Big Ideas on Complexity Science & Sustainable Peace
The following is one series of talks from March 2015, curated and hosted on Columbia campus as part of our Annual Sustaining Peace Event. The talks were each 10-minutes and the series aimed at shifting the way we think about engaging with conflict and peace. Each encourages you to look at social issues not merely as a single problem to solve, but as a system of interconnected parts – people, institutions, rules, history, environment, and so forth – constantly interacting and changing, yet, in many ways remaining the same.
For more about this topic and our approach here, explore Dynamical Systems Theory.
Complexity, Intractability and Social Change
Peter T. Coleman (+ Bio)
Intractable conflicts are those conflicts that persist over time and space. They draw us in and we seem to remain trapped in their grip despite efforts of many to resolve them. Examples are easy to identify – from national and international conflicts to a longstanding family feud. In his 10-minute talk, Dr. Peter Coleman will share a new way of thinking about and engaging in intractable conflict – through the lens of complexity science and dynamical systems theory.
Peace is a Pattern: Simple Rules for Sustainable Peace
Glenda Eoyang (+ Bio)
In complex adaptive systems, including human social systems, patterns emerge when diverse agents follow the same short list of simple rules. In her talk, Dr. Glenda Eoyang will explore some of these simple rules and the emergent patterns they create in both the natural and human worlds. She’ll then explore the question “How can we use simple rules to see, understand, and influence patterns for sustainable peace?”
Hidden Patterns in Peace and Reform Processes
Josefine Roos and Stephen Gray (+ Bios)
Josefine Roos is an international affairs practitioner,co-director of Adapt Research and Consulting, focusing currently on systemic conflict resolution and conflict sensitivity methodologies in Myanmar. Josefine’s interest in system methodologies was sparked studying Dynamical Systems Theory at Columbia University. She traveled to South Sudan to use Dynamical Systems Theory to inform conflict assessment methodologies. For the past two years Josefine has been living in Myanmar, working as a consultant to the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative, as well as a range of international NGOs and the United Nations. She has conducted several systemic conflict assessments as well as trainings in conflict sensitivity and is also involved in a Systemic Action Research project working with enhancing community voices into the Myanmar Peace Process.
Stephen Gray is a practitioner and researcher in the field of international conflict resolution. His studies at Columbia University introduced him to Dynamical Systems Theory, which he later applied as a method of conflict assessment in South Sudan. Most of Stephen’s work today involves applied research and advice, where possible incorporating systemic theories and methods. For the past two years Stephen has lived and worked in Myanmar, where he has conducted multiple systemic conflict assessments and is now country representative for Envisage, a social enterprise combining big data, systems mapping and thinking, and dialog tools to support organizations working for peaceful reform and resolution of Myanmar’s civil war.
Elections, peace talks, protests, and other conflicts are highly visible symbols of countries undergoing political and social change. However, such visible symbols sometimes mask the deeper, hidden patterns that are actually driving the social system. Drawing on examples from Myanmar’s peace and reform process, this talk will illustrate how revealing and acting on hidden patterns can help international assistance avoid inadvertently doing harm, while supporting more sustainable, positive transformation.
Mathematics of Human Behavior
Larry Liebovitch (+ Bio)
Physics models are simple but people are complex. How can mathematical models help us understand human behavior? Dr. Larry Liebovitch will share how simple mathematical models and equations can tell us surprising things about the consequences of human behavior.
Orit Gal (+ Bio)
For many years, Dr. Orit Gal has been engaged in solving the Middle East conflict and has explored why accumulated actions to resolve the conflict have failed. Dr. Gal suggests that complexity can help us understand why conflict and other social challenges cannot simply be reduced to a list of individual ‘problems to solve’. Rather, she suggests that the metaphor of Chinese acupuncture can offer insights into understanding how small interventions can disrupt and change the behavior of individuals, the dynamics of entire social systems, and the world in which we live.
Intractable Cities? Changing Patterns from Urban Violence to Urban Peace
Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Aldo Civico (+ Bios)
Beth Fisher-Yoshida is a faculty member and the academic director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program. She is also a lecturer in the Social and Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Fisher-Yoshida teaches classes in conflict resolution and related fields and conducts participatory action research. She is the founder of FYI Fisher Yoshida International, LLC, a firm that partners with clients to develop customized interventions aimed at improving organizational performance. Dr. Fisher-Yoshida is the author of numerous articles, chapters, edited books, and authored a book on transnational leadership. She received her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems and M.A. in Organization Development from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. She received her M.A., with honors, from Teachers College, Columbia University, and received both a B.A. and a B.S. from Buffalo State College.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Aldo Civico has been on the frontline of conflict resolution. He has worked with victims and perpetrators of deadly conflicts. In Colombia, he has facilitated talks with the guerrilla. He has conducted research among members of death squads, gangs, and drug cartels. He shares the unique insights he has gained through his research and work in seminars, workshops, and lectures to executives. He is an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in Newark, where in 2011 he founded the International Institute for Peace, which is a Category 2 UNESCO center. From 2007 to 2010, he was the director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. Aldo Civico is a columnist of the prestigious Colombian newspaper El Espectador. He holds a Ph.D in anthropology from Columbia University.
By 2030, the UN predicts that 80 percent of the world population will live in urban areas, and cities will increasingly be the spaces where conflicts arise and related violence will occur. Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Dr. Aldo Civico will talk about their joint work with youth groups and community leaders from marginalized areas in Medellin, Colombia, that seeks to address the concrete reality in which they live, to understand the patterns and dynamics that produce the violent system in which they operate, and to imagine how to alter those patterns to move the system toward a nonviolent state.
Layers of Impact
Josh Fisher (+ Bio)
Making gains on environmental, social, and economic sustainable development requires that organizations adapt to a new and increasingly interconnected reality. However, moving into this interconnected space spanning development, environmental management and peacebuilding work is costly and challenging. In his talk, Dr. Fisher offers a perspective on how we can know that efforts to span silos and traditional operational boundaries are worth it.
Limits to Management in Armed Conflict in the Age of Complexity
Armando Geller (+ Bios)
Sustainable peace is envisioned as a universal concept yet ‘peace’ is emergent and dependent on its context. While working in varying localities, Dr. Armando Geller uses extensive input from a wide range of stakeholders to build models and run simulations as tools for decision makers to explore the meaning of sustainable peace. His talk will illustrate the challenges and utility of employing these models in shaping our ability to effectively manage social systems.
(Why Peacebuilders Need to) Dump the Terms ‘Success’ and ‘Failure’
Rob Ricigliano (+ Bios)
Making a sustainable impact in complex peacebuilding environments requires that we stop thinking in terms of success and failure. Complex, adaptive social systems mean that striving for “success” often leads us to make unsustainable or even negative impacts; while avoiding “failure” means we stifle learning and miss opportunities for innovation. Rob Ricigliano will share his work with The Omidyar Group in thinking and acting differently in complex environments in order to implement a new paradigm for making sustainable change in a complex world.