Big Ideas on Complexity Science & Sustainable Peace

The following is one series of talks from March 2015, curated and hosted on Columbia campus as part of our Annual Sustaining Peace Event. The talks were each 10-minutes and the series aimed at shifting the way we think about engaging with conflict and peace. Each encourages you to look at social issues not merely as a single problem to solve, but as a system of interconnected parts – people, institutions, rules, history, environment, and so forth – constantly interacting and changing, yet, in many ways remaining the same.

For more about this topic and our approach here, explore Dynamical Systems Theory.

Complexity, Intractability and Social Change

Peter T. Coleman (+ Bio)

Peter T. Coleman holds a Ph.D. in Social/Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. He is Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University where he holds a joint-appointment at Teachers College and The Earth Institute and teaches courses in Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology, and Social Science Research. Dr. Coleman is Director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University and Executive Co-Chair of Columbia University’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4). He currently conducts research on optimality of motivational dynamics in conflict, power asymmetries and conflict, intractable conflict, multicultural conflict, justice and conflict, environmental conflict, mediation dynamics, and sustainable peace.

Intractable conflicts are those conflicts that persist over time and space. They draw us in and we seem to remain trapped in their grip despite efforts of many to resolve them. Examples are easy to identify – from national and international conflicts to a longstanding family feud. In his 10-minute talk, Dr. Peter Coleman will share a new way of thinking about and engaging in intractable conflict – through the lens of complexity science and dynamical systems theory.




Peace is a Pattern: Simple Rules for Sustainable Peace

Glenda Eoyang (+ Bio)

Dr. Glenda Eoyang works with public and private organizations to help them thrive in the face of overwhelming complexity and uncertainty. She is a pioneer in the field of human systems dynamics (HSD), which she founded. As executive director of the HSD Institute, Glenda uses her models and methods to help others see patterns in the chaos that surrounds them, understand the patterns in simple and powerful ways, and take practical steps to shift chaos into order. Glenda’s newest book, with co-author Royce Holladay, is Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization (Stanford University Press, 2013). She received her PhD in Human Systems Dynamics from Union Institute and University in 2001, and she is currently associated with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario; The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota; and Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

EoyangPresIn complex adaptive systems, including human social systems, patterns emerge when diverse agents follow the same short list of simple rules. In her talk, Dr. Glenda Eoyang will explore some of these simple rules and the emergent patterns they create in both the natural and human worlds. She’ll then explore the question “How can we use simple rules to see, understand, and influence patterns for sustainable peace?”




Hidden Patterns in Peace and Reform Processes

Josefine Roos and Stephen Gray (+ Bios)

Josefine Roos is an international affairs practitioner,co-director of Adapt Research and Consulting, focusing currently on systemic conflict resolution and conflict sensitivity methodologies in Myanmar. Josefine’s interest in system methodologies was sparked studying Dynamical Systems Theory at Columbia University. She traveled to South Sudan to use Dynamical Systems Theory to inform conflict assessment methodologies. For the past two years Josefine has been living in Myanmar, working as a consultant to the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative, as well as a range of international NGOs and the United Nations. She has conducted several systemic conflict assessments as well as trainings in conflict sensitivity and is also involved in a Systemic Action Research project working with enhancing community voices into the Myanmar Peace Process.

Stephen Gray is a practitioner and researcher in the field of international conflict resolution. His studies at Columbia University introduced him to Dynamical Systems Theory, which he later applied as a method of conflict assessment in South Sudan. Most of Stephen’s work today involves applied research and advice, where possible incorporating systemic theories and methods. For the past two years Stephen has lived and worked in Myanmar, where he has conducted multiple systemic conflict assessments and is now country representative for Envisage, a social enterprise combining big data, systems mapping and thinking, and dialog tools to support organizations working for peaceful reform and resolution of Myanmar’s civil war.

GrayTalkElections, peace talks, protests, and other conflicts are highly visible symbols of countries undergoing political and social change. However, such visible symbols sometimes mask the deeper, hidden patterns that are actually driving the social system. Drawing on examples from Myanmar’s peace and reform process, this talk will illustrate how revealing and acting on hidden patterns can help international assistance avoid inadvertently doing harm, while supporting more sustainable, positive transformation.




Mathematics of Human Behavior

Larry Liebovitch (+ Bio)

Dr. Larry S. Liebovitch is currently Professor of Physics and Psychology and previously the Dean of the Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Queens College of the City University of New York, and serves as Adjunct Senior Research Scientist for AC4. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York and an Assistant Professor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. At Florida Atlantic University he served as the interim director of the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences and as the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Studies in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. He has used nonlinear methods to analyze and understand molecular, cellular, psychological, and social systems. He is the author or coauthor of four books including: Fractals and Chaos: Simplified for the Life Sciences by Larry S. Liebovitch (Oxford University Press, 1998) and Fractal Analysis in the Social Sciences, Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences, Volume 165, by Clifford T. Brown and Larry S. Liebovitch (SAGE Publications, 2010). For more about Dr. Liebovitch, his publications, research interests and courses, please click here.

Physics models are simple but people are complex. How can mathematical models help us understand human behavior? Dr. Larry Liebovitch will share how simple mathematical models and equations can tell us surprising things about the consequences of human behavior.






Social Acupuncture

Orit Gal (+ Bio)

Dr Orit Gal is a political economist specializing in the practical applications of complexity theories. Currently a senior lecturer for Strategy and Complexity at Regent’s University London, her fields of interest include – innovation and systemic change, complexity economics, and social entrepreneurship. She served as a project director for the Economic Cooperation Foundation, leading peace-building projects and developing policy recommendations through track-two negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians; an innovation strategist at the Operational Theory Research Institute, advancing the incorporation of the civilian and economic dimensions into military operational design; was an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House); and a member of IPPR’s New Era Economics panel. Orit is now focusing her practical work on adaptive design, exploring innovative methods for maximizing impact within complex environments.

