biomatrix systems theory blog

the case of sustainability

Case of sustainability: If we want to survive as a species, embracing sustainable development is one of the key challenges.

I reflected on this issue while attending the Africa Leads conference, which focused on the role of leadership in creating a sustainable future. (See also blog entry on Leadership.)

Two issues struck me as huge problems, not just with the conference, but with our global interaction around sustainability in general.

theory of sustainability

Concerning the scientific underpinning of sustainability, there seems to be a plethora of models and partial theories – typically located within or arising from a specific scientific discipline.

However, sustainability is an issue that arises from the interaction of the social and technological systems with natural systems. It is therefore a transdisciplinary issue and requires a transdisciplinary approach in dealing with it. Yet there is no coherent theory of sustainability that spans the socio-, techno- and naturosphere and describes the organisational requirements (including limits) of their systems in accommodating each other. Developing such a theory would require the facilitation of a meta-discipline. (See also blog entry on Fragmented scientific thinking.)

Without a meta-discipline derived from a meta-theory (such as Biomatrix Systems Theory), how can decision-makers, policy designers and politicians make appropriately informed and in-forming decisions in this context? Accordingly, (inter)national frameworks and policy documents for sustainable development tend to be shopping lists of strategies and objectives, ranging from discipline specific prescriptions, to “nice to haves” and politically correct items. Likewise, the political processes of formulating them are not systemic, if not dubious (e.g. the Rio+20, United Nations Development Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 determined the outcomes of the conference before its start).

As high level summary, Biomatrix Systems Theory would suggest that the web of the psycho-sociosphere and technosphere would have to operate within the limits set by the web of the naturosphere. It suggests framework and organising principles that need to be considered and adhered to.

theory of technology

What is most disconcerting about leaders concerning themselves with sustainability is their lack of concern, interest and knowledge of technology.

As a facilitator of societal change management (in organisations and societies), my understanding of the role of technology is the following:

  • it is an important driving force of human development
  • it is the main “culprit” in co-producing humanity’s most serious problems
  • it is a potential “savior” in delivering us from those problems.

While the organisation and functioning of the natural and psycho-social systems are investigated and described by the different scientific disciplines, there is a gap concerning the technosphere.

As a social scientist, I also lack technological knowledge. As a meta-systems thinker I am aware of this and its consequences and therefore seek cooperation in filling the gap.

I am deeply grateful to Rias van Wyk, founder of the Institute for Futures Research (for which I worked for many years) and now director of the Technoscan® Centre Minnesota, USA and world leader in technological forecasting, for his willingness to co-facilitate trans-disciplinary inquiries from a technology perspective.

He made us (and indeed the world) aware that there is no scientific discipline concerning itself with an integrated view of technology, while detailed knowledge about specific technologies abounds in the various scientific disciplines.

It is therefore not surprising that politicians, public policy designers and members of industry bodies lack technological understanding, yet commit us to specific technological futures. How can we make informed technological choices that “save” and “develop” without an underlying theory that explores technology from a big picture perspective, paints alternative technological landscapes and allows the evaluation of different options and their impacts on the other systems of life?

It is also not surprising that MBA programmes fail to understand and incorporate technology in its curriculum. Where technology exists as a subject, it is mainly concerned with IT. Thereby technological ignorance amongst the decision-makers in organisations and societies is perpetuated.

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