Designing better worlds | Gary Metcalf | May 2, 2013 | Rethinking Complexity

In social systems redesign, @garysmetcalf cites the @FukuyamaFrancis challenge of the second phase of nation-building — towards self-sustaining indigenous institutions — as an area where the work of prior systems thinkers (Bela H. Banathy, John Warfield, Aleco Christakis, Russ Ackoff, Stafford Beer, Eric Trist, Fred Emery, Merrelyn Emery) might be extended.

The grandest scale of social systems change, though, has probably come about in connection with military conflicts. Following the devastation of World War II, much of Europe was rebuilt in connection with the Marshall Plan and other assistance, in the form of economic and technical aid. The legacy of those efforts is probably the nation-building of today – the aid and assistance given to countries in order to create. It is done with clear political objectives, though, related to concerns about security.

According to Fukuyama (2004), “The fact is that the chief threats to [the U.S.] and to world order come today from weak, collapsed, or failed states. Weak or absent government institutions in developing countries form the thread linking terrorism, refugees, AIDS, and global poverty” (p. 1.) As he further explains, “What we are really talking about is state-building—that is, creating or strengthening such government institutions as armies, police forces, judiciaries, central banks, tax-collection agencies, health and education systems, and the like” (p. 2). The problem, however, is that “no one has solved the more serious problem of how to implement the second phase of nation-building—the transition to self-sustaining indigenous institutions” (p. 6).

Historically, this approach to nation-building was been separate from military interventions. Like the Marshall Plan, it came in the form of aid after the military was gone. With the shift in the nature of perceived security threats (e.g. terrorism by non-state actors) and military interventions (targeted, tactical strikes), larger strategies have also changed. The military corollary to nation-building is often counterinsurgency, as described in a Field Manual of the U.S. Marine Corps:

An insurgency is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control. Counterinsurgency is military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency…Political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate. Insurgents use all available tools—political (including diplomatic), informational (including appeals to religious, ethnic, or ideological beliefs), military, and economic—to overthrow the existing authority… Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government’s rule (Counterinsurgency, 2006, p. 1)

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised significant questions about the role of U.S. Military intervention and responsibilities beyond simply defeating an enemy. Interestingly, the military has sponsored research aimed directly at a better understanding of human social systems, due to this expanded view. As described in a book from the National Research Council (2008): Today’s military missions have shifted away from force-on-force warfare – fighting nation-states using conventional weapons – toward combatting insurgents and terrorist networks in battlespace in which the attitudes and behaviors of civilian noncombatants may be the primary effects of military actions. These new missions call for agile, indigenously sensitive forces capable of switching quickly and effectively from conventional combat to humanitarian assistance and able to defuse tense situations without, if possible, the use of force. IOS [individual, organizational, and societal] models are greatly needed for planning, supporting, and training for these forces and for evaluating the technology with which they fight. Models of human behavior in social units – teams, organizations, cultural and ethnic groups, and societies – are needed to understand, predict, and influence the behavior of these social units (p. 2).

The report goes on to explore models ranging from verbal and conceptual to system dynamics, cognitive architectures, decision and game theories, social network models, agent-based models, games, etc. Ironically, even though this research was proceeding at the time that the counterinsurgency manual was produced, there is no indication that it was referenced or incorporated in it. (The fact that this research was supported through that Air Force and that the counterinsurgency manual was published by the Marine Corp may be all the explanation needed.)

There appears to be a need to bring what we know about social systems to the arenas in which social systems are being most affected; in places where efforts such as nation-building and the aftermath of conflicts are occurring. There is an even greater need to continue the research in clear, rigorous ways, focused on the principles involved. It is not enough to build new houses and shops and schools. Nor is it enough to hope that people can simply “get along” if economic conditions get better for them. We need to consider the world that we, collectively, want to live in, and how we might go about creating that.

Designing better worlds | Gary Metcalf | May 2, 2013 | Rethinking Complexity at

Designing better worlds | Rethinking Complexity


#counter-insurgency, #design, #fukuyama, #insurgency, #nation-building, #social-systems