Describing the System

With conceptual and practical challenges in mind, we developed and applied the SoCial, ENvironmental, and Economic model (SCENE) approach to map a region as a system (Grosskurth and Rotmans 2005). The three domains of sustainability provide the basic structure for SCENE. The approach is based on the participative and qualitative representation of stocks and flows in the format of an influence diagram.

Stocks describe core elements of a system that change slowly. In contrast to the system dynamic notion given to the terms stock and flow, SCENE stocks can be quite generic titles, such as lifestyle or economic vitality. These titles can be interpreted multi-dimensionally. In the SCENE approach, we generally take four dimensions of a stock into account: quantity, quality, function, and spatial dimension. This breaks with the legacy of system dynamic modeling, where generally only one dimension of a stock is taken into account (i.e., quantity). Flows are relationships between stocks. Flows can represent material flows, information flows, or other relationships that follow a cause—effect line. Some more recent system descriptions also include actors as an endogenous part of the system.

Stocks, flows, and actors are essential parts of the system. The description of the system is a conceptual model of the real world. In the past 5 years we have drafted such models, applying the SCENE approach at national, provincial, and urban scale levels. Similar descriptions of systems are quite common in sustainability studies but rare in development of sustainability indicators.

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