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Requisite Simplicities to Help Negotiate Complex Problems


Decision makers responsible for natural resource management often complain that science delivers fragmented information that is not useful at the scale of implementation. We offer a way of negotiating complex problems by putting forward a requisite simplicity. A requisite simplicity attempts to discard some detail, while retaining conceptual clarity and scientific rigor, and helps us move to a new position where we can benefit from new knowledge. We illustrate the above using three case studies: elephant densities and vegetation change in a national park, the use of rules of thumb to support decision making in agriculture, and the management of salt in irrigation. We identify potential requisite simplicities that can allow us to generate new understanding, lead to action and provide opportunities for structured learning.

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We thank Oonsie Biggs, Nicky Grigg, John Passioura, Fabio Boschetti, Ted Lefroy, and Stefanie Freitag-Ronaldson for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Richard Stirzaker.

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Stirzaker, R., Biggs, H., Roux, D. et al. Requisite Simplicities to Help Negotiate Complex Problems. AMBIO 39, 600–607 (2010).

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  • Reductionism
  • Complexity
  • Adaptive learning
  • Decision support models
  • Natural resource management
  • Irrigation