A matter of emergence

A phenomenon of complex systems

Complex systems, like socio-ecological-technical systems, are made up of many individual, interconnected, and dynamic elements. Emergence is the word used for the behavior of complex systems, that produce phenomena by themselves, by integrating and ‘digesting’ new information, even from the environment.
Imagine a large group of people, like a university. Each student, professor, and cleaner is part of that living system, as well as the physical buildings, online spaces, communication tools, and so on. Together they form an ever-changing and moving web of relationships and interdependencies. There are certain roles, like students and teachers, and with those roles come expectations, hierarchies, and responsibilities. These fairly clear roles bring order to the system.
While everything is connected through a common purpose – learning, teaching, researching in short knowledge – the individual elements still act independently. Not every student knows what all other students are doing, and don’t consciously adapt their behavior. There are rather bubbles of influence that reach certain students while being missed by other students who are in different bubbles of influence.
If you have ever organized an event, you may know how hard it is to first reach even a few people from this mass of people (that are not in your own bubble of influence) and secondly motivate them to come to your event. Let’s say you do manage to reach a few people from different spheres of influence and the word about your cause spreads a little further. Word of mouth works well in a connected system like a university and at your next event quite a few more people show up. A diverse collection of individuals has heard about your cause and was motivated enough to physically show up. The third event turns into a large gathering, with people staying on, engaged in conversation, and connected by a growing vision. Plans are made, and resources are collected: still invisible to a large part of the university, a coalition for your cause has been forged.
Speaking System, 2022