Concepts for a New Generation of Global Modelling Tools: Expanding our Capacity for Perception

5. Features of the Proposed Global Modelling Tools

  • The User/Society as an Integral Part of the System The systems model consists of two components: an open simulation framework that represents the processes of the system to be managed with their context and the user/society that is the source of novelty or learning. Through interaction with the framework, the user/society explores the implications of decisions and changes in the environment. Exploration is a learning process that enables the user/society to increase his understanding of the system. In this way learning from experience can be incorporated into the framework.
  • The Concepts of System, Process, Dynamics A simulation framework is a representation of the processes that constitute a system. The system of concern for the issues of the problematique are human activities and the naturally occurring biological and geological processes that sustains human populations. A fundamental concept of systems theory is that (The concept of) “process is primary . . . every structure we observe is a manifestation of an underlying process”. [Capra, 1985]. ‘Process’ is a dynamic concept concerned with the transformation of input streams into output streams within an arbitrary system boundary. The properties of the system as whole, such as sustainability, emerge from the interactions among the constituent processes and are not simply the properties of the component parts. The representation of time structure is essential. Interactions among component processes take the form of causal chains that may be complex. When sequences of cause and effect become circular, then the mapping of those sequences onto timeless logic becomes self-contradictory or paradoxical. [Bateson, 1980]
  • Stocks and Flows Another taxonomic and conceptual problem that has plagued economics from the time of Adam Smith is the confusion between stocks and flows . . . The capital stock is a population of items, production is births into that population, consumption is deaths . . . Furthermore, the idea that production is consumption is only partly true. What we get satisfaction from for the most part is use, not consumption . . . This has led to . . . the absurd view that it is income which is the only measure of riches. [Boulding, 1978]. The simulation framework should keep track of the evolution of stocks of human population, the stocks of artifacts constructed by those populations for their use, stocks of land, stocks biological resources, and stocks of geological resources, and it should keep track of the flows of materials and energy from the environment as they are transformed into the artifacts used by human populations and returned to the environment as material and thermal waste. Stock/flow accounting identities are used to maintain coherence over time; supply/disposition flow identities are used to maintain coherence within time periods.
  • Disequilibrium and Tension The simulation framework should be designed in such a way that the system of feedbacks among the processes represented in the framework is incomplete. To the extent that the feedback mechanisms are incomplete, the possibility of discord or disequilibrium among the constituent processes arises. This discord creates tension in the mind of the actor or framework user that invites a creative response. It is this idea of tension arising from disequilibrium that makes the user of the framework an integral part of the model. Equilibrium has become a kind of holy sacrament in economics and has seriously diverted attention from the real world of Heraclitean flux . . . The economic system is a structure in space-time. Consequently, it is evolutionary, subject to constant and irreversible change. [Boulding, 1988]
  • Spatial Scale The spatial scale of the simulation framework should of course be global, but the world should be subdivided into a sufficient number of regions to reflect differences in culture, lifestyle, resource endowments, and power. The framework should represent the flows of people, materials and energy that cross the regional boundaries. The number of regions to be represented will also depend on the nature of the processes to be included. The simulation framework will be designed so that more detailed representations involving more regions could readily be developed as the framework evolves.
  • Temporal Scale The temporal scale of the simulation framework should span a sufficient past that we can see where we are coming from and a sufficient future that the possibilities for sustainability can be explored. The accumulation of past actions to the stocks that presently exist must provide the starting point for future explorations; in this sense, future possibilities are constrained by past actions. Trying to sharpen one’s sense of the future is useless, as the future has no existence; trying to see the present as an interim in which anything may go at any time merely adds to the mood of destruction. Not everything that can happen will happen: we have to understand what kind of people we are before we can begin to guess what we shall do. What kind of people we are is perhaps determined, and certainly conditioned, by what we realize of the past, and sharpening our sense of the past is the only way of meeting the future. [Frye, 1982] Different processes have different time dynamics; very slow moving processes such geological processes may be ignored or represented as stocks; fast moving processes may exhibit seasonal or cyclical patterns and are represented as stock/flow structures.
  • Structure The simulation framework should focus on the representation of those physical transformation processes that are of significance for the relationships between human population and the natural resource base. Of great importance are processes associated with the renewable resource base; processes affecting soil quality, forest growth, processes yielding nutrients, processes transforming primary sources of renewable energy into useful energy forms. In the final analysis, the level of human population that can be sustained will be determined by renewable resources and the effectiveness with which they can be used to provide nutrition and energy for extracting and recycling materials.
  • Adaptability Since it is difficult to foresee all the structures and transformation processes that need be represented, the simulation framework must be open ended with respect to the addition of processes. Each process or group of processes can be independently modeled; these sub-models can be linked together to form the simulation framework. This module management process should support the creation and modification of sub-models as well as the linking of these new or changed sub-models in a manner as flexible and transparent as possible.

6. Development Strategy
A key feature of the proposed approach is that the understanding arises from interaction with the framework in the process of exploration. The communication of understanding is achieved when a number of people share the experience of interaction. If common understanding is to lead to improved societal decision-making, the correspondence between the framework and reality must be accepted both in terms of the processes that constitute the framework and the representation of those processes.

The acceptability and impact of the proposed decision tools will be greatly enhanced through involvement of as wide and as diverse a set of interests as possible in the process of designing the structure of the framework. This key assumption reflects extensive experience with complex decision systems involving diverse and competing interests.

The primary task will be conceptualization and construction of sub-models. This task will require people with expertise in modelling, theoretical knowledge of the sub-model issues and relevant field experience. Many of these will be potential users of the Global Exploration Tools. University groups or research institutes are best equipped to take the lead in the conceptualization and associated data collection and calibration tasks. A key requirement in the management of sub-projects would be to ensure the ongoing participation of organizations with interest and experience in the subject areas concerned.

Since the proposed Global Exploration Tools have the capability of “learning”, their utility will increase through use. Thus, users will become collaborators in future development of the framework. Mechanisms for feedback and up-date of the framework will thus need to be developed.

At each stage in the development process, it is important to consider potential users of future generations of the framework and seek their involvement. Conceptually, the Project could be viewed as a knowledge system in which knowledge development is integrally linked with knowledge application within a structure which encourages feed-back through rewards of utility. Identification of knowledge networks and involvement of key players in such networks becomes an important component of development strategy.

7. Epilogue
The authors are aware that this paper is itself an example of an argument intended to persuade the reader, and, as such, is subject to the weaknesses implied by Frye’s criticism. In the spirit of learning through experience, we invite the reader to explore the concepts described in this paper using a computer based simulation framework, the Global Systems Simulator(GSS), developed by Robert Hoffman and Bert McInnis. The companion paper describes the Global Systems Simulator that was intended to serve as proof-of-concept for the proposed modelling tools and the experience in using those tools that has accumulated to date.

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