Change or be changed: understanding resilience in socio-technical systems
University of Cambridge
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Taysom, E. (2017). Change or be changed: understanding resilience in socio-technical systems (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.14731
The world we live in is increasingly complex, interconnected and unpredictable. We face social and technological challenges, which must be overcome through the maintenance and redesign of existing systems, as well as the design and integration of new systems. Each of these systems has stakeholders at different levels and across domains, from those governing societies, to technical experts working on well-defined tasks. These stakeholders generally want their system to survive, or even thrive, in the face of uncertainty and unexpected influences. To describe this desire, people, from politicians to CEOs, use the word resilience. Resilience is a term that is referred to across domains in academic and public discourse. However, the exact definition of resilience is elusive, and it is not clear how to apply resilience in the context of socio-technical systems. To design resilient systems, we must first be able to answer questions including: Does a resilient system change to accommodate influences or stay the same? If the system changes, where should this change take place? How do we decide which system, or sub-system, to make resilient and at what level of abstraction? In this research I show how we can answer these questions by eliciting, combining and contrasting the perspectives of multiple stakeholders of socio-technical systems. In order to talk to these stakeholders, in interviews and workshops, I had to overcome communication barriers. Communicating about resilience is challenging because the term means different things to different people, both within and across domains. In this research I use diagrams to develop our understanding of resilience as a concept, prompt discussions with stakeholders, represent examples of resilience, and compare stakeholder perspectives across domains. Using these diagrams, I present three characteristics of resilience that have emerged from the literature and empirical studies: resisting, recovering and changing in response to influences. I also show how resilience is framed by stakeholders’ perspectives and depends on how a system’s boundary, purpose and timescale is defined. The characteristics of resilience are related to system dimensions, structure and function, with a focus on the similarities and differences between social and technical sub-systems. This research contributes a new understanding of resilience in the context of design practice, which moves us closer towards being able to design resilient socio-technical systems.
Resilience, Socio-technical systems, Changeability
This research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through a Doctoral Training Award. In addition, conference travel costs were supported by the EPSRC from Dr Crilly’s fellowship grant (EP/K008196/1).
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.14731