Resilience 2011 --  Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability:  Navigating the Complexities of Global Change -- Second International Science and Policy Conference -- March 11-16, 2011

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.

Introduction by Per Olsson

In relation to global crises, what types of solutions are out there?


1. Social Disasters and Barriers to Transformation - Frances Westley

2. Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change - Sander van der Leeuw

3. Governance, Pathways and the Transformation of Global Agri-Food Systems - John Thompson

Speaker absent because in Pakistan


[1. Social Disasters and Barriers to Transformation - Frances Westley]

Broader impact on institutions

Will focus on social disasters, based on conversations with Brian Walker at Ditchley Foundation

What governance mechanism dealing with crisis increase or decrease resilience?

  • Crisis as opportunity, can put a whole institution in place
  • However, more often than not, see deterioration
  • Dealing with aftermath of crisis, reduces general resilience
  • General resilience may nurture change

1. Paradox of time:

  • Time limitation on how quickly government institutions should respond
  • 3 day window
  • If can't get in and out in 3 days, then it's a bigger problem, and are better off getting out
  • Aid organizations measure what they can do, e.g. # of beds they can bring in, amount of water -- working with checklist, so they feel accountable
  • Murphy Waterbed syndrome:  pressing down there, and then the problem goes somewhere else, e.g. New Orleans sent people out, but then didn't deal with them

In Canada, presented this:  discussed Haiti, admitted organizations there, showed checklists, yet knew that it didn't solve the problem

  • Associated Press article on the aftermath of Haiti, they had only spent 1/3 of the funds available, because they could only give money to local organizations that were sustainable, but local organizations had already depleted funds and were therefore not sustainable

2. Paradox of governing change and crisis:

  • Know best solutions emerge locally
  • But then central governments can't respond and adjust
  • Almdeon (2006), refugee camps in Eritrea, problems working with women, discovered they didn't have words for post-traumatic stress, closest as absence of soul because couldn't tell story, a major source of coherence
  • Inherent properties of resilience at the local level, that are hard to recognize at a higher level

SARS in Toronto:

  • Post-traumatic nurses, lockdown
  • David Butler-Jones:  Some hospital responded differently, coincident with another study as magnet hospitals with long time retention in nurses

3. Paradox of accountability

  • While learning is vital for resilience, there's a need to apportion blame, which works against resilience

Resilience in organizations are built with characteristics

  • Consultation across level
  • Social justice
  • Decentralized decision-making and self-governance
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Avoiding blame and emphasizing learning

Discussion with Charles Edwards, Demos, Resilient Nation, on which communities respond to crisis better than outers

  • Engagement
  • Education / learning with a lot of rehearsals
  • Empowerment, encouraging a capacity for action
  • Encouragement to avoid blame and emphasize learning

If have a culture of resilience then have a culture of continuous innovation, allowing novelty to enter

  • If not, then will reduce general resilience

General resilience

  • Need to understand sources at multiple levels


Start with shock

  • Shocks can be opportunities, or start degradation
  • Can cultivate general resilience, e.g. scenario planning as a rehearsal exercise
  • Could have people who think they're ready but they're not


[2. Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change - Sander van der Leeuw]

Thinking that we can only be sustainability with innovation, but have thousands of years of innovation

What's different between then and now?

  • Used to have change every day, and not stability

So, today, we see stability as normal, and instability as abnormal

We don't know about sustainability, and we don't know about innovation

  • Don't understand the dynamic of innovation, as reductionist science has argued the creativity is out of bounds

Argue that we do live in a complex adaptive system

Also, every society is an information society

  • Held together by information processing
  • Information is the only thing we can share, and it holds the society together
  • Human societies learn, spread innovation, to harness energy
  • Human being needs about 100 watts to survive, yet everyone uses 10,000 watts, the rest going into infrastructure

Cognitive capacity is limited

  • Short term working memory limited to 6 +- 2
  • Thus, ideas are under-determined by our observations
  • Why is it so difficult to think about the future?
  • Reductionist scientific approach, we always look at causalities, explaining the present from the past, and leaving off the future
  • Reductionism has fragmented us, focused us on the origins rather than the emergence
  • Limitation to cognitive capacity means have created societies where we bring large number of people together, shifting from working on the environment to dealing with internal issues in society, avoiding societal conflict
  • Actions lead to unintended consequences, based on a reduced perspective taking away 6 to 8 dimensions
  • We trigger in the infinite number of dimensions, more unintended consequences
  • Unintended consequences will grow exponentially, as solutions grow geometrically

