Understanding Actors in Complex Security Problems

Understanding Actors in Complex Security Problems

Duarte Gonçalves (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Pretoria, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJSDS.2018040101
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This article arose while working on the rhino poaching problem in South Africa and having to deal with the large number of stakeholders and complexity. The purpose of actor modelling is to develop a deeper understanding of how stakeholders and threats contribute to the complex security problems. This article is the author's reflection on two different attempts at modelling actors in the rhino problem. A framework is developed and a number of issues are raised with respect to actor modelling: First, values and perspectives are driven by actor needs. The knowledge acquired by actors is determined by perspectives. With a diversity of actors, there is a “fragmentation of perspective” that hampers addressing the problem. Thus, dealing with fragmentation of perspective, requires an approach that is inclusive of actors and different ways of knowing. The validity of actor modelling is limited by what can be determined about the values and interests of actors and this varies across actors. Second, actors have multiple identifications with multiple levels of relationality. For high levels of identification combined with low levels of relationality, there is a challenge for a researcher to understand actor behaviour. Third, actors operate in an autonomy-heteronomy space. This is not a continuum, but both autonomy and heteronomy experienced at the same time. When actors are autonomous they live out their values and interests and are most creative. When creativity is applied, there are many ways (what) of satisfying interests and living out values (why), but actors do not behave randomly. Under autonomy, understanding motivation (why) is more important than what because why is more stable and what cannot be predicted. Actors are dynamic, non-deterministic and non-linear. Fourth, the model represents not only structure but also motivation or purpose and resources; thus, addressing certain aspects of subjective and objective fragmentation. Based on the argument advanced in the paper, the sources of actor complexity leading to novel emerging behaviour in social systems are actor needs and the corresponding values and perspectives, high levels of identification with low levels of relationality and autonomy.
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1. Introduction

The need for actor modelling became apparent while working on the “rhino poaching problem” in support of the South African government1. Since South Africa has 79% of the world's black and white rhino population, this is a South African problem with international impact (Emslie, et al., 2016). Poaching is usually dismissed as being “just an environmental” crime. Yet wildlife crime is the fourth largest international crime (IFAW, 2013). Illicit rhino horn trade becomes a border security risk because some of the poachers are in South Africa illegally and the exporting of rhino horn to south-east Asian counties without a permit is illegal. Transnational organised criminals are involved, with corruption at many levels. This leaves the natural environment and socio-economically vulnerable communities open to exploitation. But there are also socio-political issues which lead to poaching as a form of protest by community members (Duncker, 2016; Hubschle-Finch, 2016) that need attention. The stakes are high for the rhino and the actors involved.

The purpose of actor modelling is to develop a deeper understanding of how stakeholders and threats, in large numbers, contribute to the complex security problems. This paper is the author’s reflection on different attempts at modelling actors in the rhino problem. The concern is with what needs to be modelled from a complexity perspective before considering visual representation for the model (the latter not being the main focus). This will lead to the development of a framework for representing actors which can support reasoning required to develop interventions although the complexity is not removed.

This paper uses rhino poaching as an example of a complex problem in the development of actor modelling, but is not a case study in the strict sense. Three important aspects are identified: 1) a large number of stakeholders, 2) the issue of complexity, 3) values, ethics, interests and ill-structured problems, and 4) stakeholders, threats and actors.

1.1. Problems With Large Numbers of Stakeholders and Threats

The rhino poaching problem involves multiple states: range, transit and consumer states and has over 100 stakeholders (Gonçalves & Schmitz, 2016). Thus, there are multiple interests and agendas. Rhino poaching spans the mandate of at least ten government departments in South Africa, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), private sector and communities requiring a whole-of-society approach (Gonçalves, 2014). But each department sees the problem(s) through the lens of their mandate. In South Africa, there are additional organisational interfaces arising from the three levels of government: national, provincial and local. Furthermore, the public is either directly involved or at the very least has an interest in the problem. In the case of rhino poaching, communities around the park (as a subset of the public) are affected by or involved in poaching.

The intervention required for a complex problem lies outside the mandate of a single department and beyond any single stakeholder. For a government department or enterprise there may be a person in charge. But there is no single person in charge of the government departments involved. The number of stakeholders involved, each with an agenda, the number of simultaneous interventions and the problem dynamics means that there are a huge number of interactions in any large problem, and in wildlife crime specifically.

Stakeholders as a source of complexity will be investigated for the remainder of the paper.

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