In order to move forward, the Systems Changes Learning Circle has taken a step backwards to appreciate the scholarly work that has come before us. This has included the Socio-Psychological Systems, Socio-Technical Systems and Socio-Ecological Systems perspective, from the postwar Tavistock Institute for Human Relations. The deep dive on “Causal texture, contextualism, contextural” takes us back to 1934-1935 articles by Pepper, Tolman and Brunswik. These influenced Fred Emery and Eric Trist in their famous 1965 article.
In Trist’s later years (i.e. between 1977-1985, when he was in Toronto at York University, with the Action Learning Group). the younger researcher with whom he was collaborating most was Calvin Pava. There is a great summary of Pava’s work and life in Austrom and Ordowich (2019).
Through some fortunate coordination, I was able to meet Doug Austrom in Indianapolis in August 2018, having discovered a preprint of the article, just a few days before I was to travel to Iowa.
In our conversation, I discovered that as Austrom, after completing his doctoral dissertation at York U. in 1982, received an appointment as a postdoctoral researcher. Austrom was interested in Quality of Life, and Trist was interested in Quality of Working Life. This led to many conversations. Austrom and Trist never published anything together, as Trist was wrapping up his project with the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Austrom has since had an entire career in Socio-Technical Systems, consulting to the current day.… Read more (in a new tab)
Towards appreciating “action learning”, the history of open systems thinking and pioneering work in organization science, the influence of Action Learning Group — in the Faculty of Environment Studies founded in 1968 at York University (Toronto) — deserves to be resurfaced.
- 1. Trist in Canada
- 2. Environmental studies, and contextualism in organizational-change
- 3. Action learning, based on open systems theory
- 4. Extending action research into action learning
- 5. Social engagement in social science
- Appendix: Contents
The 1989 book with “A Tribute to Eric Trist” on the cover was titled Learning Works: Searching for Organizational Futures. The editors were Susan Wright, a part-time assistant professor at York U.; and David Morley, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York U., who would become Dean of FES from 2001-2004.
1. Trist in Canada
Eric Trist was a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Social Ecology at York University, 1978-1983, passing away in Carmel, California in 1993. Systems scholars may better recall Trist as emeritus from the 1969-1978 program in the Social Systems Science program at University of Pennsylvania, that was founded by Russell Ackoff.
The preface to the book describes the origins of its writing.
This volume began life at a 1985 meeting of the York University Action Learning Group, a loose network of people who were participating in the development of a new framework for theorizing, studying, and participating in the creation of new organizational capacities and enabling strategies to operate within turbulent environments (one of Trist’s most important metaphors).
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On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge. Basic descriptions are hard to write. Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.
I appreciate that novices like definitions. In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas. In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals. As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto. Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store. Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration. Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.
Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think. … Read more (in a new tab)