Sustainable Development

Chris writes “our primary interest in sustainable development for various purposes is that it provides an example of a domain of activity that many have experienced as complex.

The idea of sustainable development however may be less familiar to some of you than those of ‘information’ or ‘organizations’.  However as sustainable development can mean many different things to different people we have felt it essential to make our perspectives apparent and to guide you through a process to do the same. We consider that the ability to explore and make apparent our own perspectives is an essential part of Systems Practice that goes well beyond this domain.

To me, as someone who has developed my own understanding of sustainable development, it seems obvious why sustainable development is a relevant domain of activity for Managing Complexity.  I see the issues and situations involved as important. They are about the very future of humanity and the Planet Earth.  They are also about the quality of people’s lives, both now and in the future.  There are many choices to be made by those engaging with and wanting to take purposeful action in this domain. There are also, from my perspective, many sustainable development situations in which managing is required and improvement desired.

In my view sustainable development issues and situations are best understood by recognizing systems, boundaries, environments and their interconnections.  However, I also recognize that not everyone would see it in this way and we have attempted in this block to include a range of perspectives, both on the domain and on systems practice in this domain.

Regarding systems practice, there are three particular features of sustainable development that we will focus on:

1. From the authors’ perspectives, issues of sustainable development directly or indirectly affect and are affected by everyone.  So, in our view, it is a domain in which everyone is a stakeholder, including you and I, though we may all construct different sustainable development systems-of-interest.  It therefore provides a good opportunity to consider managing complexity using a systems approach in multi- stakeholder situations.
2. Sustainable development is a domain in which some practitioners, in different parts of the world, have overtly used systems approaches – or at least tried to – to take account of multiple perspectives of stakeholders in managing and decision-making situations.  In other words they have worked with other stakeholders to formulate joint systems-of-interest to enable them to learn their way to new appreciations of what needs to occur to enable purposeful action.  Hence this domain provides opportunities to consider how systems theories and methodologies have been and can be used in practice.
3. Many other practitioners working in this domain have not explicitly used systems approaches but have – with hindsight – recognized the need to think and act more systemically and to adopt learning approaches, usually when crises or protests at decisions and actions have occurred.”

Source: Adopted from the text: MANAGING COMPLEXITY: A systems approach, (Block 4) Managing sustainable development: learning with other stakeholders.  Prepared for the Course team by Christine Blackmore, Ray lson and Jake Chapman, with readings by Peter Checkland and Mike Haynes, The Open University, UK, 2003.

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