Understandings and practices for a complex, coevolutionary systems approach

Ison, Ray (2008). Understandings and practices for a complex, coevolutionary systems approach. In: Proc. International Symposium: Selected Topics on Complex Systems engineering applied to Sustainable Animal Production., 29-31 Oct 2008, Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Morelia, in Morelia Michoacán, Mexico.


Based on an understanding that a co-evolutionary systems approach relies on the conservation of the structural coupling of human beings with the biophysical world, with each other and with other species, this paper describes four practices that researchers could employ if they wished to develop a systemic, co-evolutionary praxis (theory informed practical action): (i) rapid, multi-perspective appraisal; (ii) metaphorical inquiry (iii) social learning and (iv) systemic inquiry (an approach currently being researched as an antidote to living and operating in a projectified world). The understandings on which each of the practices is built is explored.

Rapid, multi-perspective appraisal has been developed in a series of research and consultancy settings over 20 years. It is based on the assumption that when engaging with complex situations individuals only ever develop a partial appreciation (because of their traditions of understandings and the boundary judgements that are made). This practice can be used to better formulate research questions, research design, stakeholder engagement and for systemic staff induction. Metaphorical inquiry has been developed based on the understanding that human beings live in language and that all language is metaphorical. Social learning is a new paradigm for natural resources management which moves beyond information provision, consultation and stakeholder participation to address the systemic complexity associated with multiple stakeholders attempting to transform their situations. The understandings on which these practices are built have profound implications for the practices of animal scientists as we face an uncertain future under the combined influences of human induced climate change, population growth, peak oil and ecosystem collapse.

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