8. Most systems… usually proceed through recurring cycles consisting of four phases: rapid growth, conservation, release and reorganisation….This understanding is also important for policy and for managing natural resources because it suggests there are times in the cycle when there is greater leverage to change things, and other times when effecting change is really difficult. The kinds of policy and management interventions appropriate in one phase don’t work in others.
Please look here for a better, briefer summary of the four phases than I can do right now . The phases of rapid growth – the phase marked by opportunism – and conservation – marked by growing specialism and consolidation - are known as the fore loop. The back loop consists of release – often chaotic, marked by disturbance and shock - and reorganisation – when the options arising from change lead to renewal and the return of order, albeit a new order. We need to respect the necessity in the cycle of both loops, although they may not be equally as fun for all of us. Deny the back loop, for instance, and you may appear Canute-like. Want to live there and you may just be a trouble-maker…
9. The dangers of the late conservation phase:
- Increases in efficiency being achieved through the removal of apparent redundancies (one size fits all solutions are increasingly the order of the day)
- Subsidies being introduced are almost always to help people not to change (rather than to change)
- A preoccupation with process (more and more rules, more time and effort devoted to sticking with procedures)
- Novelty being suppressed, with less support for experimentation
The credit crunch and recession seem to sit most clearly in the release phase. But perhaps the cultural sector is also still in experiencing the dangers described here. Not falling into these traps in responding to the early release phase will be really important.
10. A back loop is not all bad. It is a time of renewal and rejuvenation, a period of new beginnings and new possibilities – hence its description as a period of creative destruction….Those new beginnings can often grow to be ruling paradigms in the next front loop. They are critical times to achieve change and reform in a constantly moving social-ecological system.
I am a glass-half-full type of person. (And a Libran, although I don’t really believe in horoscopes.) So the idea that both loops are creative is appealing. Ensuring that the actions we take in the back loop help shape new and better, more resilient, ‘ruling paradigms’, is really important. So, to use a current example, whilst I welcome this week's government announcements about encouraging artists to keep town centres lively by occupying empty shops, I don’t want that to be the new ruling paradigm for provision of artist workspace. I want that paradigm to enable the development and resilience of sustainable, high quality spaces that properly supports a thriving sector delivering quality art. The proposals may help that, but only if delivered with appropriate sensitivity to the whole arts 'social-ecological system' to use the phrase from Resilience Thinking. If it’s simply a short term measure with simplistic measurements of success – moving from empty shops to shops with things in them – it may actually damage the resilience of the sector in the long run, let alone the town centres. (By, for instance, not having good quality art in town centres positions, and reinforcing negative or outdated perceptions in some people of what art can be or do.) Done well, though, it could be brilliant.
And finally, a self-explanatory, free-hidden-bonus-track quote for anyone who's stuck with this:
11. Anyone can do it. You don’t need a detailed appreciation of thresholds and adaptive cycles to apply it. You do need to see your enterprise as part of a broader interlinked system, be able to identify the important processes and variables that underpin your operation, and have the capacity to ask the appropriate questions. And you need the capacity to implement change.