The Complexity Brownbag is a weekly meeting of people from diverse disciplines / sectors / communities who are interested in thinking and talking about complexity theory / science and its relevance to various aspects of human systems, with an emphasis on communities as complex adaptive systems. Conversations zoom in and out on human complex systems, in order to consider individuals, families, neighborhoods, schools, support networks, and other societal systems from a complexity perspective. An attempt is made to pay attention to both the science of complexity and local efforts that are real-world manifestations of communities as complex adaptive systems.

The Complexity Brownbag meets on Tuesdays from 12:30 to 1:30 at USF FMHI Westside D. The meetings are drop-in, and all are welcome to attend.

This summer we are experimenting with using a wiki to share impressions of the Brownbag discussions. This forum might serve to highlight ideas and information/knowledge that seems particularly relevant to better understanding people and communities from a complexity perspective. It might also function as a means of developing a Complexity Brownbag history. It is also possible that a wiki is not the optimal method / technology for these purposes, as it might obscure the knowledge that is most worth communicating, or might contribute to the emergence of dynamics that comprimise the development of the communiplexity efforts. For now, we are trying it the fall we will reflect on the the ways in which it is contributing to and / or comprimising the efforts, so that we can then respond as seems fitting.

If you are the first person to post a summary for a given week, please indicate that you are the primary author of the notes when you post. Everyone is then encouraged to co-create the entry by adding, deleting and otherwise editing as each is inclined.

July 31:

This week John Navarro updated the group regarding efforts underway through the Department of Defense and MacDill Air Force Base as they relate to communities as complex adaptive systems. He explained that the DoD has a major new initiative to develop universal approaches for supporting community health, instead of limiting health promotion efforts to health professionals. He explained to the group that MacDill Air Force Base is the headquarters for coordinating current military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as this was not already known by all who were attending the Brownbag.

The DoD has started using a psychoeducational program called Spinoza Bear to support the mental health of children in the military community. John brought one of the bears and several of the workbooks to share with Brownbaggers. Currently MacDill AFB is funding 4 bears to circulate through the youth centers, child care programs and classrooms on base where individuals such as teachers’ aides insert a tape and follow along with a work book to assist children in identifying and expressing their questions and feelings regarding topics and concepts they are likely encountering in their everyday lives relating to terrorism and war. The program is primarily an encounter between the Bear and the children, with adults on hand to monitor and respond to children's reactions to participating in the program. No process or outcome data is being collected at this time.

One faculty member asked whether university researchers could assist MacDill in developing these efforts by getting graduate students involved in documenting the effort from a research perspective. It was also offered that MacDill could lend a Bear, tapes and workbooks to the Children's Board to increase familiarity with the program.

It was noted that the mental health challenges that the Spinoza Bear program is designed to address (e.g. fears relating to safety generated by reports of threats) are challenges experienced by many children these days -- not only children whose family members are in the military.

It was suggested that a program like the Spinoza Bear might be useful in presenting other concepts such as consumption and nutrition.

The content of the Spinoza Bear program was questioned, in terms of whether the content itself might generate rather than make sense of anxiety that children are experiencing. It was noted that the pre-programmed nature of the program and the format of the workbook may constrain children's opportunities to express their thoughts and feelings as they are emerging or may create an interpersonal energy field that generates or maintains, rather than alleviates anxiety.

Allison noted that the upcoming November conference sponsored by the Plexus Institute will feature Norbert Wetzel and Hinda Winawer, who will be presenting on their complexity-informed efforts as co-founders of the Center for Family, Community and Social Justice in New Jersey. Their efforts also seek to promote community-wide mental health by reaching beyond trained mental healthcare professionals.

A participant new to the Complexity Brownbag asked for some clarification regarding the genesis of the Brownbag so a brief description was provided.

Social marketing was proposed as a means of pursuing funding for efforts that explore complexity theory in relation to community sustainability.

Allison shared briefly regarding complexity-informed efforts underway at the Children’s Board.

Could Researchers help develop a series of case studies related to successful start-ups to show how the complexity perspective can help the community?

