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Under construction

Actors form part of the triad of ACTANTS, one of the three types: actors, constructors and constraints. Actant framing is useful in the broader field of complexity, of which Estuarine Mapping is a part.

As a reminder of the three types:

  • Actors can be roles (which can  include experts as well as organisational roles), a collective such as a team. or (rarely) an individual
  • Constraints can connect or contain and be resilient or robust. Resilient constraint types are permeable, phase shift, and dark. Robust types are rigid, elastic, and tether.
  • Constructors transform by passage (such as a ritual or a process), by contagion or simply by their presence (this includes a panopticon effect)

Actors refer to the human-associated elements in the system and are differentiated by the potential for intent, intelligence, motivation, desire, goal-driven behaviours (as well as irrational ones!) and so on. The Actant framework in general locates human agency within context, and so we can talk about agency as a distributed property of the system/s as opposed to just something that relates to human actors alone.

Actor Typology

INDIVIDUAL Individual actors might be you or I. Individuals with their own personal, personality, intents, motivations, desires, ways of interpreting and taking action that are personal and unique and built on more tacit knowledge and experiences alongside formal training and expertise.

ROLE/ IDENTITY We are very good at creating roles with certain expectations or agreed-upon tasks associated with the role holder. An example might be a professional identity e.g. a lawyer or a doctor with associated ethics and practises. It might also be personal for example the role I take on as a worker versus the role I take on as a friend or relative. We often ritualise entrance into one role from a wider context e.g. fastening a seatbelt or “scrubbing up”.

COLLECTIVE Examples of collective actors might be an organisation, or an institution at a large scale and usually operating with governing constraints. Within larger collective actors might be smaller teams, roles or crews, although these can also exist separately.

Examples of Actors

  • Roles 
- lawyer, doctor, mother, father etc.
  • Deep knowledge -
Different from roles, in that the expertise is universally acknowledged, it’s more personal based on people’s experience rather than a formal role.
  • A profession
- Law, Medicine, Accountancy and the Military among others have multi-generational established processes that generate roles, ethics and practices.
  • Role combinations - for diversity of perspective e.g. multidisciplinary teams that are more permanent, or we might work with Entangled Trios for a temporary role combination on a specific task e.g. policy maker with young person and teacher.
  • Organisations - commercial/non-commercial businesses, might also be our institutions such as the healthcare system or the mass media.
  • Teams - authority is given to individuals to carry out certain tasks and job descriptions, often denoting a hierarchical style of governance.
  • Crews - different to teams in that authority is given to roles and people can wear many hats and step into another role where necessitated. The focus is on building trust via collective practice over time. Can be used as a way of disrupting hierarchies… heavier use of ritual to step from one into the other. Healthcare and the military are examples.

Background Reading

Method card material

This material will be extracted for the method cards

Possible symbols or illustrations

Front page description


Back of card summary

The third type of actant in the Estuarine Framework, alongside constraints and constructors. Actors could act as either of the other two, and what makes them distinctive is that they are identifiable entities with the capacity for intentional, goal-driven action

How can it be used?

for diagnosis

for analysis/understanding

for intervention

Method Properties - Ratings

Represented by symbols - interpretation/voting scales are:

COST & RESOURCES: How resource-intensive is the Method in terms of materials and tools required, and thus costs?

  1. Requires only common office equipment (eg paper and pens)
  2. Requires simple facilitation materials (special hexies, printouts, whiteboards etc)
  3. Requires some inexpensive but specific tools and materials
  4. Requires moderate investment in tools or software to apply
  5. Requires significant investment in software or other specialist tools

COMPLEX FACILITATION SKILL: How much training and skill in complex facilitation does the Method require?

  1. No complex facilitation experience is required
  2. Some complex facilitation experience needed - practice in a safe space
  3. Should be mentored while developing complex facilitation skill
  4. Requires Mentoring until proven, familiarity with theory critical
  5. Advanced, requires deep knowledge of theory and experience

ENGAGEMENT GRADIENT: How challenging is engagement of participants into the Method likely to be?

  1. Ad hoc technique - can be used in multiple contexts with relative ease
  2. Requires time commitment but overall, engaging and not difficult to achieve
  3. Mild uncertainty or discomfort, may need work to keep people engaged
  4. Indirect/ambiguous method, requires engagement through sustained levels of uncertainty
  5. Challenging method – may incur resistance if people expect a more traditional approach