Embracing complexity in government - a story about gardening and thinking in systems

Snow, T.
Publication language
Date published
29 Jun 2020
Centre for Public Impact
Government, System-wide performance

Imagine you’re a gardening enthusiast named Andy. You’ve noticed that the lettuce in your veggie patch is being damaged. You investigate and discover that caterpillars appear to be the cause. So, you kill the caterpillars.

Problem solved, right? Wrong.

While killing the caterpillars works in the short-term, it doesn’t work as a long-term solution. This is because the caterpillars are (unbeknownst to you) controlling a population of other insects. As such, killing all of the caterpillars results in a proliferation of other species, meaning that your solution ultimately causes more damage.

Imagine you were a different gardener. Your name is Jamie. You read different books, which taught you to think systemically about gardening. You think about the relationships between different elements of your garden and see your vegetable patch as being part of a broader ecosystem. As a result, you adopt a permaculture approach.