Empowering actors in a system for sustainability and systems leadership

Professor of Sustainability and Governance of Complex Systems, Environmentalist, and Future Designer

Systems thinker and scientist, Anupam Saraph established the actor based understanding of systems laying the foundation of the practice of change research and future design, as a means to create symbiotic, sustainable, anti-fragile, and resilient systems.

His research for the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), in 1993-94, gave rise to actor based modelling that models the interaction of individual actors in a system, allowing them to recognize the consequences of their actions and search for interventions that accomplish the common purposes of their systems.

He has been applying actor based understanding of systems for the governance and sustainability of complex systems, design of legislation, policy, strategy, and business models.

He is an advisor to the Earth Charter International that strives to transition communities to sustainable ways of living on the planet. He also sits on the board of the Balaton Group, a global network of scientists, policy makers, social activists who play a central role across the world bringing a systems approach to solving problems relating to environment, natural resources, resilience and sustainable development. He also advises the Club of Rome on the climate crisis and sustainable development. He has also served as one of the twenty top global scientists on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Complex Systems. He also serves on the boards of public and private sector companies and NGOs, and as a Professor of Sustainability and Governance of Complex Systems at universities in Asia, Europe and the United States.

He works with leaders, and mentors teams, to help them to identify their systems, recognize the common purposes of its actors, and accomplish their toughest shared challenge - their mission. He has advised several national leaders, and has also served as the governance and IT Advisor to Government of Goa and its former Chief Minister, the late Manohar Parrikar. Over the last ten years, Dr. Saraph has also been working together with Swedish Water Prize recipient and Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Rajendrasingh and hundreds of social activists working for the cause of protecting the environment and rivers of India from exploitation, encroachment, and pollution.

He has served as the CIO of Pune City and an Advisor on projects across Asia to develop urban nervous systems. He has also modeled the urban dynamics over a 100 year period from 2000 in order to explore resource transitions and sustainability.

Since 1989 he has advised several organizations including the French Ministry of Research, the Resource Use Institute, and the Royal Bank of Scotland on economic, energy, and environmental coordination methods (ECCO) for modeling national, regional and global economies, and applied them to explore the carrying capacity and the potential for growth.

He introduced the idea of mission based governance while he served as Advisor to the Government of Goa, laying the foundation for a government that was purposive rather than procedural. He also laid the foundation for symbiotic interactions between citizens and the government that were free from the need to repeatedly establish identity, and that provided a means to engage in common purposes without constraints.

A Quick introduction to actor based systems

When you come together with a purpose to share joys and sorrows, you form a system we call as friendship. When you come together with a purpose to raise children, you form a system we call as family. When you come together with a purpose to empower, you form a system we call as companionship. When you come together with a purpose to learn, you form a system we call as a class. When you come together with a purpose of working together, you form a system we call as employment. When you come together with a purpose to entertain, you form a system we call a club. When you come together with a purpose to exchange goods or services, you form a system we call as a market. When you come together with a purpose to exchange surplus money, you form a system we call as banking. You get the idea. Every purpose you participate in with others is a system.

Remove those who came together for a purpose and you don’t have that system anymore.

Add new participants and you don’t have the same system anymore. Change the purpose and you don’t have the same system anymore either.

What you experience in the system is not a result of who are part of the system but is a consequence of the interactions of those who are part of that system with each other and with you. Whether it yields the desired outcomes, the desired change, whether it makes you feel helpless or able, whether you feel you included or whether you feel you belong, results from the purpose and the interactions of those who are part of that system.

A system where participants come together for a common purpose has the foundations of symbiotic relationships.

A system where participants do not share a common purpose has the foundations for exploitation of each other. It has the foundations of encroaching on the roles the participants play in their own systems or other systems they are a part of. It has the foundations of polluting their interactions with each other or those of other participants, in other systems that they are a part of.

A system where the interactions of participants are rooted in their respect of each other ensures that such systems will be not violate the dignity, justice or liberty of each other. A system where participants come together for common purposes the symbiotic relationship ensures that the system is not exploitative. In such a system, none of the participants look at maximizing their benefits. They look at pursuing their common purposes. None of the participants encroach on the roles of the other participants, or the other systems the other participants are a part of. They protect the liberty of the participants to engage in other systems and the roles they may play in those systems. They do not pollute the systems they are a part of by mixing their purposes or mixing their roles.

A quick introduction to Change Research and Future Design

What makes something edible is not the individual ingredients but the recipe. What makes a good recipe, again, is not the ingredients but the result of the interactions of its ingredients. The individual ingredients do not have the property of the recipe. The interactions of the ingredients result in the properties of the recipe.

Similarly, if we collect the best cooks, the best kitchens, the best ingredients and the best recipes, we do not have the best restaurants. We may not even have a restaurant. The restaurant is more than the sum of its parts. It is the result of the interactions of its parts. None of the parts have the property of a good restaurant, it is only the interactions of the parts that do.

If we collect the best cooks, best teachers, best engineers, best doctors, best farmers and so on, we do not have the worlds best community. We may not even have a community. A community is not the sum of its parts. It is the result of the interactions of its parts. None of the individuals in the community have the properties of the community, it is the interactions of the individuals that do.

If we collect together the best roads, best schools, best, hospitals, best farms, best entertainment centers and put them together, we do not have the best livable city. We may not even have a livable city. None of the infrastructure of a city has the properties to make it the best livable city. It doesn’t have the properties to make it livable either. It is the interactions of the parts that make up the city that do.

If we put together the best automobile industry, the best technology industry, the best financial industry, the best consumable industry we do not get the best sustainable economy. In fact, we may not have a sustainable economy at all. None of these industries have the properties of the economy. It is the interactions of the parts that make up the economy that do.

If we put together the executive, legislature, and judiciary with the best and the brightest persons, we will not get the best government. In fact, we may not get a government at all. None of these have the property of good government. It is the interaction of these parts that make up the government that do.

The whole is the system that results from the interactions of the parts.

The parts do not have the properties of the whole that make the whole not only functional but invaluable. The parts cannot accomplish the purpose that the whole can and often does. Whether sourcing the best manpower, infrastructure, material or even information, few recognize that it is worthless to do so unless the interactions of these with the other parts can result in the whole system that we desire.

Solution shopping in our world takes apart Humpty Dumpty with the intention to put in the best parts to upgrade the functional whole. Every economy wants to have the best industries. Every city wants the smartest infrastructure. Every business wants the smartest people. Every recipe wants the best ingredients. We even want designer individuals, designer animals and designer plants. In the name of innovation and progress, we tear apart our systems that made them what they are and put together the parts which have no ability to interact together to provide systems. Certainly not the systems where the interaction of the parts will result in the properties that serve the purposes for which the parts came together in the first place. We do not understand systems. We may be very intelligent, yet we are systems illiterate.

When we pull apart natures plumbing, its streams, rivers, ground water flows, and replace it with the best engineering for storing or transporting water we don’t get a water system, we destroy the water system that sustains our water cycles.

When we replace forests with “green” transportation systems that will “fix” our cities growing mobility needs, we destroy not just our forest, we destroy our city. When we pull apart communities in the name of progress, we don’t get progress, we destroy the harmony of the community that makes our life come alive.