The Visual Representation of Complex Systems: A Typology of Visual Codes for Systemic Relations

Joanna Boehnert

Sustainability practitioners have long relied on the use of images to display relationships in complex adaptive systems on various scales and across different domains. Visual representations play an important role in facilitating communication, learning and collaboration on social, environmental and economic issues that are characterised as complex systems.

This research addresses the need for more effective visual representations of the key features of complexity. With the creation of ‘A Typology of Visual Codes for Systemic Relations,’ the project will address the need for images that are widely understood across different fields and sectors in order to facilitate conversations and decisions making between researchers, policymakers, practitioners and evaluators (with varying degrees of familiarity with complexity science). By attempting to identify the best visual practices and standardise visual codes used to represent some of the key features of complex systems (such as tipping points; thresholds; 
domains of relative stability; levers; hubs; time-dependent evolution; feedback loops; emergence and self-organisation; 
adaptation, unpredictability/unknowns; structural attractor; path and path dependency; distributed control; domains of stability; systems of systems) this project will contribute to the evolving the visual language used to communicate complexity. Ultimately this short research project aims to support learning as a basis for informed decision-making at the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN) and other communities engaged with the analysis of complex problems.

Posted: Oct-2017

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