Katrina Proust, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Presentation Title: History and the feedback dynamics of technology choice




This study provides an example of the use of Collaborative Conceptual Modelling (CCM). It demonstrates how techniques from the practice of history can reveal important aspects of feedback dynamics. Installing air conditioning immediately allows people to control their living environment. Hence, communities have been able to inhabit areas of extreme temperature and humidity that would be otherwise unsuitable for permanent settlements. However, this dependence results in a loss of adaptive capacity. The use of air conditioning in domestic dwellings reduces an individual’s ability to acclimatize to temperature and humidity changes. When serious heatwaves occur and dependence on air conditioning is highest the power-generating system is stretched to capacity. This situation increases the risk of power failures and the number of cases of thermal stress in the community. It has important implications for climate change adaptation in urban settings.

Key Lessons Learned

  • Historical studies can provide dynamically relevant data to support system analysis.  Such studies are essential in attempts to see strings of events as evolving patterns.
  • We live in a world dominated by feedbacks, where urban systems are becoming more complex.  We need to be alert to feedback effects, especially cross-sector feedback. 

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

  • The unintended outcomes of urban policy are usually delayed and unwanted.  Because they are delayed, these outcomes are often erroneously attributed to proximal events.  To anticipate unwanted outcomes, urban policymakers need to imagine a much wider system with its many links.
  • Historical-dynamic studies can help to better understand systems and to reduce policy surprise.


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