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Evaluating a Complex and Uncertain Future
Joanna Becker

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EVALUATING A COMPLEX AND UNCERTAIN FUTURE
JOANNA BECKER

Fort Bragg, California, USA Social systems are emergent complex systems that are prone to uncertainty and change. Complexity and uncertainty increase the difficulty of evaluating for sustainability. However, backcasting from visions of sustainability using indicators that are positively correlated to principles of sustainability allows for congruence and complexity in achieving the vision. This article presents a model of how this can be done using Causal Layered Analysis and the Ecological Framework. Reiterating the evaluation and visioning process allows for indicators to accommodate change while remaining relevant to sustainability principles . KEYWORDS: Backcasting, CLA, complexity, emergent, fitness, hierarchical, re-iteration, resilience, sustainability, uncertainty.

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The continuing debate over global warming demonstrates how uncertainty increases with complex variables that are difficult to measure and whose combination can alter significantly the extent and timing of the impacts. One of the difficulties in addressing global warming is the lack of consensus on scientific opinion in developing clear solutions as to how to address it. To date there has been no definitive answer to the two basic questions of what is the safety limit and how much emissions must be reduced to remain below this safety limit. Sustainable development is another complex issue that is in many ways an open signifier without a common definition as to how it is to be achieved. Although there is broad agreement with the Bruntland Commission's (WCED 1987) definition of sustainable development (UN 2008; Meadows 1998), differences and discussions continue as to specific interpretations. Representatives of 48 countries in the UNECE/OECD/Eurotstat Working Group on Measuring Sustainable Development differed in whether the focus should be on only inter-generational equity or also include intra-generational equity (UN 2008). There was general agreement in this group that sustainable development involves increasing consumption and wellbeing over time with the Report noting that "Development has been defined as an increase in well-being across members of a society and well-being has been seen to be a function of consumption broadly defined" (UN 2008,20). However, it could be debated whether development cannot more simply be defined as change.

Address correspondence to Joanna Becker, 31271 Country Road, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, USA. E-mail: joanna@groundplan.net 30

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It is not the intent here to resolve the interpretation of sustainable development

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but to start with the premise that the term itself has international support and appeal, making for a common goal that is necessary if sustainable development is to be achieved globally. Individual definitions can then be developed by specific groups since, as Robinson (2004) points out, defining sustainable development concepts would leave out those whose opinion had not been consulted. However, the ambiguity of the term and the means to achieve it increase the level of uncertainty about either the target or the path toward it. Global sustainable development may indeed be impossible to achieve, but our survival depends on attempts to do so to the extent possible in an ever-changing and increasingly complex and interconnected world. We no longer have the luxury of specialization in isolation nor of short-term horizons that do not consider future uncertainty. As Gallopin et al. (2001) have noted, the "Occam's razor" definition of limiting what is necessary in scientific study may now need drastic broadening to account for the inter-linkages between the object of study and other parts of reality (11). Efforts at achieving sustainability though regulation such as used in resource management have not proved sufficient and has even been claimed to be a new class version of managerial ism (Roe 1988). Kay (1994) reminds us that ecosystem management is an oxymoron and that it is rather our interactions with ecosystems that need management. Martin O'Connor opined that the prospects for sustainability through global economic management were as dim as those of global environmental regulation (1994). Evaluations can show both our current state of sustainability and how to achieve the desired state. To date they have been more successful in the former. Achieving the latter cannot be addressed simply by quantitative measurements and requires a system approach that is iterative, participatory and incorporates qualitative measures. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the importance of this in its Green Business Strategy by recommending the use of evaluations that represent multiple scales of time and space, managing variability and uncertainty, representing appropriate complexity, capturing stakeholder perspective, and understanding system resilience in the face of various stressors (Green Business 2006). It is now widely recognized that sustainable development involves an integrated approach with the sociological, economic and environmental aspects of the sustainability "pillars" all being considered in evaluations (Transport Canada 2004; OECD 2004; World Bank 1997 among others). Recently, the Goal-Oriented Framework (GOF) not only considers all three pillars but how the indicators are related to each other (Olsson et al. 2009). However, even such a combined approach often ignores the concerns of the poor and weak (Kemp and Martens 2007) and even evaluations focusing on individual pillars may be lacking in relevance to the stakeholders. A recent study by Yli -Viikari (2009) that reviewed a natural resource evaluation in Finland demonstrated the continuing ineffectiveness of evaluations to inform or affect the actions of the professionals interviewed. The respondents found a lack of heterogeneity in the data and a lack of holistic application. Most

