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Introducing complex systems thinking

Lead Educator Matthew Fielding and Course Mentor Darin Wahl discuss what complex systems thinking means in a food context.
Hello, and welcome to Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia. My name’s Matthew Fielding, and I’m the Lead Educator on the course. Today I’m joined by Darin Wahl. Darin, welcome. Thank you. Please introduce yourself to the course. Hi. I’m Darin Wahl. I have a background in socio-ecological resilience. And I’m currently working at Stockholm Environment Institute Asia. And I will be a mentor for this course. So I’ll be looking forward to interacting with many of you during the weeks. Thanks, Darin. So we’re going to talk about complex systems thinking today. And so one of the questions that I have for you is, why do we need to have a complex systems perspective on food systems?
What does it add? Complex systems perspective gives us a wider view. Sometimes if we focus in too closely on the problem, we won’t be able to see the multitude of drivers or causes for that kind of problem. Many times we’re able to answer questions like what the problem is, what kind of behaviours might be causing such a problem, and maybe what are the short-term impacts. But a complex systems perspective will let us expand out and ask, why are those problems happening in the first place? And then it can also ask, what are the longer-term impacts that this kind of use or this kind of behaviour or etc.
is going to have on ecosystems, on our natural resource base, but also on communities and societies as a whole? So it really expands the way we’re able to look at our problems and to include the drivers of those problems as vital aspects of our study and our understanding. How do individual choices– how are they seen or captured within food systems? Individual choices play a huge role. And I think the idea of motivations of the many different actors in a system really matters. So it’s not just that people consume in a certain way, but it’s what is driving them to consume that way.
Big food, for example, has incredible marketing power. And how are they convincing people to consume food in a certain way? But there’s huge numbers of trends that go on in a variety of countries and cities that all have to do with food. And those decisions that individuals and groups make about changing their eating habits and becoming foodies, for example, have large impacts all along the chain back to the producers, back to the farms, and back to what resources are being used to produce these kinds of foods and the impacts that those decisions that are happening many thousands of kilometres away have. OK. Thank you very much, Darin, for your time. Thank you. Thank you.
And remember, you can follow on the debates on the comments page. Thank you very much.
Welcome to Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia. Our Lead Educator, Matthew Fielding, and course mentor, Darin Wahl, both with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia Centre, introduce this week’s content by discussing what “complex systems thinking” means and what role it plays throughout this course.
Before we begin our work on food, natural resources, the environment, and Southeast Asia, watch Matthew and Darin focus on the “systems” part of our title, and the course in general. You can follow Matthew and Darin as they are here to respond to your comments and questions throughout the five weeks of this course.


Matthew and Darin touch upon just a few aspects of systems and taking a systems approach. In the comment box below, using your own words and based on your own knowledge, what do you understand “complex systems thinking” to mean? What does it mean to take a “systems approach”?
We encourage you to read other people’s comments too. Reply to their comments if you agree, disagree, or have something to add to their understanding of complex systems.
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Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

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