This transforms all crises into a single crisis of information processing

  • Structures that don't process information, but instead impose schemas
  • Panic football:  do what we can at the moment, without thinking about it
  • Shifts the risk spectrum from known short-term risks to unknown long-term risks that we don't know when will hit us:  time bombs
  • Human beings use to have an escape, moving somewhere else; which we can't do that

Differentiate between innovation and invention

  • Until 1800, most innovation was demand-driven
  • e.g. iron invented 1000 years before it was used
  • Now, innovation is supply-driven:  invention taken to a corporation that pushes it down our throats
  • We're innovation-dependent, more and faster creation of more inventions, so innovation increases exponentially

Since innovation has happened since the 17th century, it's a Ponzi scheme, where we invest in innovation from its own sake

  • Huge waste in innovation
  • Thus, an urgent task: a better understanding of innovation itself; and a better understanding of action associated
  • e.g. can't just say we'll go for alternative energies

Society hasn't come to grips with this

  • Why have we developed a posterior perspective on innovation?
  • Sustainability defines the future in terms of the past -- what they don't like about the past, or what they would like to see in the future
  • No debate on vision that would allow us to go steps backward, to create a roadmap to attain that

Need an emergence perspective on innovation

  • Need an ex ante perspective on sustainability
  • Need to discuss choices that we haven't made

What needs to happen:  challenges

  • 1. Ideas are under-determined by information
  • We can reconceptualize with massive information processing
  • Integration, high performance, and need to build in society a way to integrate with what the society is about
  • 2. Need to use computers differently, instead of analytically to reduce dimension, need to increase dimensions
  • Small beginnings in mathematics, and other domains
  • New software, new mathematics, new ontologies
  • 3. Link between computing domain, and what we do in society: emergence by design
  • Reverse of top-down or bottom-up, need to bring them up
  • Get a sense of what is more matchable from the top
  • Rather than blank engineering
  • 4. Need to seriously look at unintended consequences, actions that we take
  • Develop new models
  • New math:  Belknap approach
  • Get to know uncertainties better


Sustainability as emergent rather than ex ante, takes us away from agent-based modelling towards participatory approaches

  • Yes
  • For both sustainability and innovation, need to use both
  • Difficulty, if see sustainability as purely emergent, it's hard to define, related to the open-endedness of how we live with society

ICT to increase number of transactions, will require an expansion of information.  How do we increase the cognitive capacity?

  • Archeaological example:  people who lived the hardest circumstances never encountered a famine
  • People in inland were moving all of the time, aware of limits of the environment, never getting so involved in an extraction strategy that would overwhelm the capacity
  • Colleague saying that a person will live 150 years, working on a closer connection between human beings and computers, extending cognitive capacity

[3. Governance, Pathways and the Transformation of Global Agri-Food Systems - John Thompson]

Will look at politics of innovation, in food and agricultural systems and change

STEPS centre, funded by UK government, works on technological and innovation pathways

  • Science and technologies studies with development studies in agriculture

Agricultural science and technology

  • Notions on progress seen as quite linear
  • A race to advance science and technology in the sector
  • No politics at play
  • Singular pathway determined by science
  • Government say pro-innovation, pro-technology, pro-science, without saying options available, and asking why we're making those choices
  • Dissent/criticism is seen as anti-technology, anti-innovation

Missing economics of direction

  • Vector, not scalar
  • Direction, as well as magnitude
  • No single way forward towards an optimal future

There are historic branches, but are then locked in, e.g. QWERTY, Windows

  • Societies are closing down directions of change
  • Harmonization, standardization, to focus on big hits

Across domains, future innovations pathways could be multiple

  • e.g. seeds as commercial, public open source, participatory, or farmer-led

How to define pathways, and how that shapes trajectories

Framing matters

  • Narratives reflect perspectives and priorities
  • Competing framing/narratives are linked to particular actors, networks and interest
  • Some more power and influence than others, suppressing other pathways

e.g. the food system in a context, and how it is described, determined by a framing

  • Avian flu as global security threat
  • etc.