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discouragingly, the natural resource assessment failed to address either of the two primary issues that these professionals identified. Evaluations must be clear, meaningful, and responsive if they are to identify how a social group progresses to the desired vision of sustainability (Becker 2004), and global sustainability requires that the paths of each group complement each other. While sustainable development itself may always be open to interpretation, it is possible to develop a vision for an issue consistent with enduring sustainability principles. A framework of such principles can help ensure that indicators selected for achieving these visions are meaningful and congruent while limiting the number of indicators to those most relevant to the desired outcome. This article outlines issues of complexity and uncertainty involved in a systems analysis of sustainability. It presents an analysis of the issue of population growth using Causal Layered Analysis (Inayutallah 2004) to develop a vision and uses the Ecological Framework (Becker 2005) to relate the preferred vision and the indicators selected to achieve it to sustainability principles. The article concludes with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach. Evaluations can help identify the path to sustainability as well as our progress and, however imperfect, represent the best way to share that information with others . COMPLEXITY Complex systems may be defined as "the need to use two or more irreducible perspectives or descriptions in order to characterize the system" (Gallopin et al. 2001, 7). In addition to having multiple perspectives, Gallopin et al. (2001) list the characteristics of complex systems as nonlinearity, emergence, self-organization, multiplicity of scales, and irreducible uncertainty. They differentiate complex systems from complicated systems that can be defined by only one perspective. Emergent complex systems, which include human systems, possess firstly individuality including intentionality, consciousness, foresight, purpose, symbolic representations, and morality and secondly novelty (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1994). Funtowicz and Ravetz (1994) point out that while most behavior is ordinary complexity, emergent complexity contains hegemony that leads to fragmentation. They cite the example of modern agricultural systems that are unstable to its ecosystem context and lead to lack of resilience. Such instability, if pushed to the edge of equilibrium, is likely to cause a collapse and reformation of the system. All emergent complex systems contain contradictions that Funtowicz and Ravetz (1994) classify as complementary, destructive conflict, or creative tension. They note that contradictions in emergent complex systems in our modern society are individualism and novelty that lead to risks and pollution, respectively. Diversity is a condition of such complexity and offers a resource base for adaptation and reorganization (Rammel and Van den Bergh 2003). Diversity is necessary to maintain the dynamic stability of the system so as to create resilience (Holling 1986; Capra 1996; Becker 2002). Resilience of business enterprises enables the system to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of turbulent change (Fiksel 2006). Management theorists recognize the need for resilience in dynamic and unpredictable business environments (Hamel and Velikangas 2003).

