Saturday, 11 April 2015

How Resilient Are Our Societies?

Regardless of its nature, any system is affected by its design assumptions. Our societies are no exception. The emergence of sought properties such as economic and social welfare for all; sustainability with respect to natural ecosystems; and especially manageability and resilience, highly depends on the way social organizations are designed. A typical case in point is given by traditional organizations operating in domains such as healthcare and crisis management. A common assumption characterizing those organizations is the adoption of a strict client-server model. This produces at least the following major consequences:
  • Stigmatization. Users are permanently classified into service providers and service receivers. Traditional healthcare organizations for instance typically classify users into two disjoint categories: the active users, namely professional and informal carers, and the patients and the elderly, who are considered as users incapable of any active behavior [1]. Likewise, in disaster management organizations, predefined active roles are assigned to institutional responders while the citizens are confined to a passive role [2, 3].
  • Fragility. The artificial distinction in an active and a passive side of society severely affects quality-of-emergence [3, 4]. In particular, it introduces a systemic performance penalty in that only a subset of the social actors is available to serve the whole set. As well known, the fast growth and the progressive aging of the human population are introducing a new context—one in which the “service subset” is quickly decreasing in proportion. The problem is no more the ever increasing social costs; rather, it is the fact that the spectre of unmanageability—namely the vision of a fragile society unable to serve its citizens—is just around the corner.
  • Absence of a referral service. Despite having an only partial view on the capability and current state of the available servers, it is the responsibility of the client to identify which server to bind to. It is the user that needs to know, e.g., which emergency service to invoke, which hospital to call first, which civil organization to refer to, and so on. Referral services do exist, but they mainly cover a single domain (i.e., healthcare) and very specific cases (typically, the seamless transfer of patient information from a primary to a secondary practitioner [5]). Because of this specialization such services mostly possess an incomplete view of the available resources.
  • Lack of unitary responses to complex requests. To the best of our knowledge, no referral service provides a composite response to complex requests such that the action, knowledge, and assets of multiple servers are automatically or semi-automatically combined and orchestrated. Even electronic referral systems in use today are mostly limited [6] and only provide predefined services in specific domains. As a consequence, in the face of complex servicing requests calling for the joint action of multiple servers, the client is basically left on its own. Societal organizations do not provide unitary responses nor assist the client in composing and managing them. Reasons for this may be found in lack of awareness and also in the “convenient” shift of responsibility for failures from the server to the client.
A logic consequence of the above situation is the urgent need to mutate our organizational paradigms and assumptions. Simply stated, we cannot afford anymore not to use the full potential of our societies. This means that the artificial distinction between an active and a passive subset should be removed—or at least significantly reduced. Moreover, the increasing complexity of modern times require that societal organizations assume responsibility for becoming the enablers of collectively intelligent responses. New organizational design assumptions are called for, able to provide us with new servicing paradigms—in other words, new ways to perceive and manage the status quo. The vision of the organization as a system restricting the freedom to play roles should be changed into that of an enabler and a provider. Instead of preventing participation, the organization should allow roles to be filled by whomever is able and willing to participate. More than this, the organization should function as a catalyst of mutualistic cooperation among the role players at all levels, from the citizens to the governing institutions. By means of the organization, knowledge should flow among the players highlighting needs, assets, requirements, and opportunities. The organization should assist in the process of self-orchestrating a response, making it easier for all parties involved to coordinate themselves, exchange information, take the right and timely decisions.

Two key challenges of our societies are, one the one hand, being able to define one such organizational model. At the same time, fundamental aspects of the identity of the organization must be preserved. A second challenge is thus learning how to guarantee the resilience of our “evolved” organizations. Organizational fidelity [10, 11] (bounds to identity drifting) therefore becomes a new design requirement for our future organizational models.

In previous posts I presented an organizational model called Fractal Social Organizations (FSO). FSO takes the responsibility as a generalized referral service for the orchestration of complex social services. In FSO, the rigid client-server scheme of traditional organizations is replaced by service orientation, while bottleneck-prone hierarchies are replaced by communities of peer-level members. Role appointment is not static and directed by the organization, but rather voluntary and context-driven. It is my conjecture that the just stated new design assumptions allow for the creation of smarter societal organizations able to match the complexity of our new complex world.


  1. Sun, H., De Florio, V., Gui, N., Blondia, C.: The missing ones: Key ingredients towards effective ambient assisted living systems. Journal of Ambient Intelligence and Smart Environments 2(2) (2010)
  2. Colten, C.E., Kates, R.W., Laska, S.B.: Community resilience: Lessons from new orleans and hurricane katrina. Technical Report 3, Community and Regional Re- silience Institute (CARRI) (2008)
  3. De Florio, V., Sun, H., Blondia, C.: Community resilience engineering: Reflections and preliminary contributions. In Majzik, I., Vieira, M., eds.: Software Engineering for Resilient Systems. Volume 8785 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer International Publishing (2014) 1–8
  4. De Florio, V.: Communication and control: Tools, systems, and new dimensions. Lexington (2015)
  5. Kim, Y., Chen, A., Keith, E., Yee, HalF., J., Kushel, M.: Not perfect, but better: Primary care providers’ experiences with electronic referrals in a safety net health system. Journal of General Internal Medicine 24(5) (2009) 614–619
  6. Shaw, L., de Berker, D.: Strengths and weaknesses of electronic referral: comparison of data content and clinical value of electronic and paper referrals in dermatology. British Journal of General Practitioners 57 (2007) 223–224
  7. Anonymous: Secured health information network and exchange (SHINE) (2012)
  8. Anonymous: SHINE OS+. Available online at (2015)
  9. Verhulst, E.: Zen and the art of safety engineering. Available online at engineering (2012)
  10. De Florio, V.: Antifragility = elasticity + resilience + machine learning. models and algorithms for open system fidelity. Procedia Computer Science 32 (2014) 834– 841 1st ANTIFRAGILE workshop (ANTIFRAGILE-2015), the 5th International Conference on Ambient Systems, Networks and Technologies (ANT-2014).
  11. De Florio, V., Primiero, G.: A method for trustworthiness assessment based on fidelity in cyber and physical domains. CoRR abs/1502.01899 (2015)
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How Resilient Are Our Societies? by Vincenzo De Florio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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