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Date: 2024-05-19 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00014919


Original article:
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess
Tony Hodgson’s new book – Ready for Anything – offers a clear and honest look at the state of the world today. It introduces The World System Model as a new and holistic way to gain an understanding of our particular predicament – and The IFF World Game as a quick and effective way of involving others in the exercise.


The IFF World Model maps the factors essential for diagnosing interdependencies, based on some guiding principles:
  • ... The factors are recognisable as relevant at all levels from individuals through communities to the global level;
  • ... They cover key factors in environment and society that range from the living biosphere to the worldviews of people;
  • ... They both highlight existing global/local issues as well as providing a framework for anticipating future issues;
  • ... They avoid the usual categories like environment, economy, technology, politics and so on to help provoke fresh thinking.
Each factor is an umbrella for a cluster of related factors explained in detail in the scanning section of this site. The factors can be divided into four broad categories:
  1. Planetary Viability
    • ... Biosphere
    • ... Climate
    • ... Water
  2. Resource Balance
    • ... Energy
    • ... Food
    • ... Trade
  3. Human Stewardship
    • ... Governance
    • ... Wealth
    • ... Habitat
  4. Human Quality
    • ... Community
    • ... Wellbeing
    • ... Worldview

Having identified a number of significant factors, it is common in strategic planning circles then to monitor trends in each of these areas. This approach can lead to false comfort since it may miss:
  • exponential change: we tend to assume trends are linear and incremental and so miss changes that start small but grow exponentially;
  • discontinuity: by the same token we tend not to expect tipping points and discontinuous change, where a very small change in a single variable can trigger step change in the system overall;
  • complexity: the coincidence of small, or incremental, changes in a number of different factors can lead to dramatic or even catastrophic shift in a system where the factors are tightly coupled.
Hence the IFF World Model explicitly scans not only for trends in each of twelve areas, but also for possible exponentials, discontinuities, tipping points and chaos points that might otherwise surprise us. The model framework itself focuses attention on complexity, the second order effects that occur when different trends interact, and the potential ‘synchronous failures’ where simultaneous changes in a variety of dimensions might lead to catastrophic change.


Each connecting line in the IFF World Model implies:
  • ... The factors on each end of the line reciprocally influence each other. A change in one is likely to induce a change in the other and the influence may work either way (for example, climate change will affect biosphere which in turn affects climate);
  • ... Not all these mutual influences will be of the same strength or the same type. Only some of them will affect the world system beyond its resilience to return to an average state (for example, trade and wealth may oscillate together but more or less keep in step);
  • ... Changes can propagate themselves across the network (for example, water shortage can affect food production can affect wellbeing can provoke governance issues around providing aid);
  • ... Changes can occur in a factor that are discontinuous and may shake the whole system (for example the implications and impact of peak oil in energy);
  • ... Discontinuous changes could occur in more than one factor at a time. This is known as synchronous failure (for example climate events at the same time as economic collapse).
These influences can be grouped into two main kinds:
  • 1st Order Effects are those that occur within a given factor. Especially of interest in the modelling are discontinuities or tipping points. An example in energy would be peak oil. An example in climate change would be carbon dioxide emissions triggering rapid release of methane.
  • 2nd Order Effects are interactions between any two or more of the factors. These effects create a more complex aspect in the overall problematique. An example might be that the invention of abundant cheap energy (desirable for a number of good reasons) also carries the knock-on danger of over-pumping of aquifers, grid-locked mobility, appropriation by despotic military or terrorists and so on.
Complexity: Three Horizons

IFF has found a 'three horizons' model of longer term change a useful framework both in workshop settings and for deeper analysis. The development and use of the model is explained elsewhere on the IFF website.

It adds a further dimension to the power and scope of the World System Model to apply it in each of the three horizons.

Three horizons future
  • The Horizon 1 version of the world model is our current situation as diagnosed in the trends and discontinuities in the 12 factors. If this continues it will lead to significant disruption and collapse.
  • Horizon 3 is the vision (or visions) of a viable future society. In H3 the world model provides a thinking and learning framework for considering the preconditions for ‘the good life’ – future planetary viability. Horizon 3 has the potential to displace Horizon 1. But since the future is emergent and can never be well known, it must always remain a shaping vision rather than a predictive one.
  • The area of great challenge and tension is Horizon 2. Here the world model can be used as a framework to help identify the innovations and changes that will help the transition to ways of living within the new conditions. This is the horizon in which we experiment, invent and pioneer alternatives. Some will succeed, some will fail, some will be hijacked to prop up the declining system and some will, surprisingly, be effective beyond expectation.
Three Horizons
  • Structure
  • Discontinuities
  • Interconnections
Three Horizons

Content and Sources

The IFF World Model is composed of twelve factors. On the detailed pages of this site each factor is described in five ways:

a description of the content covered by the single word title (eg ‘biosphere’);

a synopsis of the current situation and some noticeable trends suggestive of what the future might hold; one or more potential discontinuities within the dynamics of each factor which could break the current trend. These are harder to see and more dangerous because they can trigger shocks and surprises;

key mainstream web sources to help expand the viewpoint and verify perspectives;

a rolling scan of recent relevant developments that highlight the condition of that factor.