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In these systems sudden change is inevitable as shown by Hollings (1986) in his Figure 8 ecosystem model, which demonstrates the uneven cycle of succession, maturity, collapse, and re-organization. While life flourishes "at the edge of chaos" (Lewin 1994) and to a degree increases its ability to organize and adapt in response to changes in the system (Schneider and Kay 1994), it will lose its "window of vitality" (Ulancowicz 1996) if the system moves too far from equilibrium. Fragmentation will lead to chaos. Industrial systems are complex systems that "operate far from equilibrium and demonstrate non-linear and sometimes chaotic behavior" (Fikse12006, 16). The diversity and contradictions implicit in emergent complex systems are important for stability if the system is to be maintained in equilibrium. UNCERTAINTY Such complexity increases uncertainty, which also has several categories. Wynne's (1993) taxonomy of uncertainty ranges from risks, through uncertainty and ignorant indeterminacy. Allen (1994) distinguishes between everyday uncertainty and catastrophic uncertainty. Kay and Regier (2000) note that there is an element of irreducible uncertainty about how self-organizing systems will respond, with more than one response possible. Synergistic effects and emergence are normal in self-organizing systems (Kay 1994), which increase uncertainty. Complex systems theory postulate such systems as dynamic and indeterministic with change as inevitable and unpredictable. And not only does uncertainty increase with complexity, but there is more opportunity, indeed likelihood, of large perturbations that cannot be predicted according to chaos theory (Gleick 1988), also known as catastrophe theory. Catastrophe theory predicts that complex systems exhibiting emergent dynamic behaviors will undergo dramatic, sudden, and discontinuous changes with several possible outcomes (Huseyin 1977). Allen (1994) found that the trajectory of variables in complex systems, particularly market systems, is likely to be chaotic, sensitive, and unpredictable, with the only certainty being change. However, he has shown through 3D models of systems with "error making" explorations of behavior that competition in successful free markets has synergistic behavior that evolves toward complementarities expressing cooperative structures (1994). Uncertainty affects both the outcome of results and the information itself for which quantitative data can be inadequate and misleading. Qualitative data can produce useful information about quantitative data and where data cannot be reduced to real numbers. It is also helpful in providing narrative that can describe subjective perceptions. Although qualitative data is by its nature subjective, it has been found not to be more unreliable than quantitative data according to Spencer et al. (2003), whose Framework for Qualitative Evaluations based on a literature review found that the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is artificial and unhelpful. Ravetz (2006) defines knowledge as being qualitative rather than absolute and both of these being systems attributes. As an example he cites the question "How safe is safe enough?" as being systemic, possessing no definitive answer.

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Both quality and uncertainty are universal in scale and long-term in impact with data on effects and even "baseline" undisturbed states inadequate (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993). Technical, methodological and epistemological levels of uncertainty relate to "inexactness, unreliability and border with ignorance" producing "completeness uncertainties" (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993, 743). Systems uncertainties affect the comprehension or management of inherent complex reality. Science does not deal well with uncertainty, although it is now recognized that there are "unknown unknowns" and efforts made to quantify and incorporate uncertainty in numerical data. It is well known that numbers can be used to play the "numbers game" in which each side presents figures to support their claims. Such numerical uncertainty easily becomes compounded with overlapping data sets and is misleading when presented as "objective" science. Although Funtowicz and Ravetz (1990) have illustrated that numbers can represent "technical" uncertainty with the NUSAP system of number, unit, and spread notations, the results become more subjective as uncertainty merges into quality. For example, some quantities are now expressed as "recommended values" by teams of experts and may have significant error bars representing the spread of data that change over the years. Increasingly, science has had to incorporate qualitative measurement to describe data adequately. CALCULATING A COMPLEX AND UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Sustainability contains both complexity and uncertainty and cannot be reduced to one specialization, since it includes all living systems. Ecosystems (of which humans are a part) must be understood from a hierarchical and interconnected perspective and cannot be about quantitative prediction alone but also must be about qualitative understanding (Kay 1994). The hierarchical nature of complex systems requires that they be studied from different perspectives and scales with none the only correct one (Kay and Regier 2000). Given that sustainability involves uncertainty, change and complexity, it may be impossible to develop a road map of how to achieve it, particularly in terms of all systems and their interrelationships. But using a systems approach helps address connectedness, relationships, and context. Such a contextual approach is contrary to analytical or reductionist approaches. Gallopin et al. (2001) identify the task of systems analysis as understanding the linkages between factors and scales and their interactions and the dynamics of the system. And starting with a common goal of sustainability that links all parts of the system makes it more likely that there will be collaboration in achieving it, even if only in self-interest. The shared goal of sustainability enables a systems reference point from which to analyze the congruence of the visions developed by each group to resolve its specific issues. Appropriate indicators for accomplishing this vision can then also be analyzed to determine those that are most conducive and resonant with principles of sustainability. Such reference accommodates individual complexity and differences while still addressing the goal of sustainability. Reiteration of the process provides the adaptability necessary to accommodate the uncertainty of changing and unforeseen variables. This multi-layered and qualitative approach will not