Efforts to bring conversation principles into dinner table discussions were described as another complexity-informed approach. \How do we bring this all to life in practical ways? Ideas were shared regarding creating hubs and networks for meeting and working together to build the ideas of children being global citizens and networking together. Notions were shared such as letting go of the parameters and letting efforts grow and evolve -- not setting it loose entirely but bringing new structures to see what works.

A new particpant who has been developing complexity-inforrmed approaches to education was asked to share her perspective on the difference between chaos theory and complexity theory. From her perspective, Chaos Theory developed from Quantum Theory, while Complexity developed from Chaos. Complexity focused more on dynamics and dissipative structures.

July 24:
Trying to find MBSR is linked to more expanded social context?
Maybe Steve Shealy here in Tampa.

An old study of Schizophrenic study between patients in Developing and Undeveloping countires showed that 70% in developed counties would stay Schizophrenic and die as Schizophrenic . . . while in undeveloping countires only 30% would stay Schizophrenic. The concept of "hearing voices" could be a lot of things. But here in this culture "hearing voices" is not accepted. However starting with listening and respecting allows for teaching and treatment of emotional stress. As soon as it became "medicine" to get into academia where Froyd and Young had be medical doctors to get accepted. Suddenly community mental health centers become acceptable developing medications. DSM set out what is appropriate for MD and what is not appropriate for MD. Setting what needs medication and what does not need medications.

All about money. More of how our society is objectifying people. Doing things "to people" instead of doing things "with people"... Like the drug development with Schizophrenic only worked with serious issues like violence, but nothing with depression. Issue was to get them off the street. This culture looks very sick.

Generation to Generation where people dysfunctions continue from generation to generation. Froyd issues looked at how childhod issues carry from generation to generation. This can create problems where theropy can result in expanding and redefining the same pathology.

What is suatainable in Florida? Patel is supporting a summit for Coastal City Summit - - sustainablity on the coastline, where the majority of population lives within 60km of coastline. How to develop sustianable coastal zone management, to develop a new ocean ethic. David W. Randle would like to present about it. This seems more like another excuse for more burrow-cracy and fiefdomes.

Are complex systems perpetual or do they have a defined life? More government does not seem like a complex system since it is static. Today it seems like 90% or the population live unpleasent short lives. So we are evolving to increased malfunction. The quality of what is developed is getting worse; maybe something about "mass production" which is the ultimate dehumanization. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond shows how this culture has been simply destroying the evironment. Each new intervention reduces the information exchange in the environment and results in a defective system, requiring a new intervention.

The internet (wiki) is a model of an adaptive system to encourage collaborations. Ability to collaborate and increase communication increases the personal satisfaction and health.

July 17:
How can we use these multiple layers of technology?
How can we build and collaborate with what is here?
How can we partner more to make a living system?
How is thie group Sustainable?
How will we be involved with the Governor's Sustainablity Florida?

June 19:
Eric, Bruce,

June 12:

Eric, Bruce, Allison, Sharon, Walt, Fred, Annette
We need to get our meeting scheledule notices out a few days ahead of time instead of the morning of.
Using the Wiki to model systems complexity...
Using the wiki to self-organize and co-create, not necessarily to promote anarchy - - interested into promoting a higher functioning democracy. Perhaps balancing participatory structure with flexibility.

June 5:
Eric, Bruce, Allison, Sharon, Walt, Fred, David R, Tammy, David L, Frank, Will, Carol

Met to discuss the use and development of this Wiki, We will try to meet here again next week

May 29:
Sharon, Eric, Bruce, Mason, Walt, Annette & Allison were present.

The group began by discussing wiki use by brownbaggers and procedures for posting to this communiplexity wiki, in response to an expressed preference by a brownbag participant who said he would rather not to be identified by name in wiki posts with regard to comments he makes during brownbag sessions. A different perspective was also expressed-- some individuals want to "give credit where credit is due" and/or want to be identified as having contributed particular ideas in order to contextualize comments and ideas. Everyone was encouraged to visit the wiki and review posts in order to assess whether the entries fit with their recollections and perspectives, and to make edits that they believe will contribute to each entry as a means of recording the meetings and communicating ideas to others. Individuals are encouraged to self-identify or remain anonymous in accordance with their preferences.

