5 Principles for Social Sustainability (facing unpredictable change together)
In this whiteboard animation, I present 5 principles to achieve social sustainability. These are the findings of a group of researchers in Sweden who set out to understand the conditions that can degrade social systems, preventing us from achieving social sustainability.
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It is based on the research "A Strategic Approach to Social Sustainability" of Merlina Missimer, PhD, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652616302645
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We know humans are dependent on ecological and social systems to meet their needs. From previous research we understand fairly well how ecological systems function and the basic mechanisms by which humanity damages them systematically. But what about social systems?
Some years ago, a group of researchers in Sweden set out to answer this question. Here’s the story of what they learned.
A social system is made up of individuals connected through relationships and interactions. Think about a city, for example, from a birds-eye view with people going about their everyday life. Can you see the intricate web that their interactions is weaving?
This web of relationships is ever-changing, with new properties emerging from individual interactions that cannot be ascribed to the individuals, and that are hard to predict in detail. It’s complex.
Individual and collective behaviour mutates and changes. It’s adaptive. Think of how behaviour has changed along with new possibilities following from technical innovations, for instance. Today, interaction through advanced Information and Communication Technologies is common, also among people who have lived most of their lives without computers, tablets and mobile phones, and many have even begun to forget how daily life was possible without such interaction possibilities.
So, social systems are complex and adaptive.
This way of looking at social systems can be applied to all scales, from the global social system to smaller, more specific systems such as nations, communities, companies, and families. The key feature that allows such systems to function and evolve despite unpredictable change is called adaptive capacity. Partly this is about the capacity of the system to withstand stresses up to certain limits, and partly it is about the capacity of the system to reorganize or transform when such limits are trespassed, and still be able to provide its essential functions.
The researchers identified a number of essential aspects of adaptive capacity in social systems. A major aspect is trust. It is impossible for one or a few individuals to fully understand or control the entire complex system they are part of. We must as individuals often rely on others to make decisions and choose viable alternatives for collective adaption. So, for effective adaption, trust between the individuals is needed, and also between the individuals and their institutions in a community or society. Trust is often termed the fabric that binds a social system together.
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