This wiki has been created to facilitate the evolution of a "hub" that is forming to explore the application of complexity theory / science to community development / sustainability / well-being.

We are exploring the use of various online technologies -- websites, blogs, wikis, and old-school email distribution lists -- to clarify which will best support the emergence of this effort at this time. The wiki seems to provide the greatest opportunity for co-creation, but may pose challenges to communication and sensemaking as a many-roomed virtual space develops. We shall see...

The theory and science of Complexity can powerfully inform the development of sustainable communities. When a community is conceptualized as a complex adaptive system, it is recognized as a dynamic network of diverse agents interacting with one another and the environment to co-evolve over time (Agar, 2005, 2004a, 2004b). “Agents” are the people or entities that have the capacity to change intentionally and thereby influence one another and the evolution of a system (McKelvey, 1999). Complexity emphasizes processes of self-organization among agents as the central means of fostering the ongoing health, resilience and hardiness of a system, whether that system is a family, an organization, or a community (Capra, Juarrero, & Sotolongo, 2007).

Although the complexity approach may seem intuitive to people who focus on community organizing and sustainability efforts, it typically requires an overriding of deeply held mental models about community development and systems change that have been imported from traditional social science and the business world. Traditional, “Newtonian” science emphasizes linearity assumes that a whole system can be understood through a detailed analysis of all its parts. Traditional business models reflect this orientation by emphasizing the development of highly detailed master plans created by experts, followed by the disciplined implementation of these plans to achieve pre-specified outcomes in order to confirm the “achievement” of sustainability. Emphasis traditionally is placed on directing processes, preventing deviations from plans, eliminating environmental threats and maintaining stability (Olson & Eoyang, 2001).

In contrast, a complexity approach assumes that cause-effect pathways are innumerable and multi-directional and a whole system is more than a sum of its parts. Because agents have free will and the environment is continually changing, individual and system behaviors are often unpredictable and uncontrollable. Facilitating the ongoing health and sustainability of a system therefore involves facilitating its ability to self-organize in continually adaptive, flexible and responsive ways (Stacey, 2003). Sustainability is about cultivating relationships, assets, strengths, and capital to enable perpetual “goodness of fit.”

This initiative brings together departments, organizations, and agencies that support communities at multiple scales: a multi-county Air Force base, a county government, a community engagement agency, a children's services council, and multiple academic departments within a university.

Current partners in this co-creative effort include:

Children's Board of Hillsborough County
Sarasota County Government
Department of Defense -- MacDill Air Force Base: Family Advocacy & Outreach
University of South Florida

The initial group of individuals who partnered to bring this initiative to life included:

Children's Board: Ronna Rowlette, Peter Gorski & Allison Pinto
SCOPE: Tim Dutton
Sarasota County Government: Susan Scott
Department of Defense -- MacDill AFB: John Navarro
USF Dept. of Communication -- Fred Steier
USF Dept. of Management -- Walt Nord
USF FMHI -- Bob Friedman & Allison Pinto
USF Dept. of Architecture and Urban Design: Trent Green
USF Dept. of Govt & Internatl Affairs -- Mike Gibbons & Bruce Neubauer
USF Honors College: Doug Uzzell

We are grateful for the opportunity to develop our efforts through a grant provided by the USF Graduate School, as part of its investment in Sustainable, Healthy Communities. Initial proposal can be accessed here.

Links to resources that may inform our efforts are listed here.

To read messages from partners or to post a message, please click on the "Discussion" tab above.