Uncertainty in the design and maintenance of social systems

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© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Social systems engineering will involve dealing with a wide range of uncertainties, much larger than even those in large-scale non-prototypical engineered systems. The level of uncertainty will be large enough that engineers who design and maintain social systems will require a mindset that is different from the mindset of the vast majority of today’s engineers. They will find that the variability, and thus uncertainty, in the systems that they design and maintain will be both a hindrance and, if allowed to be, a help. A mindset that leads an engineer to make changes to the system mostly in a bottom-up, local manner and at times allows the system to choose its own path will be required for an effective social system engineer. Social systems are adaptive systems and thus variation and selection are vital to their health, including engineered variation and selection as well as variation and selection inherent in the system. Engineering of social systems will need to be a form of adaptation, occurring within an environment of large uncertainty, done in such a way as to prevent large-scale failures.

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Social Systems Engineering: The Design of Complexity