Redundancy and Resilience

Redundancy is a marvellous buffer against shocks to the system. When the primary system breaks down, we need only switch to the backup with no great harm done – provided of course there is a backup. In this way, redundancy can be seen as a kind of insurance policy.

The big problem for us is that we’ve just spent more than sixty years systematically destroying the backup systems in the name of efficiency. Just think of the connotations of the very term: in contemporary speech, redundancy sounds by definition to be something you need to get rid of as soon as possible.

Resilience theory (see the Resilience Alliance website) observes that in social-ecological systems the moment of greatest efficiency is also the moment of greatest brittleness. A system that is wonderful at doing one thing well under precise conditions becomes broken as soon as the conditions change. What stops the whole thing from crashing down is that the ‘adaptive cycle’ is at different stages for each level of scale, and that breakages at one scale can be influenced by ongoing functionality at other scales (this influence is termed ‘panarchy’). A big problem with globalization is that it assumes one scale – the global – should govern all. So the brittleness of increasing efficiency becomes universal. The proposed solution to this is to change the management paradigm from ‘control of predictable change’ to ‘adaptability under unpredictable change’.

Buzz Holling, one of the cheief pioneers of resilience theory suggests the following:

  1. Encourage innovation through a rich variety of experiments and transformative approaches that probe possible directions. It is important to encourage experiments that have a low cost of failure to individuals, the environment, and careers, because many of these experiments will fail.

  2. Reduce inhibitions to change, which are common when systems get so locked up.

  3. Protect and communicate the accumulated knowledge and experience needed for change.

  4. Promote discourse among all parties involved to try to understand where we are going and how to achieve it.

  5. Encourage new foundations for renewal that build and sustain the ability of people, economies, and nature to deal with change, and ensure that these new foundations consolidate and expand our understanding of change.

  6. Allow sufficient time. This pulse is a global phenomenon, and it could potentially affect all levels of the hierarchy, all the way up the chain, from the individual/family to national and global systems.”

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