My re-written PhD thesis (2005)

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Coping with Complexity

This book finds its origin from my thesis Coping with Complexity in Integrated Water Management, which I defended on 11 January 2002 at the University of Twente, after labouring on it for about eight years, parttime. My thesis was distributed on a large scale and even reprinted in 2003. After that it had served its main purpose. It was time to do something about its two main disadvantages: it was written in Dutch and many readers thought it was long and tedious. This publication (July 2005) is the result. Albert Einstein once said: “Let’s make things as simple as possible, but not simpler than that”. That is my motto. This may sound peculiar in a book about complexity, but simplicity has its own kind of beauty. Therefore, I have taken out most of the original text of the thesis, adapted the story line and added new insights. This has reduced the depth of the book, but it has strengthened its core issues.

Painter as a metaphor

What is this book about? It is about managing complex processes in integrated water management. The process of painting can serve as a metaphor. In the creative process, the artist creates a painting, with only a rough idea of the end product in his mind. He starts by putting lines on the white canvas while gradually a composition emerges. During the painting process, adjustments are regularly made and sometimes parts are redefined. During this creative process, the artist finds himself at least at two alternate distances from his work. Most of the time, he is working on contours and details very close to the canvas. From time to time, he will take a few steps back to have a look at the whole picture, to assess the composition and its coherence. Re-inspired he will walk back towards the canvas to work out the details further.

These alternate distances are also clearly present in complex integrated issues. Much time is spent on working out the partial issues. Calculations are made, details designed, publications drawn up and so on. However, it is important to take a few steps backwards from time to time to see the whole picture. Integrated issues also have a composition. This book is about taking a few steps backwards to collect information on the composition; information which is essential to good water management. In order to be able to control the process, it is desirable to collect information from close by and from a distance. Subsequently, it is possible to go through a learning process while an integrated project can – sometimes amazingly – take shape.

Complex adaptive systems

This book tries to provide the spectacles required to see the whole picture; the spectacles are called the complex adaptive system. The main point is the interaction between water and society. This interaction is complex by nature. By taking a few steps backwards, and by involving other aspects of the environmental policy, patterns of stability and instability may be discovered. Knowledge of these patterns contributes to good management.