(Gardening) Gardening: A Relational Framework for Complex Thinking About Complex Systems

  • Leo Caves
  • Ana Teixeira de Melo


For positive outcomes to be achieved in the management of change in complex systems, our modes of thinking need to be congruent with the complexity of the targeted systems. In this chapter, we draw inspiration from the concept of gardening, conceived as a systemic activity of managing relations or the process by which a gardener relates to the relations of a complex system, to develop a relational thinking framework for complex thinking applied to change in complex systems. This framework is based on a relational worldview of interventions, as systemic activities aimed at change in complex systems. We propose a heuristic, in the form of a recursive relational thinking method, which can be used to explore different configurations of relations that represent abstract entities within a modelworld. Further we suggest that these configurations of relations can be the base for a corresponding storyworld, to assist in the narration of change in complex systems. We present this general abstract framework and apply it (recursively) to gardening itself as an example of a domain of change. This exercise illustrates how the proposed relational framework can be used to generate different models of change and supporting narratives, as well as the fitness of different modes of intervention in relation to desired outcomes. The result is, in itself, a basic relational framework or meta-model to guide the planning, evaluation and communication of interventions in complex systems.



We thank all the reviewers for their comments, particularly Susan Stepney for her insight and enthusiasm that encouraged us to further develop our ideas. We also thank Giulia Rispoli for the clarity of her critique and useful suggestions.

Ana Teixeira de Melo is supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, Portugal. This work was supported by an individual postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia, Portugal (SFRH/BPD/77781/2011), and hosted by the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra and the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences of the University of Coimbra.


