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Navigating the adaptive cycle: an approach to managing the resilience of social systems

Brian D Fath, Advanced Systems Analysis, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University
Carly A Dean, Advanced Systems Analysis, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Harald Katzmair, FAS.research


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The concept of resilience continues to crescendo since the 1990s, touching on multiple fields with multiple interpretations and uses. Here, we start from its origins in systems ecology, framing the resilience concept explicitly in the adaptive cycle with the observation that resilient systems are ones that successfully navigate all stages of growth, development, collapse, and reorientation of this cycle. The model is explored in terms of the traps and pathologies that hinder this successful navigation, particularly when applied to socioeconomic organizations and decision-management situations. For example, for continuous function over the adaptive life cycle, a system needs activation energy or resources to grow, followed by adequate structure and complexity to maintain maturity. Implementation of crisis plans may avert collapse, but during catastrophe, the ability to improvise and re-orient will allow the system to emerge along a new cycle. We review the capacities, competencies, and cultures needed by these organizations, specifically, identifying that the needed resources are often cultivated in earlier stages, thus requiring consideration of the entire life cycle for success.

Key words

adaptive cycle; collapse; development; growth; re-orientation; resilience; succession; thresholds

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087