dosing is important and also is connecting with the players in the system necessary.
2. Border based
Transitions, borders or gradients bring differences with them. This applies to the sloping shore along the city water, but also for the fringes of a neighborhood. That is, in any recognizable system. Hard transitions lead to “collisions”. Soft limits offer opportunities for different development. Boundaries bring diversity. Not only to the development of diversity, but also to transitions in interests, and lifestyles (social and ecological) networks. When managing transitions is important to have an open eye for developments along the borders of its own domain.
3. Construction takes time, degradation can be in the ‘blink of an eye’
In every system is a development to recognized. Before any intervention is undertaken leading to degradation of components, a reflection on the added value is needed. Structure requires careful control, degradation is a relatively “dumb” instrument. With small steps you will eventually accomplished a lot.
Through these basic rules in the work of a practical application one can start operating in a system approach. Partly as a methodological framework and partly as a way of looking at ‘the system’ in which you work. The urban renewal (post war dwellings) is an example where systems thinking has added value. Systems thinking seems to be a powerful leverage for sustainable development a step.