Building a Complex System: Top-Down or Bottom-up?

Lately my fiance has been nurturing the growth of a wildlife control business and it seems all of his attention and not an insignificant portion of mine has been sucked into the project. One business! The more I’ve read about Rural System the more I am amazed at the magnitude of its undertaking. Dr. Robert Giles has been working hard on Rural System as a start-up for over 20 years. How can such a vast project see its beginnings? Is Rural System too big?

Like with most things there is a very unsatisfying answer to this question: it depends. The launching of a project on the scale of Rural System is too complicated to reduce to a yes or no question. It is much more fruitful to imagine “yes!”

So as a writer seeking to chronicle this grand endeavor, I like to imagine answers to the first question… where does such a thing begin? What I come to are variations on two themes: building from the bottom-up and sculpting from the top-down.

Rural System and Kissito, a non-profit based in VA, bring biofilters to a community in Uganda. Aiding the growth of an existing community is a way parts of Rural System could be built from the bottom-up.

Rural System and Kissito, a non-profit based in VA, bring biofilters to a community in Uganda. Aiding the growth of an existing community is a way parts of Rural System could be built from the bottom-up.

Land management is perhaps half of Rural System, but the other half is potentially more interesting and complex: the formation of communities as a result of good land use practices and sustained profit.

Communities depend on many capable people working together and contributing different goods and services to make life good for all contributors. In a capitalist society, if income is scarce, these people may ultimately focus on their own self-interest and cease to worry about those around them. Yet sharing is most especially important when times are hard. Rural System introduces an organized, top-down sharing of resources amongst farms and businesses for the mutual growth of all. In this way it is like a miniature, for-profit socialist system in a capitalist society.

With enough funding, this could be done in a very short amount of time with a top-down design approach. Of course, the prescriptive software system VNodal would need to be developed first for Rural System to exist- this would be the greatest investment of the project. The funding would also allow for data to be collected on the land, feeding into VNodal. From here, VNodal would begin making prescriptions for management actions on the land. The sampling and the execution of the prescriptions would be carried out by the Land Force, ideally composed of local workers and community members. By providing jobs and land management structure from the top-down, impoverished or abandoned areas of rural Virginia could begin to be revitalized. From here, the myriad of small businesses called Groups could arise and earn even more profit for the total system. The (likely absentee) landowner would thus see his or her land put to good use providing jobs and earning profit while the health of the land is improved.

This is the ideal scenario I think Dr. Giles would like to see, and it hinges mainly on obtaining adequate funding for the creation of VNodal.

But then, part of the beauty of communities is that they happen on their own. One way Rural System could form is if a community or communities of people could be inspired to create Rural System from the bottom-up. We already see precision agriculture practiced widely across the U.S., and even across the globe. We also see adoptions of the transition movement happening in towns worldwide, with particular focus on growing local economies and community. (If you’re interested in this, watch this wonderful documentary provided by the Transition Network.) If a precision agriculture farmer were interested in making further profit off his/her property, he/she could create small businesses capitalizing on resources such as ponds and forests, or even simply natural beauty in the form of admission to trails. As prescriptive software becomes available, this could be incorporated into the operation to optimize profits. The farmer could also simply network closely with other small businesses in the area to minimize waste and increase profits for all.

On the whole such a large system as the proposed Rural System requires an extraordinary amount of cooperation to get off the ground. It is so multifaceted that you, dear reader are guaranteed to fit in somewhere. Perhaps, if we cannot find the funding to make Rural System happen top-down, we can gather the inspiration to build it from the bottom-up. Comment below with your interests and ideas!

Next Post
Previous Post
About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

Speak Your Mind