How advances in technology and our understanding of systems thinking might power a brighter future
Each piece of infrastructure that is shared by the community – each piece of road, each public building, each pipeline, each telecommunications cable – has an establishment cost and a carrying cost…a budget entry for maintaining that infrastructure to ensure it stays safe and continues to operate efficiently and can be upgraded or replaced if necessary.
Each piece has an associated set of activities – services performed by people often assisted by machines & technology to inspect that infrastructure, to fix problems, to upgrade it, to replace pieces, to extend it…
And as we extend our shared infrastructure, so we add more pieces and more service activities to keep all this infrastructure in place.
Each part of this infrastructure is part of a broader system. The system of transport, the system of energy, the system of water, the system of healthcare, the system of education and so on.
In any one jurisdiction we have many of these systems, full of infrastructure, full of activities being carried out by people assisted by machines and technologies of all sorts. Some services rely more on infrastructure…and some are less about infrastructure and more about services…but mostly there are elements of both in each of our systems.
And we are part of these systems too. Each person has to interact with these systems. Maybe you are part of the services crew for some part of the infrastructure or the system – maybe you are a teacher, or a nurse or a bus driver – maybe you help to manage the water system or the telecommunications system? Whether you have a role on the supply side of any of these systems, there’s one thing for sure. You are a user of the infrastructure…of the transport system or the education system or the healthcare system. We are all users on the demand side of these systems to some degree or other.
And our own infrastructure – those pieces that we own ourselves – our own cars, our own houses – they are users of the shared systems too. Maybe they are hooked into the electricity grid? Into the water system?
Maybe we see our own infrastructure as extensions of ourselves. Our own car is part of our extended self and together we are using the shared infrastructure of the roads as part of the transport system. Or maybe we consider ourselves as temporary users of the car, temporary occupiers of the house…which is really part of the overall shared system.
However we view these systems, we certainly don’t want these systems to break. We want them to improve. To become more available, more valuable to people across our communities. To become more effective.
As our societies advance, our shared systems are getting bigger and more complex…and more expensive to maintain. Infrastructure and services are accumulative – we add more and more over time…so the costs are accumulative too.
So these days it seems that we are struggling to fund the ongoing maintenance of our shared infrastructure and public services.
But we want these systems – they are vital for our communities. They are vital for our safety, for our standard of living, for our quality of life.
So we need to find ways to keep improving these systems…ways which are more efficient and effective…more productive ways to manage our shared systems.
This is the objective of the Kractal research project.
Imagine if each part of each system within each jurisdiction – large or small – were able to communicate its level of productivity. That is, its input costs…what it’s taking to establish and maintain it…and how effective it is at providing the outcome it’s there for…it’s reason for being. What if each piece of road, each public building, each pipeline, each telecommunications cable – could do this. What if each associated service could do this ?
What if we could use this information to see into the state of efficiency and effectiveness…the productivity…of each of our systems…at the macro level…say the whole of the electricity system of a State or a nation…or the micro level…say the state of a trunk road in a busy locality.
Would that be helpful? Would we be able to compare the state of productivity between different parts of our systems and be better able to optimise them?
Would we be better able to understand how to make each system or part of each system operate in a self-sufficient way…where the users…the beneficiaries of the system…and the maintainers…the service delivery people, materials etc. are somehow in balance which each other so that the system moves towards operating self-sufficiently?
Is that what we mean by sustainability ? Are we, in fact, trying to balance the demand side of each part of our systems with the supply side of suitable labour, materials and the funds to make it all happen in some sort of economic model which is both self-sufficient in its own right and also balances with our social needs for effective services but also for meaningful jobs or roles for everyone in the community ?
And while we’re trying to balance this – are we also trying to balance the environmental impact on our surroundings…our local and our global surroundings…
Is progress toward self-sufficiency the aim of each publicly-funded program? Would it be better if we *knew* whether each part of the public spending we made was having the effect of making that system more self-sufficient? Do we want to know if it’s having no effect at all? Or even making it less self-sufficient?
Do we want to know the impact on people – how much is this helping or harming people…and the effect on our environment…how much is this helping or harming our environment…of each part of our system?
Would this enable us to make better decisions as to where our public funding should be directed?
Once some parts of our systems are operating self-sufficiently, would we be better able to re-direct public spending to other parts of the system that need to be improved so that these too can become balanced and self-sufficient ?
What if we re-oriented our administrative approach so we could gain shared visibility of the state of our systems in this way? What if we harnessed this new technology we have…big data and sensor networks and all that jazz…to enable this shared visibility? Do we know enough about complex systems, human psychology and collaborative behaviour to define a more sustainable way forward for our communities?
The Kractal Framework is defining an iterative approach to testing this idea in small-scale domains to see how we might harness technology and innovation for a brighter future for all people and for our shared environment.
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