Employing Cybernetics in Social Ecological Systems Research

Transforming Experience of Land Users into Information for Scientists


Innovation processes in land-use systems require land-users to change their management actions. Understanding land-users’ management actions requires understanding of how land-users regulate their system i.e. how they achieve what they want to achieve. Their management is based on their experience, which remains usually hidden to scientists, as it is usually not explained (made explicit) to third parties, either due to the lack of necessity within the production process, or, because the underlying knowledge / experience is implicit and insufficiently formalised to make it explicit. In this chapter we will present a methodology based on second-order cybernetics to model land users’ regulation of the production process and thereby transform their experience and their underlying knowledge into information for science.

Using this methodology permits to identify the observations, which landusers make when controlling the production process. Hence it enables learning about different aspects and characteristics of the respective controlled processes of production systems, and about the production environment that matter – i.e. are decisive for the land-users actions. Beyond this, the methodology also permits identifying the rules behind land users’ actions, which reveals cause-effect relations and points at characteristics of the production environment, which a) have shaped the system (restrictions), and b) are considered as problems (disturbances) by the land users. Once transformed into information, land-users’ experience can be used in knowledge integration processes, as employed in transdisciplinary research, where the different system views of different stakeholders such as e.g. scientists and practitioners are combined to develop innovations that fit into the system. This is much needed in the design of development projects.


