Author: Shingai Thornton

Published: November 7, 2022

Table of Contents


Systems science is an academic discipline whose methods are widely used, but which remains underdeveloped. This is largely due to the lack of a unifying theoretical framework and formal methodology that all practitioners use. George Mobus and Michael Kalton have proposed twelve basic principles of systems science which serve as the foundation for a formal methodology for deep systems analysis. Using the principles as a conceptual framework for analysis can help us gain holistic understanding of any system of interest. Examining Gitcoin, a cutting edge complex socio-technical system dedicated to supporting digital public goods, through the lens of these principles demonstrates the utility of identifying a set of universal principles that apply to all systems. Applying the principles to an analysis of Gitcoin facilitates a deep understanding of Gitcoin. It also helps foster appreciation for the power of principles and a sense for how they can be applied to any other system. The twelve principles outlined by Mobus and Kalton are a promising candidate for a set of principles that the incredibly fragmented systems science community can unify around. Greater unification is necessary if the discipline is to advance, be taken seriously, and reach its full potential. Society needs a mature discipline of systems science to deal with the complex systemic issues we face.

Twelve Principles of Systems Science

Systems science is the interdisciplinary study of systems.$^1$ Individual practices of systems science such as network science, agent-based modeling, and systems dynamics modeling are widely accepted as useful scientific methodologies. They have been effectively used to help shed light on the complex dynamics of issues ranging from the US-China hegemonic transition$^2$ to the spread of infectious disease$^3$ and homelessness.$^4$ However, each of these techniques can only reveal certain aspects of a given system. There is currently no unified discipline of systems science being taught that provides a formal methodology for rigorously exploring all aspects of a system in a holistic manner.

George Mobus and Michael Kalton have identified twelve basic principles$^5$ which serve as a theoretical foundation for developing such a formal methodology.$^6$ These principles are a set of fundamental laws that apply to all types of systems.

The first five principles ****describe basic properties of systems; what systems are.

#1 Everything in the observable universe is a system.

#2 Systems are processes organized as hierarchies.

#3 Systems are networks.

#4 Systems are dynamic.

#5 Systems exhibit complexity.

The next five describe the operation of systems; how they behave.

#6 Systems evolve.

#7 Systems send and receive information, and encode knowledge.

#8 Systems use governance subsystems to achieve stability.

#9 Systems build models of external systems.

#10 Systems build internal models of themselves.

The final two describe how humans can relate to systems to achieve their goals.

#11 We understand systems using science.

#12 We improve systems using engineering.

This essay will demonstrate how using the twelve principles developed by Mobus and Kalton as a conceptual framework can help researchers and practitioners achieve a holistic understanding of any system. Specifically, we will be examining how these principles apply to the Decentralized Autonomous Organization(DAO) known as Gitcoin.

A diagrammatic representation of the twelve principles. *Systems Science: Theory, Analysis, Modeling, and Design P.124* (Mobus, 2022)

A diagrammatic representation of the twelve principles. *Systems Science: Theory, Analysis, Modeling, and Design P.124* (Mobus, 2022)

Why is Gitcoin Worth Studying?

Gitcoin$^7$ is an online platform powered by the Ethereum$^8$ network which is dedicated to the building and funding of digital public goods. These public goods are freely available products and services that can be used and modified by anyone, such as open-source software, data sets and freely available educational content. Since its launch in 2017, Gitcoin has facilitated over $72 million$^9$ of funding for digital goods and services.