Also less powerful voices:

  • Avian flu as a local livelihood problem
  • Biofuels as carbon intensive
  • etc.
  • Drought-resistant maize as a lock-in

Maize innovation pathways

Framing resilience at different scales

  • Resilience at the level of the seed:
    • x
  • drought-tolerant higher varieties
  • local
  • Farming system
    • Intensification
    • High input / low-input
  • Livelihood system
    • Diversification
    • On farm, off farm
  • National food system

Maize politics, rather than food security politics

  • Focus on delivering more varieties of maize, that enables growing maize in even more marginal environments, more sensitive to shock
  • Locks into maize
  • Why maize, and not something else?

Competing narratives:

  • 1. Innovation at scale
  • 2. Food insecurities require a local view

From country context to the global food crisis, as portray since 2007-2008

  • Two big food shocks, people in malnutrition
  • Argue have to get to grips with this now, because demands for water and energy, as we see more climate change
  • Estimate need to increase food 50% by 2030; water increased demand 30%; energy increase by 50%

John Beddington says it's a perfect storm

  • Expect major destabilization
  • This thinking contributes to a report by the UK government within the last month

Framing: does this crisis narrative help or hinder policy action

  • What policy action is needed?

Shocks have put agriculture back on the international agenda

  • World Bank first report in 25 years on agriculture
  • G20 meeting later this year in France, focus on agriculture

It's a good thing

  • Millenium Development goals
  • New policy statements
  • New initaitives
  • Emerging global agenda:  reform of trade rules, global public goods, ecological services

Lost in all of the above is governance

  • Don't have answers, everything is in flux
  • EU CAP is under comprehensive review
  • U.S. government wants liberalization under Doha
  • Some scientists want to move up to high science, while others want agriculture for development
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pushing silver bullet approaches, but now backing off

Global food security crisis

  • UN High Level Task Force
  • G8 response, then G20 to make $20B money available to countries, through World Bank, although only $350M committed so far
  • Small countries like one member one vote, can influence agenda
  • World Bank Global Ag and Food Security Program is driven by donors

Two dominant narratives driving ag policy:

  • 1. Food production and innovation narrative
  • 2. Growth-efficiency narrative

1960s Red Revolution versus 2010 Perfect Storms

Government intervening in food markets to bring down temperatures of people who will riot

Scientific legitimacy rhough different sources

If we look at Millenium Development Goals

  • #1 sees as low productivity --> new technology andinnovation
  • #2 sees as low growth --> trade reform and market liberalization
  • Both assume an outcome of improved food and nutritional security for poorer countries, but it isn't so
  • Scarcity as a political strategy
  • Scarcity isn't a natural condition, it's socially constructed
  • Need a shift from scarcity

Alternative narratives:

  • 1. Agroecological narrative
  • 2. Participatory narrative

3D agenda

  • Directionality: towards objectives
  • Distribution: benefits, costs and risk
  • Diversity: mitigation of lock-in

[Questions for John]

Implementation of innovations instead of leading to resilience, leading to collapse

  • Yes, technological lock-in
  • Need multiple innovation pathways

Fossil fuels as not naturally scarce?  Peak oil

  • The ways we're using them is unsustainable
  • Overconsumption problem:  it's not how much is in the ground, it's how we're using it

[Questions to the panel]

Tension between directionality and diversity?

  • Level of skill in processes that we're not trained to do
  • Diversity can create divergence, then hard to integrate, it's a hard skill that we need
  • We need new information processing skills, with a capacity to increase diversity
  • Opposition between adaptability and durability:  cut off more in the long term

Information processing ability:

  • Over x centuries, have hugely expanded possibility space, problem space, and information space:  a surface volume problem
  • As expand, the unknown becomes bigger
  • Need to find a way to live with that tension
  • Limited dimensions, with growing population, increases information cost exponentially
  • Unsustainability of investment
  • Where do we say that we won't go down a path-dependent path, and will go a different way
  • Now, a handful of corporations predict our choices
  • Information versus meaning, in cultures:  meaning-generations, as good conversations on what to do, why to do it
  • Information a fast horse, meaning is a slow horse
  • Need to develop meaning-generating skills

How to move the blame game, stopping initiating change out of scarcity and fear.  How to engender those shifts in beliefs and culture.

  • Ditchley meeting, Gerry Adams:  at some points, decided that peace was more important than justice

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2011/03/13 15:45 Panel on "Crossing the chasm: crisis, opportunity, and transformation ", Resilience 2011, Arizona State University