Complexity Mapping and Visualization

Danny Burns and Conflict Map

The analysis of a problem begins with the ability to see it, understand it, and be able to communicate that understanding to others.  Often, this begins by being able to formulate diverse data in a coherent way.  This theme will show how different methods can be used to generate visual representations of complex situations.  These methods are story telling in a visual way and provide a richer way (qualitatively different, more complete and helpful) to grapple effectively with complexity and complex systems that can be more comprehensive, clarify interconnections and patterns and show the dynamism of the system possibly suggesting helpful interventions.

Resonance – Identification and Utilization

shutterstock water ripples_18248563

This process typically involves identifying, fostering and marshaling motivation and energy in networks of people in service of change. It may spring from a variety of sources including from an increased awareness of basic human needs or injustice, from the emergence of crises and opportunities, from top-down, middle-out or bottom-up leadership and mobilization, or from external actors or events. Resonance also can be mercurial; ebbing and flowing and taking different forms at different stages of systemic change. Ultimately, resonance is the energy necessary to drive systemic change. (Image by jitze)

Institutionalization of DST Attitudes, Behaviors and Structures

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In order to make sustainable change in complex social systems, it is necessary for people to work together as teams, organizations, and networks of organizations. However, many of the traditional ways organizations are structured and run are founded on more linear approaches that make it very difficult for these organizations to support non-linear, complex, and systemic efforts. This creates a dual challenge to a systems practitioner – both how to grapple with the complexity “out there” (in the social contexts in which they work) and to grapple with the complexity “in here” (in the complex organizations they work within). This thematic strand looks at good practice in the area of building organizations that can operate in non-linear and systemic ways.  What are the needed attitudinal, structural, and transactional/behavioral qualities of a “systems-enabled” organization and how can we transition more linear organizations into ones that think and act in non-linear/systemic ways?

Learning and Non-Linear Impact Assessment


Learning and non-linear impact assessment is a fundamental issue to be addressed in the implementation of innovation that employs dynamical systems theory (DST). Complex social and social-ecological systems change in non-linear and unpredictable ways, and the knowledge about their dynamics and how to best affect outcomes emerges over time. All too often, monitoring and evaluation is based on pre-determined indicators (typically output metrics) that serve only to measure attainment of and/or compliance with project goals but provide little value for learning about the workings of the system in a way that can facilitate understanding of the effects of the work on the system and inform adaptive management to improve outcomes.

Complex Social Problems

“Conflict is not the only way humans interact, after all, and the conflicts that define human interactions would seem to have little in common with things like weather patterns, landslides, or bacterial growth. But as we shall see, science in recent years has exposed a set of basic operating rules that connect processes of all kinds in physical and social reality. This synthetic view is more than an abstraction; to the contrary, breakthroughs in mathematics, empirical methodology, and computer simulations have enabled scientists to identify the ways in which common processes and properties are manifest in very different phenomena. Our aim is to describe this new perspective and shine its concepts, methods, and tools on the recurrent and all-important issue of conflict in interpersonal, intergroup, and international relations.”

From Attracted to Conflict: The Dynamic Foundations of Malignant Social Relations (2013). For more information click here.

Emerging Challenges

Honduras (UN Photo by Steen Johansen)

“The rate of negotiated peace relapsing into violence shows that the international community is better at stopping violence than building or consolidating peace… the problem is that peacebuilders need the tools to create synergy among their programs in order to make their collective impact much greater than the sum of their individual projects.”

– Dr. Rob Ricigliano, Director of the Institute of World Affairs

From Making Peace Last (2012). For more information click here.

Identifying Attractors of Intractability

Double_scroll_attractor_from_Matlab_simulation“There is much more than meets the eye. We are learning that human psychological and group processes -how people feel, think, and behave together in the midst of intractable conflicts- resemble the way complex systems throughout the universe behave. Based on decades of scientific research on complex systems, it has become possible to model the way these conflicts develop strong patterns, stabilize, and resist change. Most important to understanding these patterns is a phenomenon called attractors, organized patterns in the behavior of systems that emerge, endure, and of course attract.”

From The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Intractable Conflicts (pp. 8). For more information, click here.