Feb
10

Reality Check–complex messy systems

Warning:  This post may contain information that is controversial .

Schools (local public schools) were closed (still are).

The University (which never closes) was closed for four days (now open).

The snow kept falling and falling and falling.  Snow in corvallis February 2014.jpg (Thank you Sandra Thiesen for the photo.)

Eighteen inches.  Then freezing rain.  It is a mess (although as I write this, the sun is shining, and it is 39F and supposed to get to 45F by this afternoon).

This is a complex messy system (thank you Dave Bella).  It isn’t getting better.  This is the second snow Corvallis has experienced in the same number of months, with increasing amounts.

It rains in the valley in Oregon; IT DOES NOT SNOW.

Another example of a complex messy system is what is happening in the UK

These are examples extreme events; examples of climate chaos.

Evaluating complex messy systems is not easy.  There are many parts.  If you hold constant one part, what happens to the others?  If you don’t hold constant one part, what happens to the rest of the system?.  Systems thinking and systems evaluation has come of age with the 21st century; there were always people who viewed the world as a system; one part linked to another, indivisible.  Soft systems theory dates back to at least von Bertalanffy who developed general systems theory and published the book by the same name in 1968general systems theory (ISBN 0-8076-0453-4).

One way to view systems is in this photo (compliments of Wikipedia) Systems_thinking_about_the_society.svg.

Evaluating systems is complicated and complex.

Bob Williams, along with Iraj Imam, edited the volume Systems Concepts in EvaluationSystems_Concepts in evaluation_pb (2007), and along with Richard Hummelbrunner,   wrote the volume Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit  systems concepts--tool kit (2010).  He is a leader in systems and evaluation.

These two books relate to my political statement at the beginning and complex messy systems.  According to Amazon, the second book “explores the application of systems ideas to investigate, evaluate, and intervene in complex and messy situations”.

If you think your program works in isolation, think again.  If you think your program doesn’t influence other programs, individuals, stakeholders, think again.  You work in a complex messy system. Because you work in a complex messy system, you might want to simplify the situation (I know I do); only you can’t.  You have to work within the system.

Might be worth while to get von Bertalanffy’s book; might be worth while to get Williams books; might be worth while to get  a copy of Gunderson and Holling book  Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature.panarchy

After all, nature is a complex messy system.

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