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The Visual Representation of Complexity: Definitions, examples and learning points

Format: Maps & Exhibits, RSD7, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Boehnert J.

Sustainability practitioners have long relied on images to display relationships in complex adaptive systems on various scales and across different domains. These images facilitate communication, learning, collaboration and evaluation as they contribute to shared understanding of systemic processes. This research addresses the need for images that are widely understood across different fields and sectors for researchers, policy makers, design practitioners and evaluators with varying degrees of familiarity with the complexity sciences. The research identifies, defines and illustrates 16 key features of complex systems and contributes to an evolving visual language of complexity. Ultimately the work supports learning as a basis for informed decision-making at CECAN (Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus) and other communities engaged with the analysis of complex problems. A research process was designed to identify sixteen key characteristics of complexity and to inform the development of new images and descriptions. In order to gather ideas from academics, sustainability practitioners and designers with expertise in the complexity sciences, systems mapping and design, I collected 50 surveys at The Environment, Economy, Democracy: Flourishing Together RSD6 (Relating Systems Thinking and Design) conference in Oslo (October 2017) and ran two participatory workshop in London (November and December 2017). The images, definitions, examples and learning points were developed with this research process. The text below was written with Alex Penn, Pete Barbrook- Johnson, Martha Bicket and Dione Hills. Many thanks to RSD6 organisers and all who contributed images and ideas in the surveys and workshops.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2018
Title: The Visual Representation of Complexity: Definitions, examples and learning points
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 23 September 2018
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