All posts by Carlo C. Jaeger

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction

This is a post about “Disaster Risk Reduction: Government to Governance”, a debate that took place in the framework of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (Geneva, May 19-23). Speakers were:

– Walter Ammann, President of the Global Risk Forum, Davos (Download Presentation)

– Lai Hongzhou, Mistry of Civil Affairs, P.R. China (Download Presentation)

– Marco Ferrari, former chair of the drafting committee for the Hyogo Framework for Action, Board member Global Risk Forum (Download Presentation)

– Shi Peijun, Beijing Normal University and Integrated Risk Governance Prject, Beijing (Download Presentation)

– Saber Chowdhury, Bangladesh, chair of the standing committee on Peace and International Security of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. (Download Presentation)

Here, courtesy of Ye Qian, a brief summary:

  1. Although there are great achievements in dealing with disasters at various scales worldwide, with major contributions from science and technology, there is still room for improvement in traditional fields, and there are major challenges for new emerging issues. For example, the impacts of many disasters now cross boundaries of countries. Therefore, a paradigm shift is needed for governments from an ex-post disaster centered approach, i.e., intervention and recovery coordinated by political authority, to disaster governance, which is a decision-making process including all kinds of stakeholders with explicit consideration of scales.
  2. In the past two decades, many countries, for example, China, have made significant progress in institutional, legal, financial and social structures dealing with disasters. There is, however, a lack of scientific ways to measure the progresses of national capacities in disaster prevention, mitigation, rescue, recovery, etc. Innovations in raising overall awareness, developing legal frameworks, implementing financial systems to transfer risks, and guaranteeing political accountability are urgently needed.
  3. To help governments make better decisions and policies for disaster risk governance, developing a comprehensive and systematic governance framework at multiple scales is the key issue. The role of stakeholders in each system must be clearly defined, especially when dealing with disaster chains.
  4. So far, great efforts have been made on identifying the problems, issues and possible measures in disaster risk reduction. A core issue of governance is how to help governments to really implement such measures.
  5. Although great efforts have been made by UNISDR and other UN agencies on bridging the worlds of scientists and policy makers, less work has been done on developing usable toolboxes as well as teams of “sales people” who have a multidisciplinary background, are really knowledgeable and capable to communicate with other stakeholders.


This debate is especially important in view of the process by which the UN international strategy for disaster risk reduction will further enhance the basis provided by the Hyogo Framework for Action on disasters.


Thanks on the Road

Global Systems Science is just beginning. But already now the conversation is surprisingly rich. There are the exchanges on this blog, with a remarkable variety of disciplines, nations, and interests represented. There are exchanges between the blog and a whole range of workshops, conferences, gatherings. New papers, some just published, others in the making, give depth to the conversation, while the interactions between different blogs and websites give it breadth. So great thanks to all of you who are helping to bring this about!

Plurality is of essence here. After all, GSS itself shall be a global system, and it is quite likely that different themes, questions, insights will be emphasized by researchers interacting mainly with, say, Chinese policy makers than by researchers operating in a European or African context. There are disciplines, in science as elsewhere, where a high degree of homogeneity gets established (say Kabuki, the Japanese dance-drama, or perhaps physics), while in other ones widely differing approaches are cultivated (say software design, or perhaps linguistics). Most likely, GSS will be closer to the latter kind, and the present conversation is a good example.

For me at least it is a pleasure to read all the different ideas and suggestions to be found in the rapidly expanding GSS universe. But there is more than intellectual pleasure here. I am certainly not the only one deeply worried about the difficulty of Europe to get its act together in today’s global society, a society massively shaped by European traditions. There can be little doubt that in the coming decades humankind will need to explore futures well beyond business as usual. So I am grateful for the hope that GSS might help European as well as other policy makers to learn what it takes to walk untrodden paths.

Version 02: GSS Research Program

Version 01 of the GSS research program, actually more a skeleton of a draft, has been instrumental to develop a lot of ideas, expressed in part here on the GSS blog, in part in a whole range of workshops and other gatherings both in cyberspace and on good old ground.

