Announcement of 2nd Viennese Talks on Resilience Research & Networks: New Perspectives on Growth, Development, and Innovation

bridges vol. 29, April 2011 / Noteworthy Information

Socio-ecological systems around the world find themselves confronted with daunting challenges: from climate change and peak oil, to currency and budget crises, to geopolitical instability. Increasing pressure from humanity during the 20th century - in terms of population growth, resource consumption, and alteration of global biogeochemical cycles - has called into question the system's ability to maintain vital functions. The rise of sustainability as a concept, discipline, and practical goal has increased awareness of these critical issues. Sustainability is the capacity to endure; within this paradigm, the concept of resilience refers to how a system responds to perturbation. Resilience is the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop. Facilitating the emergence of resilient systems and actors will become a major challenge for politics, economics, and society in our increasingly unstable world.

Resilience research is an ascendant paradigm focused on exploring the structural features of adaptive and robust ecosystems, societies, enterprises, and economies. Network theory provides a language capable of describing and elucidating those features. Multiple-fronted research on resilience is evident across academia, industry, and government, with applications to all complex adaptive systems.  The upcoming workshop, which will take place on May 26, 2011, in Vienna, Austria, will bring together the fields of resilience research and network theory and will demonstrate their value for adaptive management and strategy development in politics, economics, environmental issues, and society.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} The keynote speaker this year will be Professor Emeritus Robert Ulanowicz, from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences.  Professor Ulanowicz was a pioneer in the area of theoretical ecology, specifically applying concepts of information theory and network analysis to understand ecosystem function and the trade-off between system redundancy and efficiency.  Recently, his work has extended to applying these ecologically developed methodologies to economic and other socio-ecological systems.  His seminar will be followed by presentations from 10 expert panelists from Austria, United States, Italy, Hungary, and Germany.  Their talks will cover the following topics:


and will be focused on three guiding questions:

  • What is the evidence of resilience within a specific system?
  • What are the threats to resiliency in a specific system? 
  • What role do networks play in the design of decision-making structures?

Consensus results from the workshop will be available in a "Vienna Statement" to be released following the meeting.

Figure 1

This workshop is the second of its kind and a follow-up to the successful inaugural meeting in May 2010.  Last year, the keynote speaker was eminent ecologist Crawford "Buzz" Holling, whose work on the adaptive cycle motivated a new understanding of system dynamics.  Specifically, he crystallized the idea that development and conservation are but two stages of a larger pattern that also includes collapse and reorganization. Figure 1 shows a typical example for a generic ecosystem indicator such as biodiversity, stored biomass, or nutrient loss1. A typical pattern is for the quantity in question to increase during the early stages of growth and development, in which a healthy ecosystem evolves into a stable and lasting system.  Eventually, perturbations to the ecosystem, such as fire, windstorm, or invasive species, will disrupt the balance, resetting the stage for more development which may or may not follow the original trajectory. The point is that all systems, not just ecosystems, display these dynamic characteristics. Therefore, understanding the condition of the system as well as the events that trigger these changes is crucial.

Figure 2

An important lesson drawn from this research is that collapse is not always to be avoided but perhaps may be the best response for a system under certain conditions. For example, Figure 2 shows that as the system develops, certain patterns are locked in so that the potential for future development declines; a path of dependency sets in, constraining future opportunities. Therefore, it is best to anticipate and "manage" the entire system dynamic including the collapse, if at all possible. It is fitting that the meetings will be held in Vienna, as this idea of "creative destruction" was first proposed by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in the first half of the 20th century.  For more information on this field, we suggest reading some of the seminal work in the area of complex system dynamics such as Holling, Odum, Tainter, and Ulanowicz (see references below).

Workshop Logistics
When: May 26, 2011, 9:00 - 18:00
Where: Haus der Industrie, Schwarzenbergplatz 4, 1031 Vienna, Austria
Registration: Participation is free for all, but subject to registration. Please register by sending an e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For further information, you may also contact the authors (please see below).

Sponsors (in alphabetical order):

Austrian Ministry for Science & Research           
Federation of Austrian Industries  
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis


About the authors:
Brian Fath is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Towson, Maryland. He can be reached at:  bfath[at]
Harald Katzmair is a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria, and the founder and director of FAS.research in Vienna, Austria. He can be reached at:  harald.katzmair[at]

- Holling, C. S. "The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems: local surprise and global change." In Sustainable development of the biosphere, edited by W. C. Clark and R. E. Munn, 292-320. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

- Odum, H. T., and E. C. Odum. Prosperous way down: principles and policies. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2001.
Tainter, J. A. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

- Ulanowicz, R. E.  A Third Window: Natural Life beyond Newton and Darwin. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2009.

1) Figures reproduced from Burkhard, B., B. D. Fath, and F. Müller. "Adapting the adaptive cycle: Hypotheses on the development of ecosystem properties and services." Ecological Modeling.  2011. In press.