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produce hard numbers and makes no claim to scientific objectivity. However, in dealing with a future in which change is the only constant, such an approach allows for analyzing those aspects that are relevant to various communities and scenarios over time. Relevant tools to facilitate a systems approach to evaluating sustainability are those of: futures visioning by stakeholders to determine the desired future using Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) and four-quadrant mapping; multidimensional analysis that considers both hierarchical and heterarchical relationships; and backcasting from the goal of sustainability to analyze the vision and its indicators using the Ecological Framework to determine the relevance and congruence of these to sustainability principles. Each of these tools are discussed below. Figure 1 illustrates the application of these tools for the selection and analysis of a vision and its indicators by an individual group so as to relate these to the overall goal of sustainability. While this figure illustrates the process for only one group and vision, these would be linked to other groups and their visions for sustainability providing for heterarchicallinkage .
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Extended Peer Participation Sustainable development will always incorporate normative values that only become verified through social interaction (Voss and Kemp 2006). Brand and Karvonen (2007) use the term "ecosystem of expertise" to define the combination

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of experts required to address sustainability issues. One of these is the civic expert. Ravetz (2006) points out that the "extended peer community" can sometimes better perceive the overall picture than the specialists. He provides several examples where educated lay members of the community were able to successfully challenge the "scientific facts" by some educated knowledge combined with common sense (2006). When such analysis is complex and qualitative, local experts can have both the knowledge and commitment to make informed management decisions about their environment. Dumanski and Pieri (2001) reference two studies that show that farmers in different ecosystems and production systems selected indicators with more similarities than differences based on their own knowledge and experience. Farmers in both studies were found to be concerned about maintaining the quality of their land and were making knowledgeable and innovative choices on management practices using responsive and flexible management styles within the context of their region. Most of the indicators for these evaluations were presented in qualitative and observational terms. An important contribution of the stakeholders is to develop a vision for a selected issue. Smith, Stirling, and Berkhout (2005) identify visions as having several purposes including guiding problem-solving and identifying possible alternatives. However, Kemp and Martens (2007) remind us that visions can also promote special interests and change that can have negative results. They caution that visions themselves should be continuously assessed and refined with multiple visions being preferable. These should be explored with reflexive management modes rather than rigid adherence to achieving a particular outcome (Voss and Kemp 2006). Such reflexive techniques can facilitate learning processes and modify decision roles and mental models (Hjorth and Bagheri 2006). An example of a reflexive, iterative process is Transition Management, which has been used in several Dutch government agencies (Kemp and Martens 2007) with some achievements in CO2 reduction, although an integrated analysis was not undertaken and there was limited citizen participation. Such a process is part of what Gibbons et al. (1994) termed mode-2 science, which is inter- and trans disciplinary with knowledge co-produced and provisional. No single set of knowledge or viewpoint is privileged (Wiek et al. 2005). Behavior changes are linked to informative tools being integrated with participation in management processes and discussions (Rydin, Holman, and Wolff 2003). Futures Analysis Futures analysis is important to the very concept of sustainable development and its long-term horizon. Futures analysis "seeks to help individuals and organizations better understand the processes of change so that wiser preferred futures can be created" (Inayatullah 2008 5). Sohail Inayatullah (1999) recommends using poststructuralism to deconstruct the history of a paradigm to provide a distance so as to consider alternative scenarios. Different versions of the future ranging from the "disowned future" to "alternative future" can be explored via functional analysis and scenario building (see Inayutallah 2008 for a fuller description). Such an

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Table 1 Example of CLA Analysis for Population Increase
CLA Level
Litany Systemic World view Myth

Problem
Overcrowding, lack of resources Teenage pregnancies, immigration Illiteracy Reproduction rights regardless of environmental costs

