Estuarine mapping

Dave Snowden wrote this post about Estuarine Mapping back in October last year, but I was too busy to read it properly until now.  It’s important. Reading Dave’s stuff is heavy going but rewarding. There are insights here on how we all will think about change now that we accept and understand the complex nature of the world.

The approach uses constraint analysis to simulate our thinking, to generate “micro-projects”, small nudges to experiment (“success and failure are both opportunities”) in moving in the direction we want. Or as we say at Teal Unicorn, “iterate, increment, experiment, explore” the domain of the possible within the constraints.


The whole method aligns with all we say about Open Work. It gives us new language and thinking tools to do that work, including

  • a seven step process to plan change as portfolios of micro-projects that nudge the complex system(s)
  • constructors and counterfactuals
  • six forms of constraint
    • Rigid or fixed, like a sea wall or dyke
    • Elastic or Flexible
    • Tethers – like a climbing rope they snap into place when you need them
    • Permeable – some things can get through
    • Phase shift – like Roe v Wade, there is a process in the system which can produce a sudden significant change
    • Dark constraints – a reference to dark matter, we can see an effect but not what is creating the said effect
  • what I guess is called the Estuarine Grid
  • the counter-factual border
  • the vulnerability border
  • setting direction not from stars, but from which way the wind blows
  • and of course “estuarine”

In an estuary (but not a delta)  the water flows in and flows out.  There are things you can do only at the turn of the tide.  There may be granite cliffs which you only have to check every decade or so, sandbanks that are checked daily and so on.