Tackling complexity using interlinked thinking : well-being as a case study : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ecological Economics at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The world today is made up of a series of highly interconnected complex systems characterised by uncertainty. Human minds struggle with complexity, and the tools available to help us are limited. This often leads to reductionism, focusing on the parts rather than the whole. Working with individual parts ignores the dynamics that result from interdependencies between components. It is these interactions that determine the behaviour we experience in real world situations. This dissertation presents ‘interlinked thinking’ as a communication and analytical approach to help people work with, rather than ignore, complexity. It aims to build understanding of feedbacks loops and systems in a way that does not require expert modelling skills. It is a participatory process that allows people not familiar with systems thinking to have a structured dialogue on how components interrelate, and share their mental models. Links between components are debated and decided on in a workshop session. The resultant causal loop diagrams are transcribed to a matrix and an algorithm run to analyse the links in the system.
The interlinked thinking method was tested using three case studies to answer the principal research question: Does understanding the relationships between indicators add value and progress sustainable well-being? Well-being is multi-dimensional, and the complex behaviour of the well-being system does not come from individual indicators but from the interrelationships between indicators and resultant feedback loops. Participants who applied interlinked thinking confirmed value was gained from: (1) increased understanding of the indicators in the system; (2) more visible relationships; (3) expanding the toolkit to work with complexity; (4) an increased ability to bring important issues to the attention of decision-makers; (5) consideration of intervention impacts; and (6) encouraging integrated thinking.
Interlinked thinking can be replicated and used in any situation where having a better understanding of interconnectedness is important but time, resources, and modelling skills are limited.
Key words: interlinked thinking; systems thinking; sustainable well-being; causal loop diagrams; complexity; interconnected; feedback loops; mental model