In this way the World System Model forms a scanning framework for general use. We hope in time to open the scanning function to a wide number of participants around the world on an open innovation model. This way of using the model is evolving into a Platform for Planetary Learning.

Ready for Anything
Contents of the Book

Chapter 1, The Global Predicament, explains clearly and unemotively the resources currently available to us vs the amounts we are using each year. It outlines resource boundaries and looks at the assumptions we base our planning on (including those that are no longer valid). The conclusion: we need about 1½ Earths to support the world population and its requirements at 2011 levels.

This highlights the need to find ways to live on the resources of just one planet – one-planet living. Two main changes are proposed:
  • 1) realise the folly of short-term, single-issue, quick fixes;
  • 2) shift our thinking away from fragmenting things so as to make them easy (analysis) towards integrating them so as to make them real (synthesis).
Chapter 2: The need for an integrative approach becomes clearer in Chapter 2. We must increasingly expect major disruptions (whether financial, political, social, geological, medical or climatic) to occur simultaneously. Because the impact of synchronous crises is so huge, we must also look at how we respond as human beings. Three types of response are characterised, the most helpful being the ‘transformational response’.

Chapter 3: Having considered the severity and complexity of the challenges we face, Chapter 3 looks at The Opportunity in the Challenge. Just possibly, the crises we face will weaken our old, dysfunctional habits and ways of living sufficiently to enable radically new and more effective ways to emerge. These approaches need to be generated through our collective intelligence, not through the heroic acts of outstanding individuals.

Chapter 4: This leads us to The World System Model The Model is a clear and memorable way of looking at all this in a way that keeps it together in our minds, helps us talk to others about it, and helps focus us on what really matters in generating positive ideas for the future.

Chapter 5, The Twelve Nodes, explains the circular diagram (right), which is the main icon for The Model. It explores the twelve key issues and positions them as the nodes of sustainable living. Each node is described – and some of the main trends summarised – in terms of recent research.

Chapter 6, Now the book’s attention switches from the Model to how we can apply it in practice. Chapter 6, From World System to World Game, introduces a way of getting groups of people to participate in using the Model. The game format challenges participants to co-operate to develop ideas about getting ‘ready for anything’ in their area. In particular, it invites awareness of how things are interconnected, whether the focus is on a community, a business, a public policy area, or a whole country/region.

Chapter 7, To explain The IFF World Game, Tony Hodgson gives examples of where it has been tried. Chapter 7 has examples of The Game being used by an intentional community in Scotland, by another group of concerned city residents, and by a group in San Francisco considering how they would run the USA. The chapter ends with a project where pupils from a London school and their family groups played a version of the game called ‘21st Century Hopscotch’.

Chapter 8, Strategy and Policy Development, describes how the model was used to help generate an innovative public health strategy and a separate example is given of a design group exploring how their Mediterranean island community could regenerate itself and build in greater sustainability.

In Chapter 9 read how a group of professors and senior researchers at a leading Indian economics institute used The IFF World Game to critique and develop their research strategy to contribute to ‘rapid, inclusive, sustainable growth in India over the coming decade’.

Whether playing The World Game or using The World System Model as a strategy method, the approach needs care. Chapter 10, Creative Facilitation to Engage the World System, analyses three levels of facilitation capability, corresponding to the level of difficulty being addressed. Here, the process is related to action learning and several key thinking skills are also described.

Chapter 11, A Platform for Planetary Learning, takes us back to basics. We face a deluge of information in different areas of research into planetary sustainability and world governance. But the danger, in terms of survival, is that the noise makes the signals too hard to read. Experience also tells us that we are slow to learn. The World System Model can provide a framework for reading the ‘weak signals’ and compiling crucial information in a joined-up way.

This chapter also leads us into considering ‘futures’– How can we identify possible futures? How can we recognise when our responses to problems are locking us into the very patterns that got us into the mess in the first place? How can we envision a better future? The book presents IFF’s three horizon model as a way of getting to grips with these questions.

Finally, Tony Hodgson stresses that the huge scale and complexity of the challenges we face should not be an excuse to duck them. Chapter 12, Designing Resilience, affirms that we can create a sustainable form of one-planet living. This is, in fact, an exciting and energising task. But he ends with a warning that, if we simply improve our ability to ‘bounce back’ to normal after a crisis, we will keep facing more crises. We need to get smarter and wiser about learning to ‘bounce beyond’ to a truly sustainable world.

Tony Hodgson’s new book – Ready for Anything – offers a clear and honest look at the state of the world today. It introduces The World System Model as a new and holistic way to gain an understanding of our particular predicament – and The IFF World Game as a quick and effective way of involving others in the exercise.

It goes on to examine the kind of resilient and adaptive solutions that can be most helpful to us – whether they are applied at the level of the school, the city or the Earth. Since so many of us (both human and other beings) have to live on this planet together, it sets out our best hope yet of finding sustainable ways of ‘one-planet living’. Best of all, it helps ensure that we keep our heads out of the sand.

This hardback edition is available for airmail despatch to anywhere in the world.

A print-on-demand paperback edition (at the same list price) is available for customers outside Europe. If you order this title from a bookshop or online retailer, such as, Barnes and Noble, etc., you will normally only be able to get the paperback edition.

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