Knowledge Analysis Knowledge Management Transdisciplinary Research Co-learning Low-external-input Systems 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ashby, W. R. (1974): Einführung in die Kybernetik. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. Bateson, G. (1983): Ökologie des Geistes: Anthropologische, psychologische, biologische und epistemologische Perspektiven. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  3. Bauer, M. (1996): The narrative interview: comment s on a technique of qualitative data collection. In: Papers in Social Research Methods – Qualitative Series. Vol. 1, London, UK: London School of Economics, Methodology Institute.Google Scholar
  4. Bawden, R. J., Macadam, R. D., Packham, R. J. & Valentine, I. (1984): Systems Thinking and Practices in the Education of Agriculturalists. In: Agricultural Systems. Vol. 13, pp. 205–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Béranger, C. & Vissac, B. (1993): An holistic approach to livestock farming systems. Theoretical and methodological aspects. In: Brossier, J., Bonneval, L. D. & Landais, E. (Eds.): Systems studies in agriculture and rural development. Paris, France: INRA, pp. 149–164.Google Scholar
  6. Briske, D. D., Zhao, M., Han, G., Xiu, C., Kemp, D. R., Willms, W., Havstad, K., Kang, L., Wang, Z., Wu, J., Han, X. & Bai, Y. (2015): Strategies to alleviate poverty and grassland degra-dation in Inner Mongolia: Intensification vs production efficiency of livestock systems. In: Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 152, pp. 177–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coughenour, C. M. (1984): Social ecology and agriculture. In: Rural Sociology. Vol. 49, pp. 1–22.Google Scholar
  8. Dillon, J. L. (1992): The Farm as a Purposeful System. In: Miscellaneous Publication. No. 10, Armidale, Australia: Department of Agricultural Economics and Business Management, University of New England.Google Scholar
  9. Esser, H. (2002): Soziologie. Spezielle Grundlagen. Bd. 1: Situationslogik und Handeln. Frankfurt, Germany: Campus Verlag.Google Scholar
  10. Fairweather, J. (2010): Farmer models of socio-ecologic systems: Application of causal mapping across multiple locations. In: (2010): Ecological Modelling. Vol. 221, pp. 555–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Folke, C., Carpenter, S., Elmqvist, T., Gunderson, L., Holling, C. S. & Walker, B. (2002): Resilience and sustainable development: building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations. In: AMBIO. Vol. 31, no. 5, pp. 437–440.Google Scholar
  12. Gliessman, S. R. (2007): Agroecology: The ecology of sustainable food system. Second Edition. Boca Raton, USA: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hildebrand P. E. & Waugh, R. K. (1986): Farming systems research and development. In: Hildebrand, P. E. (Eds.): Perspectives of Farming Systems Research and extension. pp. 12–16, Boulder, Colorado, USA: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  14. Hubert, B. (1993): Modelling pastoral land-use practices. In: Brossier, J., Bonneval, L. D. & Landais, E. (Eds.): Systems studies in agriculture and rural development. Paris, France: INRA, pp. 235–258.Google Scholar
  15. Ison, R. & Russel, D. (2005): Agricultural extension and rural development. Breaking out of traditions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Janssen M. A., Anderies J. M. & Ostrom E. (2007): Robustness of social-ecological systems to spatial and temporal variability. In: Society & Natural Resources. Vol. 20, pp. 307–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kaufmann, B. A. (2005): Precision livestock farming in developing countries: creating order where uncertainty prevails. In: Cox, E. (Eds.): Precision Livestock Farming ’05. Wageningen: Academic Publishers, pp. 327–336.Google Scholar
  18. Kaufmann, B. A. (2011): Second-order cybernetics as a tool to understand why pastoralists do what they do. In: Agricultural Systems. Vol. 104, pp. 655–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kaufmann, B., Nelson, W., Gudere, R., Canger, V., Golicha, D., Frank, M., Roba, H., Mwai, O. & Hülsebusch C. (2012): Identifying local innovations in pastoral areas in Marsabit County, Kenya. Witzenhausen, Germany: German Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture (DITSL).Google Scholar
  20. Keating, B. A. & McCown, R. L. (2001): Advances in farming systems analysis and intervention. In: Agricultural Systems. Vol. 70, pp. 555–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kremen, C., Iles, A. & Bacon, C. (2012): Diversified Farming Systems: An Agroecological, Systemsbased Alternative to Modern Industrial Agriculture. Guest Editorial, part of a Special Feature on A Social-Ecological Analysis of Diversified Farming Systems: Benefits, Costs, Obstacles, and Enabling Policy Frameworks. In: Ecology and Society. Vol. 17, no. 4, p. 44.Google Scholar
  22. Luhmann, N. (2004): Einführung in die Systemtheorie. Heidelberg, Germany: Carl-Auer-Systeme.Google Scholar
  23. Norman, D. (2000): A personal evolution. In: Collinson, M. P. (Eds.): A history of Farming Systems Research. Pp. 30–33, Wallingford: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), CAB International. Osty, P. L. & Landais, E. (1993): Functioning of pastoral farming systems. In: Brossier, J., Bonneval,Google Scholar
  24. L. D. & Landais, E. (Eds.): Systems studies in agriculture and rural development. Paris, France: INR, pp. 201–214.Google Scholar
  25. Porter, J. & Rasmussen, J. (2009): Agriculture and Technology. In: Berg Olsen, J. K., Pedersen, S. A. & Hendricks, V. F. (Eds.): A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ch. 48.Google Scholar
  26. Puppe, F. (1991): Wissensrepräsentation mit Regeln. In: Struss, P. (Eds.): Wissensrepräsentationen. München, Germany: Oldenbourg Verlag, pp. 123–130.Google Scholar
  27. Sørensen, J. T. & Kristensen, E. S. (1992): Systemic modelling: a research methodology in livestock farming. In: Global appraisal of livestock farming systems and study on their organizational levels: Concept, methodology and results. Brussels, Belgium: Commission of the European Community, pp. 45–57.Google Scholar
  28. Spedding, C. R. W. (1988): An introduction to agricultural systems. London, New York, USA: Elsevier Applied Science.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Von Foerster, H. (1982): Observing systems. Seaside, California, USA: Intersystems publications. Werner, M. (2010): Fulani agro-pastoralists’ production strategies: Adaptation to climate variability in Mopti region, Mali. MSc thesis DITSL Witzenhausen, University of Göttingen, Germany.Google Scholar
  30. Werner, M., Diarra, L., Hülsebusch, C. & Kaufmann, B. (2010): Securing Food Supply by Adapting Millet Growing to Climate Variability: Decision Making Rules of Fulani Agro-pastoralists in Mopti Region, Mali. Book of Abstracts, Tropentag 2010. ETH Zurich, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  31. Willke, H. (1994): Systemtheorie II: Interventionstheorie. Stuttgart, Germany: Gustav Fischer Verlag.Google Scholar
  32. Willke, H. (2001): Systemisches Wissensmanagement. Stuttgart, Germany: Lucius & Lucius.Google Scholar
  33. Winter, W. (1999): Theorie des Beobachters: Skizzen zur Architektonik eines Metatheoriesystems. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Neue Wissenschaft.Google Scholar
  34. Woodhill, J. & Röling, N. G. (1998): The second wing of the eagle: the human dimension in learning our way to more sustainable futures. In: Röling, N. G. & Wagemakers, M. A. E. (Hrsg.): Facilitating sustainable agriculture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 46–70.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deutsches Institut für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft GmbHWitzenhausenDeutschland

Personalised recommendations