This is one of the last projects I worked on together with Ton Schouten, the late Rural Water Supply Network chair and dear colleague and friend. Just like the Seventh Video, it shows the heart and depth that went into everything that Ton did in the WASH sector.
How can the concept of learning in the rural water supply system in Uganda be conceptualized and modelled? This is the challenge I’ll be working on for the next 5 months at IRC. I’m a student at Delft University of Technology, following the master Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis, and Management. At my faculty, we learn to look at the intersections between technical systems and social systems and design for complex systems.
Complex vs. Complicated
Imagine a red car. Is this car complex or complicated? In common language, these words are often used interchangeably, but in the field of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) they represent different things. A red car is a complicated thing. It consists of thousands and thousands of little parts that are all in some way connected to each other in order for the car to move. Complicated.
Now imagine a person in the same red car in between hundreds of other cars. Complex or complicated? Right, complex. The person in the car has a destination, the person can be in a hurry, can be sad, tired, exhausted. The car next to it is similar: a person with a destination, a mood, and a route. All cars in traffic make decisions and the result of all these individual decisions and their interactions determine the outcome of the system: a flow of cars, a traffic jam, or even an accident.
Emergence in Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS)
Emergence is in my view the most interesting part of a CAS. Emergence is the phenomenon of interesting, non-obvious consequences of the interactions between things, in this case red cars, that make decisions. Take the traffic pattern occurring when cars decide to hit the brakes. Nothing special has to happen if one car decides to break. However, when there are many cars on the road that react on the action of that car then, minutes later, a traffic jam might emerge. The traffic jam, however, is not the result of the first car hitting the brakes. It is also caused by the next car hitting the brakes, and the next one, and every other interaction between all those cars on the road.
Observing the emergent properties of a system means observing the system as a whole. This is different to the more traditional perspective on systems thinking, where systems are decomposed and each part is analyzed in order to understand the working of a system. This would work very well in complicated systems. CAS theory tells us that you might lose very determining properties of a system when you decompose it. Back to the traffic example: decomposing the system to individual cars, for instance, makes it difficult to discover the cause of the traffic jam: cars that break in reaction to other cars breaking.
To provide the best experiences, we use technologies like cookies to store and/or access device information. Consenting to these technologies will allow us to process data such as browsing behavior or unique IDs on this site. Not consenting or withdrawing consent, may adversely affect certain features and functions.
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.