Richard C. Harkness


This web site contains two -yet to be formally published- ebooks, plus a number of my other writings. All are about the characteristics and behavior of systems. In addition some are about how governments made, or are making, poor decisions about either implementing or managing them.

The world is comprised of hierarchies of systems with interacting parts. As a technically and analytically minded person I’ve had a 50-year old interest in systems as a way to understand not just what happens but why it happens. Over 5 years ago I began work on a broad, multi-disciplinary book that would attempt to identify the basic “laws” of systems formation and behavior. (I thought it would only take two years to write.) I suspected that there were generic laws – at least some of which I think I’ve found- that would apply to almost all systems. I hoped that understanding them would yield useful insights into how to better manage the systems that affect our everyday lives.

My approach was to start with the big-bang and describe –in a series of chapters- the evolution and behavior of systems from the earliest and simplest (atoms) to the most recent and complex (today’s societal systems). The chapters would include one on cosmic systems and one on the emergence and evolution of life up to individual humans. I’ve analyzed and drafted working papers on all these, plus done original research on chaotic behavior in N-body spring/mass systems.

To write the final chapters about societal systems I decided to conduct two case studies: one about the European geo-political system just prior to WW1 and the other about todays combination of natural and societal systems in response to global warming or climate change. I picked these because the former is an example of a system that went horribly wrong thus killing 20-million people. The latter is a social/economic/political system that is going wrong again today with potentially even more devastating consequences. I wanted to understand why these systems evolved to a state where they malfunction to the detriment of those who created them.

Since these case studies were complex each has turned into a small, stand-alone ebook. I hope to publish the one abut global warming very soon since the topic is so urgent. Later these two ebooks will be condensed into chapters in the broader book I’m still hoping to finish.

Older Writings and Material

How Sound Transit Abused the Planning Process to Promote Light Rail

The System is warped; put light rail on hold
Published: Friday Dember 22, 2000
Original, Footnoted version

Let voters trust transportation planning
Published: Thursday, September 29, 2005
Seattle Times OpEd piece
Full article as PDF
Background & Research Sources

VOLUME II. DETAILED IMPACT ANALYSES (A large study at Stanford Research Institute, funded by National Science Foundation)

Published: May 1972

Telecommunication substitutes for travel : a preliminary assessment of their potential for reducing urban transportation costs by altering office location patterns
Thesis (PhD) – University of Washington, 1973$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:365603/one?qu=Harkness%2C+Richard+Chandler&ic=true&ps=300

Office information systems: An overview and agenda for public policy research

About Rich Harkness

I first became interested in systems in grad school, where I studied for a PhD in Urban Systems Planning back in the early 1970’s. My emphasis was urban transportation. After a career in strategic and business planning in telecom and aerospace I began advocating as an ordinary citizen against a rail system on the basis that bus rapid transit would save billions of dollars.

As a citizen advocate, I testified at county council meetings, wrote an op-ed, and did extensive analyses. I came to realize in a very visceral and hard-earned way that the ordinary citizen isn’t just fighting to change the opinions of ten council members. Instead he or she is fighting an entire system, which includes consultants, contractors, county staff, newspapers, and various other interest groups. They are all linked in various ways and had reached a compromise decision on what they wanted to do. This system strongly resisted any attempt to change things.

I began to think we needed to see these invisible systems, to understand how they form and function in order to better manage them in the public interest. Now I want to share what I learned.


BS Electrical Engineering, Duke University
PhD Urban Systems Planning, University of Washington (Dissertation title: Telecommunications Substitutes for Transportation)

Worked generally as a strategic and business planner.

  • US Navy, officer
  • Ocean Science and Engineering
  • Boeing Aerospace Co.
  • Stanford Research Institute (Now SRI International)
  • Satellite Business Systems (IBM, Comsat and Aetna partnership)
  • Compression Labs (mfr. of video-teleconferencing equipment)
  • Boeing Computer Services

I am now retired and living in Santa Rosa, Ca. where I am an occasional citizens advocate for more fact-based and fiscally responsible local government, especially relative to local transportation and greenhouse gas reduction projects.