Here comes version 02, still very much work in progress, to be influenced and shaped by anybody who is able and willing to contribute to it. In the words of Dave Clarke, famously spoken at the Twenty-Fourth Internet Engineering Task Force:

“We reject: kings, presidents and voting.

We believe in: rough consensus and running code.”

Carlo, Sander and David, in coordination with Ralph, are presently compiling material for version 03, and will be very happy to receive tons of  input on top of what we already got, best here on the blog, but e-mail is also ok.

Starting a GSS Reading List

When some time ago I asked Ralph Dum what he considered a good example of a global system, he said: “The Internet”. That answer made a lot of sense to me and is one of the reasons I engaged with GSS.

There is a rather famous paper by Papadimitriou called “Algorithms, Games and the Internet” claiming that to understand the Internet we need “a fusion of algorithmic ideas with concepts and techniques from Mathematical Economics and Game Theory”. Again, that makes a lot of sense to me. The reason being that “The Internet has arguably surpassed the von Neumann computer as the most complex computational artifact (if you can call it that) of our time”. It “is unique among all computer systems in that it is built, operated, and used by a multitude of diverse economic interests, in varying relationships of collaboration and competition with each other.” And for sure this multitude of interests cuts across nations to span the whole globe. So that paper looks like a good start for a GSS reading list. And for those who like less technical stuff, here is a gentle introduction to “The Price of Anarchy”, a subject presently studied with the tools suggested by Papadimitriou. Remarkably, the Internet community engages in this analysis because it wants to pay that price, while understandably preferring to keep it low.

I’ll start a very preliminary GSS reading list by adding some references based on conversations with Sander van der Leeuw about readings for the worksop: “GSS – territorial versus functional patterns” (Arizona State, February 25/26).

Consider the beautyful Internet meme: “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code” (it started at, p. 543). That pretty much captures the spirit of the professional networks that are increasingly shaping the technologies humankind lives with. These networks are an important example of what sociologists call the functional differentiation of society – as distinct from the segmentation practiced by our ancestors in the couple of hundred thousand years before they settled down, but also from the hierarchical differentiation that became paramount in the territorially based ways of life that shaped the past couple of millennia. Some background on this is provided in a pretty influential paper on Social Differentiation.

One reason functional networks are important in today’s world is that they provide people with identities that generate bonds crossing the boundaries set by national identities. Amartya Sen has argued that this kind of multiple identities is what we need to reduce the risks of violence in a globalized world. We better think hard about these risks as they may well become, in Churchill’s words, “A Gathering Storm“.

A key topic to consider when looking at the relation between global functional networks like the world of computer scientists, programmers, etc. and the territorial structures of nation states is the dynamics of global urbanization. Cities are places where a multitude of functional networks intersect. Sander has already begun to spell out how the GSS research program might look at worldwide urbanization (see his post “Towards a Global Systems Science of Urbanization”). To get a sense of how this fits with the broader scope of GSS as a whole, see his “Lessons from the Distant Past”. And when thinking about a GSS research program, we can build on the agenda for scientific research that Young et al. have designed with regards to “The Globalization of Socio-Ecological Systems”.

A key practical challenge with regards to that globalization is how to develop a reasonable “Governance of Finance”. How daunting this challenge might be becomes clear when looking at the “Global Network of Corporate Control”. As the global financial crisis of 2007 has shown, the state of the art in economics is hardly sufficient to deal with these networks. The fusion of algorithmic ideas and game theory advocated in the first paper on our list, therefore, is best seen not as refining existing ideas here and there, but as the kind of intellectual adventure that opens truly new horizons. “Shaking an Invisible Hand” offers an entry to that journey.

A Research Program for Global Systems Science

The first open global systems science conference last November in Brussels made it quite clear that we have key elements for a research program for global systems science in our hands.

Since then, a whole range of conversations around this topic has developed, in workshops, informal exchanges and on-going research. Some of us have been busy developing proposals for research projects in a GSS perspective, and more will do so in the years to come. Now it’s time to develop an orientation paper that begins to delineate our research program, a paper that shall help orienting both the activities of researchers and those of funding agencies. Here you find a seed, aka version 01, for this orientation paper, as pdf and rtf.

Input for version 02 is warmly welcome!