  1. Andrews PS, Stepney S, Hoverd T et al (2011) CoSMoS process, models, and metamodels. In: Proceedings of the 2011 workshop on complex systems modelling and simulation. Luniver Press, Frome, pp 1–13Google Scholar
  2. Ashby WR (1958) Requisite variety and its implications for the control of complex systems. Cybernetica 1:83–99zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  3. Bar-Yam Y (2004) Making things work: solving complex problems in a complex world. NECSI, Knowledge Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  4. Bateson G (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind: collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  5. Bateson G (1979) Mind and nature: a necessary unity. Dutton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Beer S (1979) The heart of enterprise. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Begon M, Harper JL, Townsend CA (2009) Ecology - from individuals to ecosystems. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Box GEP (1979) Robustness in the strategy of scientific model building. Robust Stat 1:201–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bradley FM, Ellis BW, Martin DL (2010) The organic gardener’s handbook of natural pest and disease control: a complete guide to maintaining a healthy garden and yard the Earth-friendly way. Rodale Books, EmmausGoogle Scholar
  10. Burke K (1941) Four master tropes. Kenyon Rev 3:421–438Google Scholar
  11. Byrne D, Ragin C (2009) The SAGE handbook of case-based methods. SAGE, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Capra B (1990) MindWalk: a film for passionate thinkers. Atlas LeasingGoogle Scholar
  13. Capra F (1997) The web of life: a new synthesis of mind and matter. HarperCollins, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Carson R (2002) Silent spring. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Orlando, FLGoogle Scholar
  15. Cassirer E, Swabey WC, Swabey MC (1923) Substance and function, and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Open Court Publishing, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  16. Checkland P (2000) Soft systems methodology: a thirty year retrospective. Syst Res Behav Sci 17:S11–S58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Chenail RJ (1995) Recursive frame analysis. Qual Rep 2(2):1–14Google Scholar
  18. Cooper DE (2006) A philosophy of gardens. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  19. Demakis J (2012) The ultimate book of quotations. Lulu enterprises, RaleighGoogle Scholar
  20. Dent EB (1999) Complexity science : a worldview shift. Emergence 1:5–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Érdi P (2007) Complexity explained. Springer, HeidelbergzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  22. Friedman VJ (2011) Revisiting social space: relational thinking about organizational change. In: Shani AB, Woodman RW, Pasmore WA (eds) Research in organizational change and development, vol 19. Emerald Group, Bingley, pp 233–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Glaser B, Strauss A (1967) The discovery grounded theory: strategies for qualitative inquiry. Aldine, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  24. Goguen JA, Varela F (1979) Systems and distinctions: duality and complementarity. Int J Gen Syst 5:31–43MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Guckenheimer J (2007) Bifurcation. Scholarpedia J 2:1517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Guerrero AM, Bodin Ö, McAllister RRJ, Wilson KA (2015) Achieving social-ecological fit through bottom-up collaborative governance: an empirical investigation. Ecol Soc 20(4):41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Haken H (1984) Synergetics: the science of structure. Van Nostrand, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Haken H (1987) Information compression in biological systems. Biol Cybern 56:11–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hemenway T (2009) Gaia’s garden: a guide to home-scale permaculture, 2nd edn. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River JunctionGoogle Scholar
  30. Hoffman L (1993) Exchanging voices: a collaborative approach to family therapy. Karnac Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Huxley TH (1894) Evolution and ethics: prolegomena. In: Collected essays. Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Kaufmann S (2000) Investigations. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  33. Kegan R (1982) The evolving self. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. Kelso S (1997) Dynamic patterns: the self-organization of brain and behavior. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  35. Kelso SJA, Engstrom DA (2008) The complementary nature. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  36. Ladyman J, Lambert J, Wiesner K (2013) What is a complex system? Eur J Philos Sci 3:33–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leopold A (1949) A sound county almanac. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 224–225Google Scholar
  38. Lerner RM (2001) Concepts and theories of human development. Psychology Press, HoveGoogle Scholar
  39. Little B (2008) Companion planting. New Holland, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Lockwood JL, Hoopes MF, Marchetti MP (2013) Invasion ecology. Wiley, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  41. Macy J (1991) Mutual causality in Buddhism and general systems theory: the dharma of natural systems. SUNY Press, AlbanyGoogle Scholar
  42. Manson SM (2001) Simplifying complexity: a review of complexity theory. Geoforum 32:405–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Marcus CC (1992) The garden as metaphor. In: Francis M, Hester RT Jr (eds) The meaning of gardens: idea, place, and action. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 26–33Google Scholar
  44. Marks-Tarlow T, Robertson R, Combs A (2002) Varela and the Uroborus: the psychological significance of re-entry. Cybern Hum Knowing 9:31–47Google Scholar
  45. Maturana H (1987) Everything is said by an observer. In: Thompson WI (ed) Gaia: a way of knowing. Lindisfarne Press, West Stockbridge, MA, pp 65–82Google Scholar
  46. Maturana H (1988) Ontology of observing: the biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence. In: Donaldson RE (ed) Texts in cybernetics. American Society of Cybernetics, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  47. Maturana HR, Varela FJ (1991) Autopoiesis and cognition: the realization of the living. Springer, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  48. Mauthner NS, Doucet A (2003) Reflexive accounts and accounts of reflexivity in qualitative data analysis. Sociology 37:413–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Meadows DH (2008) Thinking in systems: a primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River JunctionGoogle Scholar
  50. Miles MB, Huberman AM (1994) Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  51. Mitchell M (2009) Complexity, a guided tour. Oxford University Press, New YorkzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  52. Morin E (1992) From the concept of system to the paradigm of complexity. J Soc Evol Syst 15:371–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Morin E (2005) Introduction à la pensée complexe. Seuil, ParisGoogle Scholar
  54. Morin E (2007) Restricted complexity, general complexity. In: Gershenson C, Aerts D, Edmonds B (eds) Worldviews, science and us - philosophy and complexity. World Scientific, Singapore, pp 5–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Morin E (2008) On complexity. Hampton Press, CresskillGoogle Scholar
  56. Nicholls R (1990) Beginning hydroponics: soilless gardening: a beginner’s guide to growing vegetables, house plants, flowers, and herbs without soil. Running Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  57. Noble D (2012) A theory of biological relativity: no privileged level of causation. Interface Focus 2:55–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nosengo N (2003) Fertilized to death. Nature 425:894–895CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pask G (1975) The cybernetics of human learning and performance: a guide to theory and research. Hutchinson Educational, New YorkzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  60. Patton MQ (2011) Developmental evaluation: applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. Pigliucci M (2012) Landscapes, surfaces, and morphospaces: what are they good for. In: Erik Svensson E, Calsbeek R (eds) The adaptive landscape in evolutionary biology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 26–38Google Scholar
  62. Pollan M (2007) Second nature: a gardener’s education. Grove/Atlantic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  63. Ravetz J (2014) Interconnected responses for interconnected problems: synergistic pathways for sustainable wealth in port cities. Int J Glob Environ Issues 13:362–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rohwer C (2010) Unintended consequences, the garden professors. Accessed 4 Jun 2015
  65. Ryan F (2011) Metamorphosis: unmasking the mystery of how life transforms. Oneworld Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  66. Stein S (2000) My weeds: a gardeners’ botany. University Press of Florida, Glainesville, FLGoogle Scholar
  67. Sterman JD (2006) Learning from evidence in a complex world. Am J Public Health 96:505–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Suzuki S (1973) Zen minds, beginners’ mind. Weatherhill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  69. Tsoukas H, Hatch MJ (2001) Complex thinking, complex practice: the case for a narrative approach to organizational complexity. Hum Relat 54(8):979–1013CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Varela FJ (1976) Not one, not two. Coevolution Q 11(Fall):62–67Google Scholar
  71. Varela F, Maturana H (1987) The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala Publications, Boston, MAGoogle Scholar
  72. von Bertalanffy L (1971) General system theory: foundations, development, applications. Allen Lane, LondonGoogle Scholar
  73. von Foerster H (2007) Understanding: essays on cybernetics and cognition. Springer, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  74. von Glasersfeld E (1984) An introduction to radical constructivism. In: Watzlawick P (ed) The invented reality: how do we know what we believe we know? (Contributions to constructivism). Norton, New York, pp 17–40Google Scholar
  75. von Stackelberg P (2011) Storyworlds - what are they? In: Transmedia Digest. Accessed 2 Aug 2016
  76. Watzlawick P, Weakland JH, Fisch R (1974) Change: principles of problem resolution and problem formation. W. W. Norton & Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  77. Whitehead AN (1920) The concept of nature. Cambridge University Press, CambridgezbMATHGoogle Scholar
  78. Whitehead AN (1929) Process and reality, Corrected edition 1978. Griffin/Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  79. Wiener N (1961) Cybernetics: or control and communication in the animal and the machine. MIT Press, CambridgezbMATHGoogle Scholar
  80. Wilden A (2013) System and structure: essays in communication and exchange, 2nd edn. Routledge, OxonGoogle Scholar
  81. Yin RK (2013) Case study research: design and methods. SAGE, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  82. Zhu Y, Chen H, Fan J et al (2000) Genetic diversity and disease control in rice. Nature 406:718–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leo Caves
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ana Teixeira de Melo
    • 3
  1. 1.Independent ResearcherSao Felix da MarinhaPortugal
  2. 2.York Cross-Disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis, University of YorkYorkUK
  3. 3.Centre for Social StudiesUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

Personalised recommendations