MIT e-Planning Seminar

Kathi Beratan

Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University

"Managing Complexity, or the Information Needs of Adaptive Co-Management: The Durham NC air quality case"

Friday, November 21, 2003

MIT Rm. 3-401, 12:15PM - 2:00PM

DUSP Discussants: David Laws, Herman Karl

Durham is a large town (population: 195,914) within the Triangle area of central North Carolina. The Triangle is a "Family of Communities" centered around two metropolitan statistical areas, one four-county metro centered around Durham, and another, three-county metro centered around Raleigh, the state capital. The area’s most significant air quality problem is ground level ozone, which is a significant health hazard, particularly for sensitive populations such as children and the elderly. Changes being made by the EPA in the standard for ground level ozone have triggered a regional planning effort aimed at reducing ozone levels and thus avoiding an EPA designation of “non-attainment.” Lowering ozone levels will require reductions in emissions of precursor gases, particularly from motor vehicles. Planning efforts are complicated by the fact that the Triangle has experienced sprawl patterns of growth in the past decade, like most urban areas in the US. Policies and interventions designed to improve air quality will require multi-jurisdictional cooperation and significant changes in transportation planning and development patterns.

My particular focus is on information design -- the provision of information that is both useful and usable -- in the context of complexity. I am not a planner or a computer person; I am a geologist who got frustrated by the realization that most of our "wonderful" science is having little to no impact on decision making. The research questions of interest to me include: How can information providers bridge the chasm between research and practice, the science-policy interface, given the complexity of the systems that we're trying to manage, the management system, and the decision making process? How can complex information be organized and presented so that it actually informs decision makers, give the ways in which the human brain interacts with information? What role can ICT play in building resilience -- the ability of a system to continue functioning despite disturbance?

Coordination among multiple organizations is critical for effective adaptive co-management of natural resources. Complexity, both of the social-ecological system being managed and of the political-managerial system responsible for management activities, contributes to the difficulties in managing information and in communicating within and among organizations. Information and communication technology (ICT) has the potential to help link fragmented and disseminated decision-makers into an informal networked-governance structure in which decisions can be made at appropriate spatial and temporal scales. In order for ICT to successfully fulfill this function, the ICT support tools need to co-evolve with the adaptive co-management process, so as to explicitly meet the needs of the process. The function of IC tools should match the scale of the management tasks they are to support, and the IC system structure should provide a functional hierarchy of tools, with abundant cross-scale linkages. We propose “information triage” as a useful strategy for organizing information and beginning the process of linking existing organizations, information, models, and IC tools. This process uses development of a 3-dimensional conceptual systems model as a means for eliciting, prioritizing, and organizing both tacit and explicit information about both the social-ecological system and the political-managerial system. The model can then serve as a dynamic and evolving portal through which users (decision makers, stakeholders, and the public) can explore an issue’s information space.

Kathi Beratan

Kathi Beratan received her Ph.D. in Geology in 1990 from the University of Southern California for a field-based study of Mojave Desert tectonics. She gained experience in remote sensing during a post-doc at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, including a stint on the Science Support Team for the Magellan Radar Mapping Mission to Venus. She explored remote sensing and GIS applications in Quaternary geology and landscape ecology while on the faculty in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science at the University of Pittsburgh. This geographic research led her to questions related to the use of science in decision making and policy development concerning management of complex social-environmental systems. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus in a number of very different academic disciplines on the impacts and implications of complexity in human and natural systems. However, the increased scientific understanding of complexity has not yet been translated effectively into new decision and management processes. Her current research focuses on the information design (for usefulness and usability), and sustainability science.

Return to e-Planning Seminar index

Return to e-Planning Seminar index