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Soft Systems: an Interdisciplinary Method Dr Karen Bowler Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences.

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Presentation on theme: "Soft Systems: an Interdisciplinary Method Dr Karen Bowler Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences."— Presentation transcript:

1 Soft Systems: an Interdisciplinary Method Dr Karen Bowler Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences

2 The Irish Sea: a socio-ecological system Marine management Sustainability : Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generation s to meet their own needs. Brundtland 1987 Ecosystem wellbeing fundamental Humans are part of the ecosystem.

3 The Problem – Why is marine conservation failing to deliver? D-P-S-I-R Science-policy gap Barriers to change ESRC/NERC Multiple disciplines involved Which methods? Ecosystem PRESSURES Environmental STATE CHANGES Societal DRIVERS Societal RESPONSES IMPACTS on Society

4 Disciplines INTERDISCIPLINARITY Disciplinary silos Civil society Academia Sage on stage After Brand, R & Karvonen A, 2007

5 Soft systems Why use soft systems? Current focus – marine science and human activities framed exclusively within the scientific paradigm. These approaches therefore necessarily fail to consider the ultimate, societal, causes of environmental degradation. Advantages: messy situations soft/multiple problem definitions Context sensitive Include many kinds of information Clarify assumptions, values, purpose Critical system for action (Ulrich, W)

6 Soft systems What is a system? A Holon -Greater than sum of parts Structured by its components, interactions and feedbacks Persistent in face of change What are Soft Systems? A thinking tool, a sense-making approach (Checkland P, 1981) A process of enquiry using systems tools and thinking holons developed to structure debate, compare with real world, consider changes Can be issue-based or task-based (O.R.) Ideally – with multiple stakeholders Iterative learning cycle

7 Ongoing evaluation Take Action Interpretation of results Model analyses Model development Screening - system boundaries probs/opps Scoping - Explore the context START Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 7 Step 6 7-step method – iterative, refined, results of several cycles After Checkland, 1981

8 Context – Rich Pictures

9 Problems/Opportunities: A Mess Marine environmental damage/degradation Scientific uncertainty Multiple legislatory challenges: Marine Protected Areas, shipping, fishing, tourism, conservation, Conflicting interests: high population, high consumption levels, energy demands, economic competitiveness, global links Sustainability – economic? social? Root Definition: Transformation of a non-sustainable Irish Sea into a sustainable Irish Sea?

10 Scale, Boundaries,

11 Multiple-cause diagram 1

12 Multiple-cause diagram 2

13 Influence diagram

14 Critical System Critical components identified: Causes: Failures in Legislation, Management, Modelling, Technology use Influences: Feedback loops Economic growth-energy-trade Externalities-short-termism-Overshoot Critical areas for action e. g. Strengthen weakly interacting feedback at long-term interests

15 Wider discussion The Irish Sea itself does not comprise a holon. Scientifically defined ecosystem Politically divided Statistical data at national level Subject to multiple influences from system environment A sustainable Irish Sea is a long way from reality.

16 Conclusions Soft systems methods provide a key link in developing our understanding of complex, trans-disciplinary issues. They: Extend understanding to multiple, underlying causes eg advertising, outside usual consideration Construct a holistic picture of context and interrelationships which influence (non)-sustainability As a learning cycle, could offer much more if practiced on the ground in stakeholder fora.

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18 Natural Sciences WHAT HAPPENS Social Sciences WHY IT HAPPENS PRESSURES STATE CHANGES DRIVERS RESPONSES IMPACTS Needs Wants Feelings Power Beliefs, Values Quantity Speed Volume Area Size DPSIR and Data

19 Natural Sciences Value Neutral Social Sciences Value Pluralism PRESSURES STATE CHAGES DRIVERS RESPONSES IMPACTS Relationships Context Process Pattern More Data Reduce uncertainty Consensus Empathy Respect Commitment, Vision DPSIR and Epistemologies Rational Non-Rational

20 Current basis for marine sustainability …based on sound science – as opposed to unsound science Oceanography Biology Ecology Fisheries Science Resource management Conservation of habitats and species Chemistry

21 Extended basis for marine sustainability …based on sound science – but only as a basis – cultural values Oceanography Biology Ecology Fisheries Science Resource management Conservation of habitats and species Chemistry Scientific Basis Context, advertising, global economy, unequal distribution of benefits, trade-offs, advertising, short term benefit v ultimate aims,. Where are we really going? Is it good or bad – beyond science


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