As a point of clarification: The communiplexity wiki was developed on because Allison was familiar with this platform due to her involvement in other wikispaces sites and her experience of wikispaces as a more multi-user-friendly option for group communication than the traditional website and blog that were previously created as a means of documenting ideas generated in the complexity brownbag. Other wiki services were not reviewed prior to selecting A "wiki-savvy" brownbagger noted that it might be possible to upgrade this wiki to use all the services available at We will explore this and try to reserve a PC classroom for our next meeting for us all to practice using the Wiki.

The current communiplexity wiki settings are as follows:
  • Status is Protected
  • Everyone can view pages, only members of the space can edit pages
  • No message posts can be entered by non members

The group transitioned from a discussion of the virtual world to a brief discussion of the "local environment" when a brownbagger commented on the painting "Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth, which is now hanging in the room where the complexity brownbag is held. He described his associations to the picture in relation to the issues of residential treatment, which are a focus of the initial WikiPoliSee efforts, which were described during the brownbag last week. Allison noted that telling stories about pictures, in addition to stories about past lived experiences, might be another way of enabling the sharing of perspectives in WikiPoliSee.

A brownbagger described another example of community self-organizing facilitated through the sharing of stories. There was recently a Hemhill Public library opening in Greensboro North Carolina, and beforehand the community was invited to share ideas about what the opening should be about. This evolved into a patchwork story - - Book " Tell Me a Pacth" where citizens added their ideas to create a multi-perspective story of the community. One brownbagger noted that this seemed like Marvin Minsky's conception of how "knowledge objects become animated" and begin communicating amongst themselves.

Allison noted that in Sarasota there are local efforts to facilitate community engagement in relation to education and library systems as well. While Jurisdynamics is a blog that explores the application of complexity science to law and legal systems, perhaps the communiplexity wiki will evolve into a space for exploring the application of complexity science to a variety of phemonema and systems affecting communities. Hopefully we will discover over time whether a wiki is the best medium for such an effort.

Allison noted that an unforseen challenge seems to have developed relating to the co-evolution of the complexity brownbag and the recently funded "Developing Communities as Complex Adaptive Systems" initiative, of which the complexity brownbag is a part. It seems as if, based on the frequency of meetings, the complexity brownbag is self-organizing at a speedier rate than the group of initiative partners, who are scheduled to meet together in person in mid-June but otherwise have not yet found a workable means of communicating with each other as a full group. At this point, partners are tending to communicate with Allison directly.

Some brownbaggers were not familiar with the history of the brownbag and "Developing Communities as CAS" initiative, so Allison provided a brief overview, explaining that the complexity brownbag started 10 months ago as an opportunity for folks at FMHI, along with folks in other departments/colleges at USF and other sectors in the local community, to get together informally over lunch to practice "thinking, speaking and practicing complexity." Periodically, Michael Agar, resident "complexity consultant" at FMHI, has been able to join the brownbag as well, sharing his perspective as someone who has applied complexity approaches to the study of various social issues and phenomena including drug epidemics and the experience of pro pers in the California court system.

During this period of time, through a variety of fortuitous circumstances, Allison also started working informally with SCOPE and the Sarasota County Government, and then formally with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, as each was expressing interest in developing ways of applying complexity science to community engagement and community development efforts locally. Due to her identity as an "Air Force wife," Allison also became familiar with efforts to support local military families through MacDill AFB.

