Dynamic Systems Theory

Innovations Laboratory

ACTION Steering Committee representative, Richard Smith, participated in the Dynamic Systems Theory Innovations Laboratory co-hosted by the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4), the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Columbia University, and The Institute of World Affairs (IWA) at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Over the past decade, scholars and practitioners have been working to employ new insights and methods from complexity science, dynamical systems and network theory to study and address violence, conflict and sustainable peace. During 2012, a core group of scholars and practitioners convened to further this work through sharing – from both science and practice – the latest findings and challenges from work in this area. 

The general goals of the Innovation Lab are to create opportunities, structures and support mechanisms to bring together experienced scholar-practitioners working with complexity science, conflict and peace to share leading-edge ideas, methods and practices and to inspire and support collaborative work in this area for moving the work forward.

Lab 2014 convened in Honolulu, Hawaii from July 20 – 25 with an expanded group of scholars and practitioners. This event was a follow-up to the Lab 2013 that convened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

The 2014 Lab focused on four thematic areas:

1) complexity mapping and visualization;

2) resonance identification and utilization;

3) institutionalization of dynamical systems attitudes, behaviors and structures; and

4) learning and non-linear impact assessment.

The relevance of Dynamic Systems Theory to practitioners working in the field of conflict transformation is particularly apparent in our analysis of the interconnections between conflict dynamics at different levels and in different contexts. Designing complex integrated strategies to engage with and influence these dynamics also benefits from systems thinking. The innovations in the areas of evaluation and impact assessment, which suggest that linear, results-based thinking is not helpful, are also useful.

Much of the Lab confirms our programming as conflict transformation practitioners. Multiple interventions in multiple directions are required to have an overall effect on the conflict systems affecting people in communities. Connecting interventions at community level to efforts aimed at influencing the wider systems and structures at national, regional, continental and even global levels appears to resonate with theories on systems thinking.

The 2014 Lab also provided a useful opportunity to learn more about the local context of Hawaii. Far from the stereotypical image of the islands as a resort of surfing laid back leisure seekers there is a vibrant civil society actively involved in addressing the myriad of social, economic and political concerns faced by communities. 

The context is also affected by the presence in Hawaii of the largest US military base in the world and a strong and vibrant network of activists working to de-colonise the decades long occupation and dispossession that has taken place. While these challenges to the overarching systems are seen as threatening and have been consistently repressed, the structural violence that has characterised external involvement in Hawaiian affairs cannot be ignored. It will be interesting to follow political developments over the next few months and explore ways of deepening solidarity with those involved in what is clearly a long-term struggle for peace and justice.

There was a lot of resonance between the traditional Hawaiian values associated with concepts of Aloha and Oluolu and the African philosophy of Ubuntu. This suggests that the synergies between the local struggles of groups in Hawaii and of the Pan-African Solidarity movement are well worth exploring further.

Anyone interested in following up on any of the content areas covered by the Lab is encouraged to take a deeper look on the website: http://conflictinnovationlab.org.

For those with an interest in the political, social and economic context of Hawaii please take a look at www.hawaiianperspectives.org.