- Author: Wendy Powers
Time got away from us at Senior Leadership Team meeting the other day so topics I thought we might have time to discuss will need to be addressed in small group discussions. Based on the calendar, it looks like that might take some time.
A group of us spent the day at Hopland REC brainstorming the attributes of the venue and dreaming of possibilities for both research and community engagement. While the weather was less than glorious yesterday, today was much better. Deb Driskill was our resident photographer, snapping pictures along the way from Sacramento.
The focus of the conversation was financial feasibility of maintaining over 5,000 acres of landscape that inspired the likes of Ansel Adams. Despite the beauty, the financial reality of keeping roads passable and plots and livestock safe from predators is harsh. But what the facility has to offer, from oak woodlands to vernal pools to bright green pastures, for research, citizen science, and education, financial stability is not impossible but, rather, requires some deep, collective, and creative thinking. While unique, there are other examples out there to stimulate such thought and certainly within and across UC the brainpower needed to pose feasible solutions.
This whole topic had me thinking about the field of systems dynamics, pioneered by Jay Forrester at MIT. An early application of the causal loop concept was for the airline industry. Imagine the series of actions and reactions that take place as a result of extreme weather conditions (frozen plane bathrooms, de-icing delays, reliance on different guidance mechanisms due to visibility, icy runways) and the ripple effect that has on moving flight crews around the country not to mention passengers and baggage. While weather has obvious effects on all airlines, despite appearances that United delays in and out of Chicago is impacted to a greater extent than American, even a mechanical problem on a single aircraft signals disruptions and delays throughout the system because all airlines share the same airspace and runways and, in small airports, baggage crews. Systems dynamics considers these broad consequences and offers an opportunity to see the bigger picture on an international, all airline scale.
No doubt I drew the connection between systems dynamics and opportunities at the RECs, in part, because my flight to Ontario is delayed due to weather. But there are other reasons, too. We have to engage people we don't normally work with in order to really see the whole picture – and all the possibilities that picture brings – rather than looking at just a few of the individual parts.