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(6) About the connectivity in the resilient system

You’re mentioning the connections between the actors. So, resilience is not just how diverse actors in the system are, it is also how connected they are?

Yes, the health of the system is also about how the resources, species or social actors are spread and connected across the system. That’s why optimising connectivity between them makes another important principle to have in mind when designing resilient cities.

When I say connectivity, I refer to the formation and strength of migrations or interactions of resources, species or social actors across habitats or social domains. In a network language we use the word links to describe any interaction between the actors, or the nodes, in the network. Links could be present or absent between nodes, one-way (directed) or reciprocal. Some nodes are highly connected, while others may have few connections, or they can be isolated. Links between the nodes could also be weak or strong, which can be determined by various factors, such as corridor quality among habitats, preferences of a predator for specific prey, the visitation rate of a pollinator insect to a location, or the frequency of interactions between social actors.

Does that mean that “optimising” connectivity to design a resilient system actually means “increasing" connectivity?

Not always. Optimal connectivity is similar as optimal diversity and redundancy that we have discussed earlier, its about setting a balance, not following any particular direction.

For example, in human social networks, high connectivity between different social groups can increase information-sharing and help develop the trust between them necessary for collective action. On the other hand, high levels of connectivity among similar actors can hinder any collective process in cases of resource overexploitation. The latter happens when, for example, high connectivity of actors with similar characteristics leads to similar perspectives and knowledge about the resources they exploit.

Furthermore, highly connected networks may limit social learning, reduce the options to find optimal solutions, and reduce the capacity for experimentation. For example, when homogenisation of norms occurs, or one-mindedness arise, ability for exploration drops, leading to a dead-end situation in which actors believe to be doing right actions while they are actually ineffectively managing the system. We don’t have to look far around us to see that process happening in rigid institutional, political or religious systems.

That’s right. We can see horrible consequences of the rigid thought even in the smallest scale, when our families, or we individually, are stuck in a particular belief system. In any way, optimising connectivity seems like a complex matter. Is there a way to systematically balancing connectivity, for example, in the urban governance system?

There is a systemic approach to balance connectivity. When we are managing connectivity to increase resilience of the system, first we need to analyse and understand the social or ecological connectivity of the system, and identify important nodes to optimise connectivity patterns. Depending on context, sometimes we would need to facilitate restoration of connections, and sometimes cut or weaken some connections, to minimise the risk of disturbances spreading.

This sounds very logical, but how can we get the information where the connection exist, where is weak, and where is strong? More importantly, how can we use that information to increase the resilience of the system?

One promising way to do so is by using social network analysis, which I was using in my so far research, and which informs us about existing links in the system.

One way to achieve optimal connectivity might be to increase modularity in the structure of the system. By modularity I mean creating clusters of strongly connected actors, while are weakly connected to other cluster. That kind of modularity can act as bottleneck for containing a disturbance in each cluster and stop the spread into the whole system. Having the flock of weakly connected clusters in a system also helps to preserve heterogeneity, which in human systems can mean diversity of agendas, understandings, or type of knowledge. This kind of structure works perfectly when we have active specific actors, individuals or institutions, called “bridgers”or “brokers", who can serve as connectors to different set of actors by bringing various “outside” perspectives and ideas.

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