Tackling Complexity Through Systems Thinking

Home » Blog » Tackling Complexity Through Systems Thinking

Social networking

Christopher Gleadle: Opening remarks – Global Conversation with Sir Danny Alexander, July 5th, 2023

When Robert and I founded the Paddy Ashdown Forum it was on the platform of two papers I had written the year before – The Five Essential Steps To Sustainable Viability and Sustainable DNA for Policy Makers. Written from a lifetime of joining things up and looking at the relationship between things rather than things themselves has meant I have butted heads with conventional wisdom to break things down and break them up, for a long time! 

And people have asked what Tackling Complexity Through Systems Thinking has to do with Paddy Ashdown. Well, anyone who knew him will attest – he was a man for breaking free of orthodoxy since he felt it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be! I have received many kind comments from people who knew Paddy very well, that he would be extremely pleased with our work. 

So, in that light, we continue in the face of a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset the standards of normalcy. Remake economies through tackling the complexity of relationships between human, technical and natural capitals. 

Yet, tackling complexity within current structures of public and private policy makers, where for them, responsible policy making means continuity: an unwillingness to stray from conventional wisdom, even in the face of resulting disasters, unintended consequences, and the treadmill of crisis after crisis. Still the question is not asked: is there need for a fundamental overhaul of the policy and decision-making framework? Consequently, so is born the accidental delayer. 

Our invitation is to all those who are willing to challenge the assumption of the current policy and decision-making playbook. To challenge the unwillingness to engage in inclusive, systemic (by action rather than just word) approaches to create protection against climate and biosphere degradation and economic fragmentation that marginalises and undervalues so many individuals and communities. As a result, elevate systemic solutions that are inclusive of justice, human rights, international sustainable development, and climate change. To move from acts of altruism to elevating those acts to being central aspects of national and international public, private and third sector decision making. This does not mean we do not respect the institutional knowledge of those with deep policy and organisational leadership experience. But concurrently, we must make no apology for wanting to break from the constraints of the past in pursuit of something better. 

For, Climate Change, and the degradation of the biosphere service levels threatens to widen inequalities between and within countries. It already does! Poorer people are typically more exposed to the effects of climate change and more vulnerable to harm as a result of them. 

Poorer countries and poorer people in wealthy countries are caught in the vicious cycle of an economic situation that leaves them stuck in areas exposed to extreme weather events and hinders their recovery. 

Conflict and violence are expected to heighten in risk. Research shows that Tweets are more hateful in the heat! Right-wing politicians exploit these issues, inflaming immigration, economic inequality, and global insecurity. 

Climate does not directly cause migration, conflict, or violence – but it does make them more likely. Research shows, for example, poverty and inequality are more important drivers of conflict and migration than climate change. But they are themselves, amplified by complex effects from climate change. 

These complex interactions between environmental and economic conditions as well as our political and social life shows us that the future is to a large extent ours to decide. 

Humans have become an agent of planetary change. 

We can determine the future of the environment. The environment will not determine ours. 

Yet understanding how climate change may indirectly influence politics, industry, economies, people is crucial to finding integrated policies appropriate to the complex challenges we face. 

I am hopeful. For surely, the world can learn that hatred and discrimination in all their forms is useless, racism is stupid and the will to conquer the minds and territories of other people is meaningless. 

We need to stop anger and divisions and find strength in solidarity. 

Our history has always resulted in the greater negative impact from the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each and every individual. 

It has always been up to us 

This is the time to tackle complexity through systems thinking – create a Sphere Economy! 

Don’t let it slip away. 

Scroll to Top