Bringing a Network Theory Perspective to These Times, Part 2

April 20, 2020 2 Comments
Image by Alexander Baxevanis, “Flow,” shared under provision of the Creative Commons Attribution LIcense 2.0.

New paths of flow are needed for new patterns of organization that are resilient.”

– Sally J. Goerner, Robert G. Dyck, Dorothy Lagerroos, The New Science of Sustainability

This post builds on a post from a couple of weeks ago, looking at how in a time of pandemic, with viruses revealing other viruses (racism, othering, oligarchy, mechanical thinking run amok), and triggering viral responses of various kinds, this is prime time to cultivate network literacy and strength. In this post I want to highlight the importance of “flow network science” or the “energy network sciences.” These fields stretch across disciplines and look at how nutrients, information and other vital sources of energy move through the structures of living networks.

Dr. Sally J. Goerner and her colleagues (Dan Fiscus, Brian Fath, Robert Ulanowicz, and others) have looked at how certain features of systems-as-networks (communities, ecosystems, economies) contribute to their long-term health and thriving, including diversity, intricacy, adaptability and robustness. A key is to focus on those dynamics that support the self-renewing (regenerative) and saluto-genic (health promoting) capacities of living systems as and so that they evolve and adapt to disturbances in their environment (which is really an extension of their being!). A big part of this is not just focusing on the pattern of network connections, but what is moving through those connections, including quality and velocity of those flows, from whom and to whom.

At IISC, we are fielding lots of questions right now about what networks are doing or should do to not only to respond to the COVID19 emergency and achieve some semblance of stability, but also to build pathways to better, more resilient and equitable systems. Taking a cue from what we are observing and what we are learning from energy network sciences/flow networks, some of the things networks can do and are doing include:

  • Weaving and convening diversity to foster systemic intelligence and resilience
  • Distributing power and intelligence to enable rapid and timely responses in different parts of “the body”
  • Circulating accurate and accessible (curated) information in various forms (text, visual, audio) throughout “the whole” to support diverse learning and adaptation
  • Facilitating effective (clear, concise, well-timed and spaced) communication and conversation to help people stay grounded, focused and moving on what matters
  • Disseminating elements of opportunity- and abudance-based narratives that encourage people to lean into these times and not flee from or freeze in the midst of them
  • Identifying and circulating a variety of nourishment (multiple forms of “capital”) widely (especially to those who are otherwise undernourished) in the form of money, ideas, in kind support, and other resources
  • Promoting robust exchange to support innovation, learning and systemic vitality at different levels
  • Creating safe and brave spaces for people to share their challenges and successes, get peer-assists, give and receive emotional support that encourages risk-taking and further venturing into uncharted terrain
  • Designing and carrying out network activity and engagement with an ethic of love (“seeing others as a legitimate others”), care, generosity, abundance, common cause, mutualism, transparency, inclusion, equity, and our full humanity (minds, bodies, hearts, spirits)

And we can “double click” on each of the above to delve deeper into the “who” (roles and relationships), “how” (processes), which we are actively doing with a variety of groups, and will share more of what we are learning in future posts and webinars.

And in that spirit of learning, please share what you are learning and would add with respect to what networks can do and are doing to create pathways to the new and the better.

2 Comments

  • Steve Wright says:

    Well, this is lovely. The Google Machine brought me here from a search of Robert Ulanowicz (I’m a big fan. :)) I have also been looking at Network Theory as a way to understand sustainability so when I saw Professor Ulanowicz was adding this to his ecological economics persepctive I was really intrigued. I recently wrote a series of post on this but the most directly associated to Network theory is this one:

    Incentivizing the Health of the Human Neighborhood
    https://medium.com/conches/part-2-incentivizing-the-health-of-the-human-neighborhood-bec774302e5b

    I am particularly interested in what “preferential attachment” looks like (sub-linear I assume) in a community that cares about the health of its nodes. Additionally, I am wondering what “fitness” is in this context. It seems to me that if a node is considered “fit” it is because it contributes to the health of the network as a whole.

    Anyway. Hi.

    Steve Wright

    • Curtis Ogden says:

      Thanks for visiting and for sharing, Steve. I like the idea that a node is “fit” as it contributes to the health of the whole. And there is the question from Nora Bateson – “What does it mean to be healthy in an unhealthy system?” I am excited to work with colleagues to further develop the applied science of “energy systems science.” There is IMHO a real need for people to understand and practice!

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