The concept of resilience has become popular in international development circles in recent years, but it is only one of many factors in a larger, integrated, empirical understanding of systemic health and development emerging from the study of energy-flow networks. This article explores how the Energy Network Sciences (ENS) can provide a robust theoretical foundation and effective quantitative measures for resilience and other characteristics that undergird systemic health and development in socio-economic networks. Einstein once said that “theory makes measurement possible.” We believe ENS can provide a more effective theory of economic health, which will open the door to surprisingly precise measures. Our goal is to outline the basic reasoning behind both theory and measures.
Regeneration refers to the self-feeding, self-renewing processes that natural systems use to nourish their capacity to thrive for long periods of time and their ability to adapt to unexpected, sometimes threatening circumstances. No system can sustain itself over the long-term, if it is not designed to continuously regenerate.
Regenerative development uses the universal laws of systemic health and self-renewal to show how we can develop durably vibrant socio-economic systems as well. It uses the empirical study of flow-networks to make this idea precise.
This approach to development suggests new answers to a critical question for our uncertain times: Can the tools of development be used, not just for episodic interventions that provide short-term relief, but to build the long-term regenerative capacities of local communities and economies? In other words, can the enterprise networks we develop be both profitable and also serve as engines of long-term, regenerative vitality?
This paper explores how Regenerative development backed by the empirical science of flow networks can create a rigorous, commonsense, actionable theory of systemic economic health that:
- Identifies the key factors behind regenerative vitality including the relational structures and social norms needed to create widespread well-being and abundant opportunities;
- Organizes much of what is already known into a working model of systemic health that allows us to address the root causes as well as the symptoms of economic dysfunction;
- Clarifies the connection between moral imperatives and the proper economic functioning;
- Provides effective measures and clear targets for such key factors as inclusivity, resilience, balance, reciprocity, and circulation.