Solution
Migration Regulate family size, immigration controls Education Responsible parenting

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exercise enables participants to consider both the historical and cultural contexts that generate preconceived worldviews so that they can create a vision of the future consistent with current conditions. CLA, developed by Inayatullah (2004), is a method of exploring an issue from the litany to the mythical level (see Table 1) to produce more holistic policies (Inayatullah 1999). CLA can help identify the vertical layers of meaning for complex issues. Solutions are explored for each level and can then be analyzed through four-quadrant mapping developed by Ken Wilber (1995) and applied to CLA by Richard Slaughter (2005) as shown in Table 2. The value of doing this is that it relates the meaning of the issue to each participant and their responses and enables them to see how these responses contribute to the whole. This exercise enables various visions to be produced for an issue using any of several methods of scenario building outlined by Inayutallah (2008). This is an iterative and qualitative process that requires a framework robust enough to analyze both the components and the indicators used to measure them, yet transparent and simple enough to be easily understood and applied. Table 2 Mapping Example for Population Increase
Inner
Self Collective Parenting as life role Continuation of one's life work Care in old age Part of the family ancestry

Four-Quadrant

Outer
Community expectations Role model Children as necessary to the economy Religious mandate to reproduce

Backcasting Backcasting is a means to relate the relevance of the vision to sustainable development by applying sustainability principles to it. Backcasting was first proposed by Lovins (1976) as an alternative planning technique for electricity supply and demand issues. Robinson (1982) coined the term "energy backcasting." Backcasting is applicable when the desired future is far away from forecasts of an expected

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future (Robert 2005). It is particularly useful when long-range scenarios are desired which go beyond the scope of forecasts (Wegener 1996). It can be used as a tool to explore paths toward sustainable development (Becker 2010) and has been applied to many other applications. Filtering Framework These visions (which will likely differ according to the CLA level of analysis) can each be analyzed for their suitability and sustainability by a framework such as the Ecological Framework (Becker 2005) which is summarized in Figure 2. Principles of sustainability were developed for this Framework based on the sustainability of living systems (Capra 1996) and applied to two well-known evaluation methods to demonstrate its effectiveness (Becker 2007). No matter the complexity of the system, research has shown that all living systems share common properties (Varela, Maturana, and Uribe 1974). There are several sustainable principles representative of these properties that are defined
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COLLABORATION Inclusivity Compatability Contribution

RESILIENCE Diversity Adaptability Stability

AUTO-SUFFICIENCY Integrated systems Low entropy Carrying capacity

FUTURITY Repetition Holism Responsivity

Sustainable Development progress

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in the Ecological Framework as auto-sufficiency, resilience, and collaboration (Becker 2005). Collaboration considers positive or negative impacts to the larger system, auto-sufficiency the ability of the system to provide for itself, and resilience its ability to adapt to changing conditions. These three principles and their associated components representing the means of achieving them can be used to analyze both the relevance of visions to sustainability and the indicators that best represent all the principles.

Multidimensional

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Any system is multidimensional, dynamic, and interconnected. In analyzing sustainable development we must consider both the hierarchical "nested" systems of social structures with what Bossel (1998) terms the "heterarchical" relationship of the visions and their indicators to the sustainability principles and to each other. Currently we are limited to presenting such concepts in a two-dimensional space. Any example presented in a paper will therefore necessarily be a poor representation of system analysis. However, computers can function spatially and interactively and provide such multidimensional analysis. The Internet is a good example of system multidimensionality and interconnectivity with the limitations being the inputs and the computing capacity. It is now technologically feasible to see in real time the results of decision interactions. A similar application can be made to backcast from sustainability by relating the desired vision and its indicators to each principle of sustainability and its components. Multidimension phase space theoretically provides the ability to incorporate both "hard" quantitative data for the ordinary complex attributes of function and structure with the "soft" qualitative attributes of technical, economic, sociological, personal, and moral consideration by creating a "fitness" possibility space to demonstrate the degree of "fit" of each variable under consideration (Allen 1994). The analysis of the hierarchical relationship of various groups to each other and sustainability can be addressed by each vision relating to the principles of sustainability.

