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Title: Change or be changed : understanding resilience in socio-technical systems
Author: Taysom, Eloise
ISNI:       0000 0004 7224 8021
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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The world we live in is increasingly complex, interconnected and unpredictable. We face social and technological challenges, which must be overcome through the maintenance and redesign of existing systems, as well as the design and integration of new systems. Each of these systems has stakeholders at different levels and across domains, from those governing societies, to technical experts working on well-defined tasks. These stakeholders generally want their system to survive, or even thrive, in the face of uncertainty and unexpected influences. To describe this desire, people, from politicians to CEOs, use the word resilience. Resilience is a term that is referred to across domains in academic and public discourse. However, the exact definition of resilience is elusive, and it is not clear how to apply resilience in the context of socio-technical systems. To design resilient systems, we must first be able to answer questions including: Does a resilient system change to accommodate influences or stay the same? If the system changes, where should this change take place? How do we decide which system, or sub-system, to make resilient and at what level of abstraction? In this research I show how we can answer these questions by eliciting, combining and contrasting the perspectives of multiple stakeholders of socio-technical systems. In order to talk to these stakeholders, in interviews and workshops, I had to overcome communication barriers. Communicating about resilience is challenging because the term means different things to different people, both within and across domains. In this research I use diagrams to develop our understanding of resilience as a concept, prompt discussions with stakeholders, represent examples of resilience, and compare stakeholder perspectives across domains. Using these diagrams, I present three characteristics of resilience that have emerged from the literature and empirical studies: resisting, recovering and changing in response to influences. I also show how resilience is framed by stakeholders’ perspectives and depends on how a system’s boundary, purpose and timescale is defined. The characteristics of resilience are related to system dimensions, structure and function, with a focus on the similarities and differences between social and technical sub-systems. This research contributes a new understanding of resilience in the context of design practice, which moves us closer towards being able to design resilient socio-technical systems.
Supervisor: Crilly, Nathan Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Resilience ; Socio-technical systems ; Changeability