When the USF Graduate School issued an RFP as part of its investment in Sustainable Healthy Communities, brownbagger Walt Nord suggested that it might be worthwhile to submit a proposal in order to further develop the various complexity-related efforts that were already underway. Allison then approached individuals from various departments and community organizations / institutions who were already involved (Ronna and Peter at the Children's Board, Tim at SCOPE, Susan at Sarasota County Government, Bob at FMHI, Walt in the College of Business, Bruce in the Dept. of Govt. & International Affairs, Doug in the Honors College) as well as several folks from departments / institutions that were not yet involved but seemed like a good fit with the effort (Fred Steier of the Dept. of Communication, Mike Gibbons of the Dept. of Govt & International Affairs, Trent Green of the Dept of Architecture, John Navarro of MacDill AFB). This group met together prior to the application submission deadline and agreed partner in applying for the seed grant, so Allison wrote the proposal, circulated it to the group for feedback and then submitted it the next week.

And lo and behold, the USF Graduate School decided that it was interested in investing in our efforts! So here we are.

In today's complexity brownbag, some questions were raised about the initiative, namely:
  1. How can we best ensure that complexity-informed research/practice efforts co-evolve with community interests, questions and concerns that are identified by the communities themselves?
  2. What structures and processes will optimally facilitate the development of the initiative as additional individuals, groups and graduate students express interest in participating?
  3. How can individuals get involved in the various efforts of the initiative?
  4. How will self-organization be facilitated at multiple scales to support the development of individuals, specific efforts / projects, the complexity brownbag, the partner group, and the general understanding of community and complexity?

While our initiative focuses on the application of complexity science to understanding and supporting communities, it was noted that there are also local efforts to cultivate various other approaches to systems thinking. For example, some folks in Pinellas County are interested in the work of Peter Senge, Fred Steier is involved in the American Society for Cybernetics (which might hold an upcoming meeting in Tampa), and the USF Business school is working to recruit Karl Weick (known for his work on sensemaking) to lead some seminars at USF. Connecting with these other efforts to promote systems thinking might provide rich opportunities to clarify our understanding of the complexity perspective by comparing and contrasting it with other systems approaches. Allison also suggested the book Systems Thinking by Michael Jackson as a way of becoming familiar with differences in the various approaches.Another brownbagger suggested that a virtual conference could be set up to take place on Berkman Island in SecondLife as a means of bringing together an international group of complexity thinkers.

Looping back to where we started, the discussion returned to technology as a means of supporting our efforts. One brownbagger suggested that a virtual conference could be set up to take place on Berkman Island in SecondLife as a means of bringing together an international group of complexity thinkers. It was also suggested that the domain names of and be reserved for future development.

Another brownbagger recommended two more resources that present additional takes on systems thinking: A Whole New Mind The “11 Commandments" of a Sustainable Creative Career

May 21:
Sharon, Eric, Fred, John, & Bruce were present.

The group heard a description of the success of the recent meeting in St. Pete -- the Saturday morning event designed to facilitate community members joining together to respond to the violence and education gaps that exist in their community. There was a strong turn-out so they had to move into a church sanctuary for more space for the round table discussions. Some people found it challenging to sit in pews, without tables, while exploring how some of the previous week's discussions could help in the future discussion. [Question from Allison: Was this noted as an example of how environmental structure affects agent experience and action?] Different models and people who where interested in participating including Margaret J. Wheatley and Matthew Fox with The A.W.E. Project.AL?

Children often lose interest in school, where often they do projects where they are not the owners. The culture is focused on "my success," but the youth are forced to do the "school's assignments" or the "church's projects." Here in the Section-8 housing areas of Tampa we have seen people who invest a lot into their cars; Big wheels, bright colors and loud speakers. This represents them, many might never own anything more. Whatever the project they start in St. Pete if it has someone else's name on it; the youth will eventually lose interest. They need to find ways of self expression and personal ownership. AL?

The interest in discussing technologies that might support the development of individuals, groups and communities as complex adaptive systems continued during today's meeting:

Secondlife was introduced as an online, virtual world where community self-organizing is occuring, which is open to anyone who is interested in participating. A screen shot of an Avatar on Berkman Island, Harvard University's virtual island in Second Life, was viewed by the group. One of the brownbaggers explained that Harvard isn't teaching full classes there yet, but buying a virtual island to start one would be neat. It was suggested that if St Pete, for example, could provide community access to digital technologies publicly, then everyone could create their own space. Donated PC's could literally be set on street corners where anyone could access them. St Pete is in the process of getting the whole city wireless so there are some great opportunities. Possible ties between Second Life and the St Pete project were highly speculative, in the spirit of brainstorming.