Table 3 List of Factors and Their Relationship to the Sustainability Principles
Social
education health safety Community population

Economic
jobs housing market transportation food

Environment
pollution waste water Open space

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THE PROCESS OF SELECTING

A VISION AND ITS INDICATORS

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Table 3 provides a list of relevant factors affecting sustainability. Any of them may be an issue of concern to a community and any issue may relate to all factors. The list is not exhaustive and the factors are not mutually exclusive to each of the three sustainability "pillars." The importance of each factor will change according to the specific circumstances and the focus of analysis. A community might select several issues and develop visions for each of them. The visions should all relate to improving the sustainability of the whole system. In this example the issue of population with its relevance to carrying capacity and quality of life is selected. In considering population from a futures perspective for CLA analysis, Sohail Inayatullah (1999) raises the question of why population is more important than community or people, or growth rates more important than levels of consumption. In considering how population as enumeration has affected concepts of time and relations with self and others he suggests that new possibilities, ideas, and structures can emerge. Table 1 shows some of the complexities of this issue with reproduction being largely a personal choice having both moral and religious considerations and therefore will differ according to the individual as well as their social group . Once the selected issue has been explored at each level of CLA, the group can develop alternative solutions for each level to form the basis of the selected visions. They should evaluate these solutions for their compatibility with each other and also the personal/community and internal/external contexts using fourquadrant mapping. The solution that best addresses all of these contexts can then be selected as the preferred vision. By backcasting from the goal of sustainability using the Ecological Framework, it is possible to see how this vision contributes to sustainability. For the example of population, it would generally be preferable to maintain or reduce population levels to address carrying capacity, and collaboration, but that might not address resilience positively if that meant an ageing population and decreasing workforce. The following conditions would mitigate population increases: • Accepting immigration to meet labor demands • Reducing carbon footprint to accommodate additional population • Providing migration to sparsely populated or inhospitable areas In these situations one or more of the sustainability principles would be addressed positively. Backcasting can then also be used to determine the indicators chosen to represent the relevant factors. These can be phrased so that they address one or more principles positively as shown in Table 4. The preferred indicators would be those that addressed all the components of sustainability positively. For instance, the indicator of increasing re-use of water to accommodate population growth would improve all three components of sustainability while that of increasing food production would improve auto-sufficiency but might conflict with diversity of land uses for jobs or housing or collaboration with imports from elsewhere. Table 4

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illustrates what indicators might be selected for a community that has identified a vision of moderate population growth. Table 4 provides a selection of indicators for key factors related to population. This table does not represent all possible factors or indicators for each factor. These indicators are expressed in terms that provide targets for individual sustainability principles. Ideally the indicator should relate positively or neutrally to all the sustainability principles. Any number of other factors related to sustainability could be selected but each would be likely to have relevance to population. For instance, selecting pollution as a greenhouse warming issue for carbon would include population as a factor. More than one vision relevant to sustainable development can be selected but should be compared to each other to determine conflicts and tradeoffs. The purpose of this exercise is to develop a shared vision and seek consensus in the tradeoffs and compromises necessary to achieve the vision congruent with sustainability principles. While each part of the system contributes only infinitesimally to the whole, success will not be achieved without collaboration and adaptability by each part in achieving a sustainable future. Both the selected factors and their indicators can be tailored to the specific group and the issue. The advantages with stakeholders relating their goals and means of achieving them to sustainability criteria is the ownership of this process and the consideration of the impacts on the larger system. Technological innovations can help improve our performance towards sustainability but education remains a primary tool to modify personal behavior. Putting the issues into the public arena enables each player to take a part and can result in new ideas and a consensus of opinion that will affect future sustainability. CONCLUSION This article has presented a theoretical example for evaluating sustainability in a complex and uncertain future using several tools that can be applied to inform and guide behavior in achieving visions that contribute to sustainability. While there are many visions possible and ways to achieve these, a systems approach requires that there is both vertical and horizontal consideration of the various actors and factors. Horizontal integration is facilitated by all sub-groups sharing a common definition of sustainable development such as that of the Bruntland Commission (WCED 1987). Vertical integration is facilitated through futuresthinking systems such as CLA that enables the participants to consider the issue at all levels and from various perspectives to produce new ideas and understanding for a shared vision. Backcasting from sustainability to the vision using principles of the Ecological Framework helps ensure congruence, while backcasting from the vision with the Ecological Framework facilitates the selection of the most appropriate indicators to fulfill the vision that are heterarchically linked positively to sustainable development principles. The primary advantage with such an approach is that it does not require an exact definition of what comprises sustainable development but uses principles of sustainability to analyze visions that are appropriate for the time and location.

