Elaborating the roles of components within an ecosystem is relevant to understand the dynamics and diversity of it. In principal all roles can be taken by all components and can highly differ depending on time, place, value and factors. It can take more than one role at the same time. Knowing a role of a component in society is key to understand the actual systemic situation we are diagnosing.

Of course laws, rules, regulations and above all the Constitution are elementary in the division of roles and has lead to a more or less predicable attribution of roles among components. With present transitions though a more flexible division is needed and coming.

A usable set can be found in the work of The Quality Institute Dutch Municipalities (KING) and is summarised by Aardema et al. (2005). It is a set of interconnected roles from governance perspective (system world) and from governed perspective (living world). Civitas Naturalis has chosen the chess pieces to symbolise these roles.

Roles in the system world

  • Steward (black king): symbolise, identify, connect, show compassion, taking care, welcome, strengthen cohesion, carry rituals, guard.
  • Regulator (black queen): decisiveness, power, threaten, demand, courage, persevere, set things right, constrain, discipline, set the rules and enforce them.
  • Collector (black bishop): go-between, facilitate, contract, collect tax, process.
  • Developer (black knight): involve, sense of community, strengthen cohesion, share and distribute, (letting) participate, co-create.
  • Service provider (black rook): deliver, serve, provide, distribute, front office.
  • Representative (black pawn): chosen by the people during election in councils, representing the people as citizen.

Roles in the living world

  • Inhabitant (white king): citizen, live in city and neighbourhood.
  • Servant (white queen): obey and follow laws, rules, regulations.
  • Contributor (white bishop): tax pay, contribute, donate, volunteer, support, finance, fund.
  • Partner (white knight): develop, contribute in knowledge, feelings and insights, co-create.
  • Client (white rook): receive products and services, indicate choice.
  • Voter: elect the representatives, the best of the best.


Aardema, H. en A. Korsten (2005). De Staat van de Gemeente: Op weg naar een handzame, landelijke gemeentemonitor. Den Haag: VGS, BMC, PON, Open Universiteit Nederland, InAxis.

Oldeman, R.A.A. (1990). Forests: Elements of Silvology. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Picture: Esscher, M.C. (1939/1940). Metamorphosis II. Den Haag: Het Paleis.