Here is a post that I thought might illuminate a connection between system research (in this case ecological systems) and foresight development (in this case alternative futures or scenarios):
Jim Dator's discussion of generic alternative futures in his paper sparked a connection to an independent study I did in relation to ecological resilience metaphors for social systems. See below to the reference to Jim Dator's paper (Head of Future Studies at the Manoa School) and C.S. "Buzz" Holling paper (The originator of the term 'ecological resilience'). As an emeritus professor Holling has been working on linking the principals of ecological resilience to social-ecological systems. He helped form the Resilience Alliance and works very closely with the Stockhom Resilience Centre. In 2001 he came up with a heuristic for observed ecological and social system cycles called 'adaptive cycles'. The paper I reference at the end of the post describes adaptive cycles and the hierarchy of these nested cycles which he has termed a "Panarchy". Jim Dator is the director of the Hawaii Research Centre for Future Studies and was Secretary General/President of the World Futures Studies Federation (1983-1993). Through his 50 plus years of studying foresight he has noticed reoccurring themes and framing of scenarios and describes them in the paper cited at the end of my post.
I see a connection in Holling's description of the stages of an 'adaptive cycle' and the description of the four generic scenarios Dator identifies:
- The "Continued growth" alternative future seems to resemble the 'K' or "Conservation" stage of the adaptive cycle. This is a generic stage in a system where there is a continued accumulation of resources, there is a relative rigidity in the system because of build up of capital either natural or economic, it is also the least resilient stage of the cycle. There is even what Holling calls a Maladaptive state where system maintains this stage indefinitely; he terms it the "rigidity trap", as a reference he uses an example of systems with strong top down hierarchies.
- The "Collapse" alternative future seems to resemble the "omega" or "Release" stage of the cycle. It is a stage where some cascading event, or stochastic event has occurred where the capital and potential resources are released from the "conservation stage". Holling uses a term "creative destruction" as a description because at the same time as there is a collapse opportunities are opening up for system change, which leads into the next stage.
- The "Discipline" alternative future resembles the "alpha" or "reorganization" stage. This is where the system reorganizes itself due to the change in resources. This one is a bit of a leap but after a crises often groups reorganize to become more resilient during periods of growth, Japan comes to mind.
- The "Transformation" alternative future resembles the "r" or exploitation stage. This is where new innovations are tested out in a competitive environment. Pilots are created and destroyed, eventually an actor or set of actors are able to collect the resources within the system leading back into the conservation stage. New transformative technology such as biotech, nano technology, the singularity may lead to new and disruptive ways to exploit resources. This is a bit of a weak connect admittedly.
Anyways,it is an interesting connection. Dator's alternative scenarios might match up with Holling's way of describing a heuristic he found in his ecological research and how he is trying to relate to relationships observed social-ecological systems. Not sure about application to foresight yet but there might be some value in looking at the four distinct generic scenarios as part of different stages of a cycle that has been observed in ecological systems as well, as Holling refers to in the paper, cycles of civilizations.
Dator, J. (2009). Alternative Futures at the Manoa School. Journal of Future Studies, 14(2), 1-18.
Holling, C. S. (2001). Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems. Ecosystems, 4, 390-405.