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This process links visions from different groups since all the visions relate to sustainability. It also helps ensure the relevance of indicators to sustainability and determines the phrasing to help achieve the desired vision. A further advantage is that there are only three principles, which simplifies the analysis and the re-iteration process. The primary disadvantage with this method is the qualitative subjectivity involved throughout the process, both in analyzing the issue and in selecting the indicators. However, what is important is that the vision and indicators are relevant to a group and offer a path to achieve sustainability. Since both complexity and uncertainty exist in any analysis of this kind, it is preferable to empower a group to make its own subjective judgments so that they may have a common road map to follow that relates to principles of sustainability and considers the impacts on other groups. Another disadvantage is also a time-consuming process that must be re-iterated to adapt to changing conditions and visions, but that is part of the educational process of determining the best course of action. In dealing with complex systems and uncertain futures we need to have a common denominator between all parts of the systems and over time. This provides stability while allowing for the adaptability and diversity that is necessary for resilience of the various parts. Exploring solutions to issues as they relate to both the individual and the wider community through CLA and four-quadrant mapping helps provide relevance and consensus. This hierarchical approach is applicable to any group and can be used to explore any issue relevant to sustainable development. Reiterations of the analysis can help to deal with future unknowns by ensuring the continued relevance of the vision and its indicators as goals are achieved and conditions change. The process itself requires only a common goal of sustainability and indicators that are congruent with enduring principles of sustainability. Since this is a hierarchical process with each sub-system considering its impacts at all levels, it is implicit that if the conditions of collaboration, resilience and auto-sufficiency are met, then negative impacts to other sub-systems are minimized. Each group can thus focus on refining its vision congruent with sustainability and reiterating the evaluation process to incorporate change and measure progress. By backcasting from the vision and the goal of sustainability using sustainability principles, the indicators can incorporate actual changes and innovations and maintain the flexibility and adaptability necessary for survival. We are entering the age, with the widespread use of computers and the Internet, of horizontal knowledge networks in which not only information but also ideas can be rapidly exchanged and reformulated. Iterations can be almost instant and working groups can be as small as a handful of people in a local community or as large as a multinational corporation in several countries. Huge data sets are readily available and updated, and can be applied to illustrate the current or past state of the system. What indicators cannot do is present information on future states, although one can make reasonable extrapolations from past trends. It is no longer a question of having the data, but of how to use it appropriately, and for this qualitative decisions need to be made along with an analysis of the source and accuracy of the data itself.

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JOANNA BECKER

With increasing complexity and change comes an increase of uncertainty both as to where change will occur and how it will affect the intricate interconnections of the overall system. As the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States has demonstrated, it may not be just one sector or country that becomes affected but the near collapse of the global system. It is therefore more important than ever that we look to the principles of sustainability to direct and link up our paths to the future. We now have at least a concept of what is sustainable. While we cannot know the results of future inputs, and increased complexity and interconnectivity will produce larger and unforeseen changes, we can use this to our advantage in planning the future we want based on the necessary tradeoffs and the principles of sustainability. If we do not do this, we risk following an unsustainable path until catastrophic changes occur and the only uncertainty is when.

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