Dealing with Systems Age Messes

All of the differing articulations of complex problems presented in the previous section describe situations where there are divergent stakeholders, emergent conditions, and nonoptimal solutions to ill-defined problems. Given these difficult conditions, the question becomes, how do we deal with these situations? From our point of view, it seems reasonable to assume that the manner in which a systems age mess is perceived by its stakeholders is a major determinant of the degree of these factors that each of the stakeholders is able to clearly identify as part of the problem analysis.

Scientific Approaches to Complex Problems

Thomas Kuhn defines paradigm to be “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners” (Kuhn, 2012, p. xlii). Each scientific community has its own paradigm, including its own ontology, epistemology, axiology, rhetoric, and methodology, that it uses to address a problem (Adams & Hester, 2016). The combination of these factors results in a unique scientific approach, as shown in Fig. 2.1.

Further, relativistic perceptions of complexity add to the difficulty in understanding complex problems. Just like beauty, complexity is in the eye of the beholder. What may be complex to one individual may be simple to another. Take education, for example. A lifelong school administrator may find setting the budget for a given middle school a trivial task, whereas a teacher at the very same school may struggle to keep students out of trouble given a scarcity of after school activities, a direct result of the budget process. A more difficult question is certainly balancing the budget of said school with all others in the district, or perhaps the state or nation. Such a broadening of scope would certainly entail game theory, sociology, economics, and a host of other considerations certainly presenting

The relationship between paradigm element and scientific approach (Adams & Hester, 2016)

Fig. 2.1 The relationship between paradigm element and scientific approach (Adams & Hester, 2016)

complexities to most, if not all, individuals. So, while the administrator sees a simple budgeting exercise, the educator may see a much more complex problem rife with socioeconomic factors. How can this duality exist? Mitchell (2009) summarizes this phenomenon as “...there is not yet a single science of complexity but rather several different sciences of complexity with different notions of what complexity means” (p. 95).

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