Spinoza Bear was introduced as a technology to support self-organizing at the individual scale. One brownbagger who is involved in system-wide efforts to support children's mental health reported that some schools use the Spinoza Bear in classes to encourage children to talk and share their feelings. The talking bear is turned on by a teacher with a specific cassette tape to address current issues the students might be dealing with, like the war and violence they see on TV. Each child is given an opportunity to respond to the issues and share their own feelings and perspectives. Using this bear has been successful in classes as large as 30 people while 10-15 is ideal [Question from Allison: Is this an individual's perspective informed by direct experience or a conclusion based on empirical findings?].

May 15:
Mason, Doug, Sharon, Annette, Eric, Walt, Allison, Fred, Tammy, & Bruce were present.

Mason presented on WikiPoliSee as a web-based technology to facilitate participation in policymaking and self-organizing.(1) He described the challenges that Transition-Aged-Youth (TAY) face when they are experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties, and how WikiPoliSee could serve as a resource for TAY and others who advocate for TAY, as well as for other initiatives.

Mason talked about setting up online, virtual "rooms" for the sharing of perspectives among different groups of individuals on WikiPoliSee; for instance, a room for youth, a room for parents, a room for youth-serving professionals, and a room for policy-makers. Walt then suggested that it might be interesting to create "virtual hallways and restrooms" as well, to facilitate the kinds of informal conversation that occur in these types of spaces.

Web-based technology was described as a way to make policy-making more accessible to more people, but of course then that begs questions such as:
  • More accessible for whom?
  • What are the potential implications with regard to the perspectives of folks who have little access to the internet?
  • What are the implications relating to power dynamics when WikiPoliSee is used to address policies relating to youth rights, mental health rights, etc.?
  • What kinds of constraints (in terms of the physical set up of the space, the inclusion of "moderators," the inclusion of "ground rules") are likely to facilitate vs. squelch the process?
  • How is it possible to enable the creation of a frame that allows for what WikiPoliSee intends to facilitate?
  • How to not create unrealistic expectations regarding policymaking?

Bruce expressed his interest in working in technologies such as SecondLife, UTube(2), and other available technologies(3-7) where TAY are already actively participating, and the group took off on a discussion of SecondLife.(8)

  • How could RSS technology be used to increase awareness of changes as perspectives and products are co-created?
  • How could Agent-Based Modeling be incorporated?

Annette suggested that people could be asked to draw models of a given phenomenon and then asked to explain their drawing. These explanations might surface the "simple rules" that could be coded into a preliminary ABM of the phenomenon.(9)

Sharon shared details regarding an event in St. Pete on Saturday where self-organizing(10) will be facilitated live and in-person as community members join together to respond to the violence and education gaps that exist in their community. A flier about this event is on the "Events" page of this wiki.

Gypsy Gillardo was mentioned as a good person to follow up with.

As Mason was describing the transition from adolescence to adulthood, I (Allison) associated to the notion of phase transitions and wondered whether this might be a time in the human life cycle of heightened likelihood of power law effects...

Related links referencing key points above
  1. Exploring the cutting edge of mass collaboration
  2. is the leader in online video, and the premier destination to watch and share original videos worldwide through a Web experience. YouTube allows people to easily upload and share video clips on YouTube and across the Internet through websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.
  3. Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.
  4. Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends!
  5. Create your Place that's all about you to share with friends and family. Your blog, photos, interests, and what matters to you. How your page looks, and who sees what.
  6. With more than 5 million members, is the largest online community for people who want to make a difference. We're about values. If you care about health, human rights and protecting the environment, and if you believe individuals have the power to change the world, you're going to love Care2.
  7. almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world - has two main goals: 1. We want to help people make their photos available to the people who matter to them. 2. We want to enable new ways of organizing photos.
  8. used it to create a virtual world for a games, discussions, class, business or otherwise. video tutorials are very helpful...
  9. complexity research site