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All policies make sense based on their underlying assumptions; otherwise no one would be tempted to formulate them or carry them out. Yet, they often have unforeseen consequences that lead to very different outcomes than the ones imagined. Worse, unlike the characters in folk tales who end up realizing their mistake, the unforeseen consequences of policies are typically diffuse and indirect, therefore difficult to trace to their causes. In this fashion, we become lost in a maze of unforeseen consequences.


from this blog post.

The value of System Dynamics is exactly to surface the underlying assumptions, thus minimizes the unforeseen consequences.

One of the most valuable things, and very easy to forget, is relationship. Social cohesion of the global society is a key stock, on a par with physical capital stock and natural resource and sink capacity. Just like damage of nature will affect the economy, damage of society will also affect the economy. Changes in each of them will change the other two significantly. Unfortunately, the invisible property of social relation compared to the other two makes it easy to be forgotten (and thus vulnerable).

It is a bit like Morale in an organization. Hidden, but important to survival of the organization.

Social cohesion is strongly affected by distribution (relative wealth). Wider and wider rich-poor gap (rich gets richer) hurts social relation; decreasing the gap so that weaker people can survive strengthens social cohesion. The problem of current system is that it does not internalize 2 major externalities enough – nature/environment and society/politics. There is social capital but it is not yet defined and entered the mainstream.

The social cost will need to be paid by one day. Society with low social cohesion is very vulnerable to shock. Conflicts make it even weaker. Survivalist who is aware of the crisis but just prepare for himself or his family is likely failed to survive because lack of community support. Human is social animal, don’t underestimate the importance of society.

Of course, it needs not be the case of collapse if we value the cohesion of global society. In this age of globalization, we are actually very interconnected and inter-dependent. We now have the common future (命运共同体).

Currently global community is dominated by international and inter-MNC (multinational corporation) relationship. These are very fragile and better be diversified to many types of relationship, such as inter-regions, inter-cities, inter-NGO and even inter-individual among different nations. The creation of internet and social networking web services is actually opportunity for sustainability, if we know how to utilize them.

Note: When measuring social relation, consider quality besides quantity. Various metrics in social network analysis may be helpful.

This is the focus question I am researching. Unless we can find out the root cause and so solution, we can only rely on luck.

There are several good points about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in this paper:


  • the notion of linking knowledge, values, perspectives, and skills/bahaviour (the head, the heart, the hands)… It [ESD] must connect the head to the heart to the hands [I would rephrase it as “connect the heart (value) to the head (reasoning, knowledge) to the hands (action)”].
  • Ultimately the benefit [effectiveness] of ESD must be measured in terms of change behaviour.
  • Education is not sufficient, but it is certainly necessary… reject the notion that either we educate or we use regulation and economic policy instruments.
  • [Some discussions about funding and political setback. It seems to me that the top-down approach of UN Decade for ESD failed to create sustainable commitment to ESD in individual nation or local level. Some things to do.]
  • It would be serious error to ignore the profound shifts in culture and social structure that are already underway in all parts of the globe. [People tends to overlook culture/paradigm shift because it is invisible / less salient, although the accumulation is ongoing and will create surprise when it is large enough to create visible shift to new state. So actually what we educators do is to keep accumulation, speed up the accumulation.]


His presentation is also inspiring:


ESD must:

  • be experiential, inquiry-based, place based, and action-oriented
  • teach students to think in systems terms
  • explain inter-relationships between ecosystems and social systems (including the economy, culture etc)
  • inspire concern for fellow humans and for the biosphere (which makes all life possible)
  • strengthen capacity to think and act for the future and not only for the present


These should be should familiar to System Dynamics/Systems Thinking educators.



Technologies for sustainability leadership

  • facilitation (leader as facilitator)
  • collaborative decision making
  • vision-based strategic action thinking and planning
  • scenario planning (including computer modeling of future scenarios)


I like the idea leader as facilitator, while facilitation for envisioning, scenario planning and collaborative decision making are basic elements of group modelling building.

Human tend to pay attention to visible things, neglect things that are invisible. We see the individual people, forgetting the connections among them forming groups. We thought characteristics of the actors in a system determine the outcome, while actually the institution framework (including culture) often plays a bigger role. Bias of quantity (growth) over quality (development), wealth over happiness or health are similar misperceptions, which is the ignorance of intangible.

Invisible / intangible / less salient does not mean they are unimportant. Neglect them and you can be in trouble without understanding why it happened in the first place.

Major fishery collapsed, and I did not care about – because I was rich enough to have the remaining fish;
There were more and more wildfire, and I did not care about – because I am not living near the forest;
Some countries faced water scarcity, and I did not care about – because in my place, rainfall is more than enough;
Sea level rise is inundating river delta, island nations and coast, and I did not worry about – because I can always move to my summer house in the highland;
The high food price prolonged hunger, and I did not worry about – because my country is self-sufficient in grains;
Oil is getting expensive, and I did not worry about – because my country exports oil;
Then the world war began and epidemic outbreak – and there were no one left to help me.

The boiling frog slows to react because the changes are gradually. Something changes gradually is not salient, the skill we developed during the evolution process to select things to pay more attention. Unfortunately, overshoot symptoms are often distant in space and time, therefore often less salient.

For example, sea level rise is almost unnoticed because it is very slow. But if it is consistently rising, one day we will find ourselves need to move to higher place after more and more severe flooding occured. The increase in flood risk is the indirect outcome of sea level rise.

It is well-documented that people performed poorly in simple stock and flow task, especially when the flows information are displayed as Behavior Over Time graph, the difference between flow and stock becomes less salient. Event is more salient than process/bahaviour, which is still more salient than the underlying structure, needless to say the prevailing mindset (mental model, paradigm) which bring up the structure.

I denote such fallacy which only focus on the salient things and ignore the important but less salient things as saliency trap.

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