Academia | Journalism | Decision-makers

visual complexity

"Life is a trade-off between understanding the issue and delivering the goods" 

Write up of event (open for comment until 20 June 2012)

From an earlier TEDxCapeTownSalon Conversation on Food Security, the main identified need was not, as we thought, simple and straight forward (growing urban gardens everywhere). It outlined the following needs, as the full report illustrates:

  • Engage with Complexity: Researchers need to communicate risks better, rather be slightly wrong but talk to the public, than not talk at all and foster ignorance. Even highly contentious arguments are soon forgotten, but contribute to general education (UCT’s admission policies was used as example)
  • The need to develop a common language between researchers, NGO’s, decision makers and the wider public (tongue in cheek Leonie Joubert, science journalist, said ‘using words consisting of less than 8 syllables’)

We need to encourage engagement with complex issues, even if this takes a long time. The question is how.

Main outcome from this conversation (and feedback question post-event):

What can you do to engage your friends and colleagues with complex issues in a fun, easy, cooperative way, to create a series of small, positive, informed or lasting changes?

As a case study on how to engage with this, we take the concept of 'urban gardening' a bit further - planting trees. Planting trees is a popular way to offset carbon emissions, but this is not the full story. On the other hand, trying to get the full story and combine that with informed action is possibly just asking too much. 

In stead of wondering if we should just be planting trees and making a difference, or try to understand the whole complex story and tick all the boxes ... let's explore how to bring what some consider 'extremes' together, learn from both sides, see what links are missing inbetween, fill these gaps and take informed action that fits with the bigger picture.

Venue: Masambe Theatre, the Baxter, Rondebosch (very close to Rosebank and Rondebosch train station!)

Masambe Theatre is accessed from the outside - as you walk towards the main entrance on Main Road, turn left and go down the stairs. 

Cost: FREE! **

** We're covering this event from our own pockets, because we believe in collaboration so much (and going through the venue payment systems was too much of a hassle). Feel free to pitch in on the eve to share costs!

Everyone and anyone is welcome. Even if you didn't RSVP.

Time: Main conversation happens between 17:30 - 18:30. Gather in the foyer from 17:00 onwards.  

Please RSVP here

TED talks shown to start the session:

Johan Rockstrom: Let the environment guide our development

Eric Berlow: How complexity leads to simplicity

Official TED event page

Confirmed panelists:

  • Prof. J.J.Midgley: interested in evolutionary ecology and ecosystem dynamics. At the moment he is working on pollination in Erica, rodent pollination in general and rodent scatterhoarding in fynbos and savanna (marula). In terms of ecosystem dynamics, he works on woody plant dynamics in savanna and in the Knysna forest.
  • Kyle Mason-Jones: Kyle’s work helps with assessing industrial and commercial energy efficiency and environmental performance at various scales, ranging from single sites or products to sectoral analyses, and evaluates technologies and non-technological interventions for improvement in these areas. He does this in his private time too, and loves discussing the intricacies of this over a beer. To date there have been both successes and learning curves.
  • Candice Pelser: Candice works part-time for and NGO that is concerned with both carbon reductions and poverty-alleviation. She also works as a consultant for small and medium organisations wanting to optimise and grow (in varying senses of the word). Candice is fascinated by the bridges that might be found between the NGO and business approaches, particularly from a business modelling perspective. For this reason, carbon finance, green economics and finding ways for organisations to sustain themselves - without incurring unacceptable social and environmental costs, are all of particular interest.
  • Marelise Van Der Merwe: Marelise is an experienced journalist, copywriter, editor, translator and researcher. She writes under her own name as well as ghost writing for prominent academics, businesspeople and community leaders - people who have the passion and the knowledge, but not always the words, to make great things happen.
  • Jeremy Hewitt: After visiting over 20 countries in 2 years, exploring dream destinations, evading pirates, discovering life and understanding the damage that can be done in pursuits of things that are bigger, better & faster, Jeremy returned to Cape Town, re-connected with long time friend Misha and got involved with the campaign to plant 1000 trees. Realising that the cause had a bigger purpose, both personally and for the broader community, he co-founded Greenpop with Misha and Lauren. Jeremy’s music has taken off as fast as Greenpop has, and he spends his days working on Greenpop, and his nights as Jeremy Loops.
  • Franz Rentel - The carbon market is a complex maze to navigate, together with its own language - Carbish! Breaking down difficult concepts into understandable and manageable bite sized information to businesses, organisations, project developers, the media and the general public is what Franz and his company try to do every day, especially through their consumer brand Greenseat. They have adopted a unique approach to getting the message(s) across in order to make carbon offsetting a more easily understood and accepted mechanism.

(image is from


Aqua d'UCT

Water Research at Africa’s premier university

The Baxter Theatre

The Baxter Theatre Centre provides an exciting forum for the celebration of life which is the essence of live theatre, music and dance. It is one of the major live theatre venues in Cape Town and has always been at the forefront of the performing arts, both as a popular venue and as a leading producer of world-class entertainment. Since its opening in 1977 the complex has continued to provide a stage for all types of professional entertainment - music, drama, ballet, opera and intimate theatre.

The cultural heart of Cape Town
Team Members: 

Bernelle Verster

Bernelle Verster
Water Maverick

Raymond Siebrits

Raymond Siebrits
Systems Conversations, TEDx Researcher