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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An exploration of the applicability and usefulness of complexity theory to community development Plecke, Joanna

Abstract

Complexity theory studies the workings of complex adaptive systems (CAS). A complex adaptive system can adapt and change in response to information it gathers from its environment. It responds to feedback by changing its actions, and develops new activities, learning capacity and ability to innovate. Complex adaptive systems depend on information flow through linked networks of individuals and groups, such as those present in cities or communities. Hornby Island, a small northern gulf island in British Columbia, Canada, possesses the characteristics of a complex adaptive system and is used to provide examples of how complexity theory can be applied and used by a community. Observations from Hornby Island and the use of SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) have provided insight to the applicability and usefulness of complexity theory in the theoretical and local action contexts of community development. Misunderstandings between the scientific and humanitarian backgrounds of complexity and community development theories represent weaknesses and pose some threats to the field of community development. However, complexity theory also possesses strengths that have the potential to provide community development practitioners and communities with opportunities, such as tools and ideas, to better adapt to change. The following opportunities for learning and action within communities are suggested and expanded upon in this thesis: human led creative adaptation; location of mal-adaptive schemata; education for adaptive schemata; reducing and changing mal-adaptive schemata; guidelines and generalizations; and intangibles and legitimization of actions. This thesis concludes that complexity theory is applicable and useful to community development because it strengthens other theories and concepts related to community development; helps frame what goes on in the community; and locates focuses for change. It also provides new tools and ideas for action, to communities and practitioners, to better deal with change and create resilient communities.

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