System Design

System Definition

Describing the real coastal zone system, defining a Virtual System

This task requires description of relevant features of a Coastal Zone and definition of a Virtual System that contains only features relating to the identified 'Issue'. The distinction between, on the one hand, the complicated real Coastal Zone system, which includes both 'world 1' ecosystems (with their human populations and physical infrastructure) and 'world 3' economies and social institutions, and, on the other hand, the 'world 3' models, that will enable you to predict the outcome of management options or policy scenarios, is crucial to the SAF. In 'System Design', it is, of course, the Virtual System that is being designed: the real world can only be described.

The Virtual System, Adam Smith's 'Imaginary Machine', is a device as envisaged by Soft Systems Methodology: it may be one of several possible conceptualizations of the real coastal zone system that helps scientists, stakeholders and public officials to understand the Issue and to explore options for dealing with the problem. As you move on to 'System Formulation', some parts of this virtual machine will be made into mathematical and simulation models. Other parts will be used to assess the results of simulations. It is important to ensure that all the main features of real-world social, economic and ecological functionality relevant to the Issue are represented within the Virtual System, although maybe in a simplified manner.

You may want to re-visit the following 'key ideas' pages concerning:

Defining the Coastal Zone Virtual System

Conceptual and mathematical models come later: the main tools for 'System Definition' are written words, arranged in lists of key features and in narratives of the relevant politics and geography of the study area. A good narrative links the items of a list in an explanatory, sometimes causal, framework.

Maps play a useful supporting role. There are two sorts of maps: those that show a territory realistically but at a much smaller scale, and those that, like most maps of city transport networks, emphasize functional links rather than exact spatial relationships. It is a small step from such simplified maps to those that are purely conceptual, such as those that show power relationships between institutions.

Spatial averaging, categorization and typification are further aids to simplification. For instance, real world systems can often be mimicked by a small set of boxes, or even by one box, in a Virtual System, as illustrated by this simple model.
diagram showing simple box model

Stakeholder mapping (see Vanderlinden et al. (2011)) involves grouping stakeholders, and is aided by recognizing essential features to allow use of prior knowledge of types. "These are farmers, therefore they plough and sow ... and use fertilizers." In the case of eutrophication as an example Issue, it may be acceptable to define all phytoplankters as a single entity in the virtual system. But don't go too far: do not homogenize two categories whose distinction is of the essence of the Issue. For example, the definition of eutrophication includes the idea of "disturbance to the balance of organisms", and the relevant Virtual System may thus need at least two phytoplankton components. Using one box to represent the whole of the physical system may make it difficult to simulate water exchange driven by a two-layer estuarine circulation. 'Farmers' may actually fall into two groups: those using conventional methods including much inorganic fertilizer, and those using 'organic' methods resulting in less leakage of nutrient.

The task of 'System Definition' starts by looking at the cause-&-effect chain within the impacted ecosystem. The Virtual System that you are designing is, however, a social as well as an ecological system, and so you need also to identify relevant economic and social features. The table, below, brings an economic perspective, and see also Mongruel et al. (2011) . Stakeholder Mapping has already been mentioned. Institutional Mapping (see: McFadden and Priest (2010) ) will help to complete your lists, which should include relevant organs of government and their roles. Key questions in relation to the social system concern the interaction between services and capitals, the ownership of capitals and access to services by different stakeholder groups, the role of laws and cultural norms in determining this at the operational and (local) collective levels. How do these relate to the Issue, which will change, or need to change, in the different management options? Some of them might become components of the models, others used to appraise the outcomes of the different scenarios.

Table 1: Capitals and services in ecological economics, exemplified by the clam fishery in the Lagoon of Venice
(a) Capitals
Category Subcategory contents examples
Physical Fixed Buildings, fixed machinery, roads, harbours, etc Buildings for storing and processing shellfish
Movable Equipment Fishing boats
Working Stocks of raw materials and products for sale Dredged clams (which might be relaid)
Human Individual Skills and knowledge Boat operation, clam dredging, etc
Intellectual Patents, books, software, etc Training courses in fisheries management; traditional ecological knowledge
Social Networks, institutions Fishing co-operatives, government fisheries office, etc
Natural Renewable* Stocks of living things, soil etc The stock of wild clams in the lagoon
Non-renewable* Fossil fuels, minerals, bio-diversity Marine biodiversity

* renewability is a matter of timescale; fossil fuels need millions of years

(b) Human activities

Economic sector
Contents Examples
Primary Exploiting natural resources (mining, fishing, forestry, some farming) Harvesting wild clams, or using lagoon to grow them
Secondary Processing and distributing these resources or things made from them Shellfish processing
Tertiary Supplying services to other people or institutions Insuring boats, licensing shellfisheries, fish restaurants

(c) Ecosystem services*
Category Contents Examples
Supporting Necessary for other ecosystem services Primary production by lagoonal phytoplankton
Provisioning Products or goods, e.g. food, materials, medicines, biofuels Wild or farmed clams from the lagoon
Regulating Climate and water regulation, erosion control, storm protection etc Waste removal as a result of lagoonal flushing
Cultural Nonmaterial benefits: spiritual, recreational, aesthetic "Sunset over the lagoon of Venice"

* Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

You need to identify the boundaries of your Virtual Coastal Zone. These may be administrative boundaries, or those set by topography, in the physical world. The essential feature of the boundaries of a Virtual System is that they separate a domain in which modeled processes can interact, from an `outside' which will be represented by boundary conditions. Boundary conditions can be set either as the state of the external world at the Virtual System boundary, or the fluxes across that boundary. As an example, consider the rivers that drain into a coastal sea. Does the river catchment need to be part of the Virtual System, or can it be placed outside the boundary and its effect simulated by data about discharge of water, sediments, dissolved substances, etc.?

Assessing Risks

Sub-task 2 concerns Risk, which is formally defined in this context as:

Risk can be reduced by decreasing the probability of occurrence, or ameliorating the hazard itself. Think about what might go wrong as a result of events beyond the boundaries of your system. What are the likely major hazards, and what is the likely probability of their occurrence?

For example, around the Mediterranean basin, and in other tectonically active zones, the hazards include earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and the possibility of these may influence choice between management options. Some may be more resilient against physical damage. What about socio-economic hazards, such as collapse in governance, or global economic recession?

Synthesizing the state of the system and consulting the Reference Group

The Reference Group should be consulted again, towards the end of this task. Does your Virtual System definition correspond with the way in which they see things? Bear in mind that multiple representations of the real system are possible; it may be understood, and defined by more than one Virtual System. This does not mean that truth is relative to the observer. A defined Virtual System must be compatible with existing information about the real Coastal Zone system, and the results of the models of the Virtual System, must agree with observations in the real system. This agreement will be explored in the 'System Appraisal' step of the SAF application.

This final subtask also brings the spotlight back to the ecosystem within which the HA-impact chain is occurring. You should try to reach an assessment of the ecosystem's state in relation to the Issue. For example, if the pressure is nutrient enrichment, is the system in a eutrophic state, which has legal consequences under European legislation? If the pressure is fishing, what is the state of the fish stocks?

The 'Designed System Report' brings together in a single document the results of the work you have done to describe the real Coastal Zone System, to assess its state relevant to the Issue, and to design the Virtual System.

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