Sustainability Planning and its Role in Creating Capacity for Learning: a Complex Adaptive System Perspective

Csaba Pusztai

Abstract


Collaborative sustainability planning is seen as an effective tool in translating the concept of sustainable development into practice at the level of communities. It is widely endorsed by international organizations under headlines such as Local Agenda 21, Healthy Cities, Green Cities etc. The guidelines for such planning initiatives commonly emphasize a necessary long-term, systems perspective in problem definitions and suggested solutions. Although they build on traditional strategic management concepts, such planning processes are claimed to have their strength in using input from a diversity of local actors including both public and private sector representatives. Bringing together stakeholders, bridging their perspectives and networking their efforts are believed to provide the basis for the successful implementation of local sustainability strategies.

Most assessment approaches of such sustainability planning initiatives, however, usually focus on the output of these processes such as plans and formal strategies. While the role of change in attitudes, values and patterns of behavior is understood as a crucial element in progressing toward a more sustainable local community, such changes are implicitly assumed to take place as a result of the collaborative planning effort and are not directly assessed. In my paper, I will argue that accounting for these tacit aspects could build on the notion of learning and the collection of actors involved in planning can be analyzed as a complex adaptive system (CAS). Using CAS as a theoretical framework can contribute to the assessment of the change in the interactions among actors and their behavior, knowledge generation and how these enhance the emergence of capacities necessary to cope with the 'wicked' problem of sustainability at the community level.

The paper represents preliminary theoretical work for an empirical research project forming the background of my doctoral dissertation

Keywords


sustainability planning, complex adaptive systems, organizational learning, assessment

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