Sunday, July 6, 2014

Meadows, 2008, Thinking in Systems (epistemology)

Donella Meadows, famous for the pioneering work in the 1970s on “limits to growth” produced most of this little primer before her death, and it was published posthumously.  I used world systems perspective (Wallerstein) in my doctoral thesis, but this is going back to basics and is a good antidote to linear social-science thinking about dependent and independent variables. The ‘systems lens‘  is basically about inputs and outputs, stocks and flows. The ‘systems zoo’ recounts a number of different types of systems succinctly and effectively. Systems work well because they can achieve equilibrium through feedback mechanisms, but they can surprise us because of delays in adjustment, particularly of stocks and flows. Systems traps include policy resistance, the tragedy of the commons, the drift to low performance, success to the successful, shifting the burden to the intervenor, and rule beating. The section on leverage points and interventions is a good place to start with policy prescriptions, and links nicely to some of the ideas in Pawson (2006).  
David Last, 7 August 2013

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