A cybersystemic framework for practical action

Ison, Raymond (2012). A cybersystemic framework for practical action. In: Murray, Joy; Cawthorne, Glenn; Dey, Christopher and Andrew, Chris eds. Enough for All Forever. A Handbook for Learning about Sustainability. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing, pp. 269–284.

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This chapter frames the issue of concern not as a problem of the socalled natural world but as an issue which at its core is to do with how we humans think and then act in relation to: (i) the biophysical world, (ii) other species and (iii) other human beings. In many ways we are in a trap of our own making. Breaking out of this trap requires ingenuity – the invention of new ways of thinking and acting as well as looking at what has been done in the past that could be mainstreamed in ways that help us now. So, when we look around us what different ways of thinking and acting could be helpful? And how do humans change their ways of thinking and acting? As a response to these questions this chapter argues that development of our capabilities to think and act systemically is an urgent priority. Systems thinking and practice are not new but individually and socially our capability to do it is very limited. Unfortunately these are not abilities developed universally through schooling, at university or in the workforce.

The rise of specialised subject-matter disciplines, the focus on science and technology at the expense of praxis (theory informed practical action) and reductionist research approaches have driven the intellectual and practical fields of Systems and Cybernetics, forms of trans-disciplinary or ‘meta’ thinking, from the curriculum. Consequently, current generations of students are rarely exposed to what I call cybersystemic ways of thinking and acting. As a result there is limited familiarity with the language and concepts of cybersystemics. For this reason readers are encouraged to actively explore the range of cybersystemic terms and ideas that can be found on some key web pages (see suggested actions at the end of the chapter).

In this chapter some of the history of cybersystemic thinking is introduced. The concept of a structurally coupled socio-biophysical system is then introduced as a way to think about, and act, in regard to the on-going relationship between humans and the biosphere. Practical examples from the governance of watersheds or river catchments and the invention of ecosystems service institutions are provided.

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