Global Systems Science – II

At its second meeting the group had about twenty people. The intention was to discuss the document “Towards a global systems science” by Ralph Dum.
The was considerable discussion of the first paragraph: “Global Systems Science (GSS) is a response to two major 21st century developments, one societal and one technological: The increasingly global and highly interconnected nature of challenges facing humanity and the pervasiveness of Information and Communication Technologies – ICT – in all human and societal endeavours.”
It was noted that the study of social systems is not neutral. Different paradigms imply different models.
Why was ICT included? There were two answers to this question, one scientific and the other administrative. It was noted that the document highlights the term “policy informatics” – building ICT systems to support policy. All organisations use computer tools to support their planning and decision making (the tools may not be very good and the scientific principles they embody may at variance with observation). It was stated that the science we do is ICT-based and that our science is entangled with ICT. It was suggested that “societal informatics” could mean the use of computers to investigate social systems and social processes. This can be curiosity-driven science. It can augment policy informatics by providing science knowledge when it does not exists. Another category, ‘embedded informatics’ was suggested to reflect the fact that our societies have informatics embedded throughout, often supplied and supported by commercial organisations. It is necessary to configure data to answer questions. It was noted that ICT contributes to the “highly connected” nature of societies.
The second reason for considering ICT is the relationship between the scientific community and the European Commission. The complex systems community in Europe has been well supported by the EC, especially the Future Emerging Technology (FET) unit “FET is the ICT incubator and pathfinder for new ideas and themes for long-term research in the area of information and communication technologies. Its mission is to promote high risk research, offset by potential breakthrough with high technological or societal impact.” ( This meeting is intended to make the concept of ‘Global Systems Science’ well defined and for the research community to reach consensus and have a shared vision of the future. This is important because the Commission is developing its Horizon 2020, the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation which is the successor to FP7. It will be launched in 416 days from 10/11/12 ( By making Global Systems Science well defined, tangible, and obviously relevant to the Commission’s objectives the research community can ensure that there will be funding streams for GSS in H2020.
There was some discussion of what ‘complex systems’ means. For some it meant unexpected emergence. Clearly the suggested example of financial crisis, climate change, and urban dynamics are complex systems. The interpretation of ‘global’ was again discussed. Global can include ‘worldwide, as in climate change, but need not, as in cities. It was suggested that the term means the whole system with all its entangled subsystems, e.g. in cities the police, fire, education, retail, transport, health, etc subsystems are all interdependent. Policy requires that the whole system is considered.
Is it necessary to have integrated multilayer models? It was noted that there is the € 22m DYM-CS project addressing exactly this ( . Is the idea of networks of networks relevant or central to GSS. Some thought it definitely is, but this is only part of the story. The theory of networks has to change.

The term ‘Evidence Based Policy’ was discussed. Some people felt uncomfortable with this because often we don’t have much ‘scientific’ evidence. In the UK the policy makers use the term ‘Evidence Based Policy’ to give their policies legitimacy. However there are examples of the same scientific evidence being used to support contradictory policies.
It was agreed that there should be explicit exemplars of Global Systems.
Prof Wanglin YAN showed us the Global Environment Systems Leaders Programme at Keoi University in Tokyo. This resonates with GSS.
We need to establish legitimacy. Physicists have not been very successful in trying to displace (incorrect) ideas in economics. We need to educate many people.
The idea of ICT as an instrument for observation was discussed – ICT provides ’sensors’ for observing and measuring society. ICT isthe next telescope or microscope? CERN was mentioned. However, new types of ICT are required.
Although we did not go through Raph Dum’s document line by line, there was consensus that it is a very good start in the process of making Global Systems Science well defined and an idea that is useful for the research community

Much more was said. Sorry if your contribution got lost. If so please add it to the blog. JJ

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