August 8, 2020

Nursing Community: More Complex than Physical Space

In my previous post, I briefly considered the structure of community, looking for common factors of community mainly in place and social group composition. I mentioned the latter in terms of group membership within sub-communities, those groups that exemplify secondary common factors that separate them from each other despite their membership in the larger community.

My reason for embarking on a discussion of community was to approach the idea of communal meaning making as a powerful influence in my life.  However, it is clear to me that communal meaning making cannot be explored adequately without the idea of complexity.  So, what is complexity?

Complexity can be thought of as a state of affairs of a system that contains components with a multiplicity of connections and interactions between them.  These interactions are generally thought to occur and be experienced on a local level.  As a result of these many interactions, certain properties are said to emerge from the system overall.  These properties may in turn be seen as interactive with other systems.  Therefore, complexity can be recognized on multiple scales of organization.

For many people, the notion of complexity brings to mind the distinction between the simple and the complex.  This distinction is often understood intuitively as a difference between the one or the few and the many, more specifically the many-at-once.  Simplicity seems to imply the existence of a relatively small number of connections, interactions, conditions, or relationships.  Complexity seems to imply a relatively large number of the same, especially when that number is so great as to confound efforts to specify all of the connections involved.

Because of the local-level effects of interactions, complex systems can be seen as dynamic and self-organizing.  A sufficiently complex system can never remain static because not all interactions have the same effects, including duration.  Further, some interactions contribute to the initial conditions of other interactions.

Complex systems are self-organizing in that interactions may be grouped together as stable patterns.  These groupings may then behave in a manner similar to individual interactions, influencing and being influenced by one another. It may not be possible to identify phases of pattern development in a complex, but they can be recognized over time.

In a complex social system, the system components may be represented by individual people and elements in the environment of those people.  To the extent that nursing communities involve individual people and an environment, they may be modeled as complex systems.  Emergent properties of nursing communities or units are enmeshed in the network of other nursing and non-nursing communities.

We have already considered the aspect of place in nursing communities.  What about the interpersonal interactions of members of a nursing community?  What are some examples of social complexity in nursing communities?  Among others, some examples I may be able to explore more fully in future posts include nursing unit organization and reorganization, nursing shared governance structure and activities, the dynamics of day and night shift staff as groups and in interaction with each other, and the shift-to-shift pattern of huddle and report communication between staff.

Those are just examples from my own experience.  What examples can you think of?

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