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John Little

Virginia Tech

Breakout Room 3.


Anthropocene; sociocultural; systems of systems

How can the human dimensions of disaster impacts be more accurately captured and represented in the analysis, modeling and simulation of disasters?

Societal challenges of the Anthropocene (e.g.; climate change; decarbonization; renewable energy; critical infrastructure and disasters) have causes; interactions and consequences that cascade across a globally-connected; system of Anthropocene systems. When addressing these challenges; researchers in most disciplines tend to begin with their own subsystem and incrementally add a few interactions to a few other subsystems. Even worse; such incremental approaches fail to address the interdependence of the societal challenges. A convergence paradigm is clearly needed to effectively communicate across systems using a common framework and scientific language. Unfortunately; developing a separate convergence paradigm with a separate framework and scientific language for each challenge is counterproductive; given that they are interdependent; and bottom-up approaches that start with subsystems and incrementally connect to a few other subsystems are ineffective; unless they are implemented within a coherent top-down framework. We are therefore developing a simultaneous top-down; bottom-up; system-of-systems approach (SoS Approach); that includes a common framework (SoS Framework); new scientific language (SoS Pedagogy) and comprehensive mechanism for decision support (SoS Decision-Support System) that advances the entire family of societal challenges simultaneously. In the longer term; we are extending the SoS Approach; using geological; biological and cultural evolution to identify the causal relationships that enabled sociocultural and sociotechnical systems to evolve; allowing us to propose a more casually-coherent Evolutionary; SoS Approach as a convergence paradigm for the entire family of interdependent societal challenges of the Anthropocene.

What type of data and supporting research infrastructure would be necessary to enable novel, transdisciplinary approaches to answering these and other human-centered disaster questions?

Anthropocene systems are characterized by (1) biophysical systems such as watershed; climate and ecosystems; (2) sociocultural systems dominated by human behavior; decision-making and collective social dynamics; and (3) sociotechnical systems such as land-use; infrastructure; economics; industry; and agriculture. Together; these interacting real-world systems constitute a de-facto SoS that requires concerted effort to understand and ultimately manage. To derive knowledge about these systems; domain experts and practitioners must apply their often-disparate perspectives; and represent the systems with their own ontologies and mental models. For example; system-specific knowledge and data are used to develop process models representing many complex systems. Mechanistic models are preferred; but in cases where the theoretical knowledge is insufficient; we can use theory-guided data science to automatically extract patterns from data while incorporating the knowledge accumulated in scientific theories. For systems where a comprehensive theoretical foundation is unavailable; we can use data-based models until theoretical knowledge improves. The complex dynamics; feedback loops; and cascading effects of the de-facto SoS cannot be understood by simulating the individual uncoupled systems. Instead; we must use the SoS Approach to reconcile the ontologies; meta-data and mental models inherent to their system-specific process models. This reconciliation must also make the models coherent across nested scales (e.g.; local; urban and regional) and more reusable across the family of societal challenges. Finally; the SoS Approach will need to be continually refined as new data; knowledge and systems are introduced.

In what ways can US-Japan collaborations advance these questions in new and important ways?

The proposed SoS Approach (including Framework; Pedagogy and Decision-Support System) needs to be developed; tested and implemented across societal challenges; systems; geographies; sociocultural regions; scales (spatial; temporal and organizational); climates; economies and stakeholder communities. With disaster resilience as the initial societal challenge; a range of field sites in Japan and the US could be identified to prototype the SoS Approach. These test beds could be organized as urban areas within their surrounding regions. The most relevant systems could be identified in each city-region (e.g.; land-use; watershed; climate; energy; transportation; communication; economic; legal; and governance systems). It is well known that Asian and Western sociocultural systems are fairly different in nature (for example; consider responses to the pandemic) and this represents a natural way to bring to life the effects of these most important systems; which tends to drive the other Anthropocene systems. The proposal approach will not only provide the tools to evaluate synergies and trade-offs across multiple complex systems but also the ability to reuse these tools across different geographies as we prepare for and respond to a range of disasters. Finally; the proposed SoS Approach will not only be applicable to disasters; but is designed to be able to simultaneously address other societal challenges of the Anthropocene; as clearly noted in the preamble describing the need for this HCD4R workshop.

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