Borrowing from nature to create self organising systems frameworks of urban water behaviours

Written by

June 12, 2022

Borrowing from nature to create self organising systems frameworks of big data to understand urban water behaviours

Peter J Coombes

Contribution at 12:20 pm on Monday 13 June 2022 to the SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF ALGORITHMS 2022 online conference convened at the Australian National University.

Our cities are complex systems that responded to multiple shocks during the last two decades including floods, droughts, fires, climate change, economic stress, variable political and governance decisions, and pandemic. These processes influence the behaviours of households, businesses and institutions which creates direct and feedback responses across the scales from property to region in urban water systems.

Traditional and systems thinking

Meadows (2008) explained the next paradigm to understand future challenges and policies to intervene in an increasingly complex world as bottom up, hierarchical, self-organising systems frameworks of behaviour. Use of top down averages derived from a single scale, at spatial and temporal scales, in analysis of resources and economics was unlikely to reveal the potential for integration of policies or solutions within a system. Barry and Coombes (2018) confirmed this insight and highlighted the magnitude of unused big data available for research. Coombes and Barry (2015) summarised development, across two decades of applied research, of a bottom up and hierarchical Systems Framework of big data.

Impacts of top down and average assumptions

Crick and Watson (1953) revealed the function of four base pairs that order dynamic processes in DNA to reproduce structure and behaviour. These dynamic processes of copying genetic information and ordering in highly structured frameworks in multi-dimensional space can provide engineering tools (Albert, 2003).

Structure of DNA and polymerase

This coding structure of order and sequencing was utilised by the author to reproduce behaviour typologies and trigger changes in behaviour modes in bottom up systems framework models. These algorithms include base pairs of key environmental parameters that map big data from anthropological, ecosystem and economics sources within hierarchical frameworks to reproduce behaviours at different spatial and temporal scales. This mechanism is assisted by Nash (1950) equilibrium and non-parametric matching to resolve continuous changing (and unknowable) relationship to reproduce self-ordering systems behaviours. This paper will outline these algorithms for improving society choices using the last two decades of information from the Melbourne and Sydney regions.


  • Alberts, B., (2003), DNA replication and recombination, Nature, 421(23), 431-435.
  • Barry, M. E., and Coombes P. J., (2018), Planning resilient water resources and communities: the need for a bottom-up systems approach, Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 22(2), 113-136.
  • Coombes, P.J. and Barry, M.E., (2015), A Systems Framework of Big Data for Analysis of Policy and Strategy, WSUD2015 Conference. Engineers Australia. Sydney. Australia.
  • Meadows, D.H., (2008), Thinking in systems: a primer, Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Nash J.F., (1950), The bargaining problem. Econometrica. 18, 155-162.
  • Watson, J. D., and Crick, F. H. C., (1953), A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature, 171, 737–738.

Dr Peter Coombes

Dr Coombes has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development of systems understanding of the urban, rural and natural water cycles with a view to finding optimum solutions for the sustainable use of ecosystem services, provision of infrastructure and urban planning.

Connect with Peter

Related Articles

An Interesting Year for a Systems Scientist

An Interesting Year for a Systems Scientist

An interesting year for a systems scientist
It has been an interesting and productive year that included fascinating applied science and policy projects, research activity and contributions legal, economic and planning domains.

Is zero afflux the question or answer to better flooding outcomes?

Is zero afflux the question or answer to better flooding outcomes?

Presentation by Peter J Coombes and Andrew Allan at HWRS 2022: Is zero afflux the real challenge or solution for better flood management? It is vitally important to establish science and legally based rules for fair administration of the objectives and exploration of options that respond to flood risks. Otherwise, there will be a substantial administrative burden for marginal benefit. Our professionals and agencies need to be prepared for a different and challenging future, and our methods need to be fit for purpose from a whole of society perspective.

Available Storage in Rainwater Tanks – Stormwater Benefits

Available Storage in Rainwater Tanks – Stormwater Benefits

Impact of rainwater tanks on stormwater infrastructure. What is the available storage in rainwater tanks prior to a rain event that is significant to stormwater infrastructure? The use of design storms is current Australian practice for design of stormwater management...