GalTalkFor many years, Dr. Orit Gal has been engaged in solving the Middle East conflict and has explored why accumulated actions to resolve the conflict have failed. Dr. Gal suggests that complexity can help us understand why conflict and other social challenges cannot simply be reduced to a list of individual ‘problems to solve’. Rather, she suggests that the metaphor of Chinese acupuncture can offer insights into understanding how small interventions can disrupt and change the behavior of individuals, the dynamics of entire social systems, and the world in which we live.




Intractable Cities? Changing Patterns from Urban Violence to Urban Peace

Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Aldo Civico (+ Bios)

Beth Fisher-Yoshida is a faculty member and the academic director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program. She is also a lecturer in the Social and Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Fisher-Yoshida teaches classes in conflict resolution and related fields and conducts participatory action research. She is the founder of FYI Fisher Yoshida International, LLC, a firm that partners with clients to develop customized interventions aimed at improving organizational performance. Dr. Fisher-Yoshida is the author of numerous articles, chapters, edited books, and authored a book on transnational leadership. She received her Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Systems and M.A. in Organization Development from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. She received her M.A., with honors, from Teachers College, Columbia University, and received both a B.A. and a B.S. from Buffalo State College.

For the past 20 years, Dr. Aldo Civico has been on the frontline of conflict resolution. He has worked with victims and perpetrators of deadly conflicts. In Colombia, he has facilitated talks with the guerrilla. He has conducted research among members of death squads, gangs, and drug cartels. He shares the unique insights he has gained through his research and work in seminars, workshops, and lectures to executives. He is an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in Newark, where in 2011 he founded the International Institute for Peace, which is a Category 2 UNESCO center. From 2007 to 2010, he was the director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. Aldo Civico is a columnist of the prestigious Colombian newspaper El Espectador. He holds a Ph.D in anthropology from Columbia University.

CivicoTalkBy 2030, the UN predicts that 80 percent of the world population will live in urban areas, and cities will increasingly be the spaces where conflicts arise and related violence will occur. Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Dr. Aldo Civico will talk about their joint work with youth groups and community leaders from marginalized areas in Medellin, Colombia, that seeks to address the concrete reality in which they live, to understand the patterns and dynamics that produce the violent system in which they operate, and to imagine how to alter those patterns to move the system toward a nonviolent state.




Layers of Impact

Josh Fisher (+ Bio)

Josh Fisher received his PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, where he studied the ecological drivers of armed conflict. His work coupled geospatial statistics, remote sensing, and econometric modeling to develop spatially explicit forecast models of the likelihood of armed conflict. He received his MS from Utah State University in Political Science and his BS in International Law and Environmental Policy. In addition to his academic work, Dr. Fisher has worked in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America on environmental management and poverty reduction. He has worked with conservation organizations, private sector firms, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on natural resource governance and biodiversity conservation issues. Dr. Fisher’s current work focuses on natural resource management and governance as tools for conflict prevention.

FisherTalkMaking gains on environmental, social, and economic sustainable development requires that organizations adapt to a new and increasingly interconnected reality. However, moving into this interconnected space spanning development, environmental management and peacebuilding work is costly and challenging. In his talk, Dr. Fisher offers a perspective on how we can know that efforts to span silos and traditional operational boundaries are worth it.




Limits to Management in Armed Conflict in the Age of Complexity

Armando Geller (+ Bios)

Dr. Armando Geller is a computational social scientist and co-founder of Scensei, a decision support and analytics enterprise. He is also affiliated with the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. Dr. Geller specializes in information elicitation in challenging circumstances and evidence-driven model design. He lectures in computational social science and contemporary conflict.

GellerTalkSustainable peace is envisioned as a universal concept yet ‘peace’ is emergent and dependent on its context. While working in varying localities, Dr. Armando Geller uses extensive input from a wide range of stakeholders to build models and run simulations as tools for decision makers to explore the meaning of sustainable peace. His talk will illustrate the challenges and utility of employing these models in shaping our ability to effectively manage social systems.




(Why Peacebuilders Need to) Dump the Terms ‘Success’ and ‘Failure’

Rob Ricigliano (+ Bios)

Robert Ricigliano is a systems and complexity coach at The Omidyar Group where he supports and guides teams within organizations and initiatives in efforts to better understand and effectively engage with dynamic systems. The systems practice at The Omidyar Group is built on Robert’s pioneering work using systems and complexity tools in peacebuilding and social change. This foundational work is captured in his recently published book, Making Peace Last: a systemic approach to sustainable peacebuilding (2012). Prior to joining The Omidyar Group, Robert served as an adjunct professor and co-founder of the master of sustainable peacebuilding degree program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), a non-resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University, and consulted on peacebuilding in complex environments. He has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, and the Department of State, as well as with non-governmental organizations, foundations, leaders of armed groups, and political parties in the U.S. and in conflict zones around the world. Today he serves as chair of the board of directors for the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

Ricigliano1Making a sustainable impact in complex peacebuilding environments requires that we stop thinking in terms of success and failure. Complex, adaptive social systems mean that striving for “success” often leads us to make unsustainable or even negative impacts; while avoiding “failure” means we stifle learning and miss opportunities for innovation. Rob Ricigliano will share his work with The Omidyar Group in thinking and acting differently in complex environments in order to implement a new paradigm for making sustainable change in a complex world.




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