Earlier this year, in April, the International Federation for Systems Research hosted its biannual research conversation, this time in Pernegg, Austria. This meeting was a four-day opportunity to continue developing ideas on the emerging science of service systems begun in July 2009.
The proceedings from the meeting have now been published. I’ve extracted the chapter for our team as a separate downloadable document. The report starts with a description of our activities, and an outline of our progress.
The conversation began with self-reflections on personal experiences leading each of the individuals to the systems sciences, acknowledging the influence of those trajectories on their perspectives on service systems. In recognition of this science of service systems as a potentially a new paradigm, much of the time together was spent in sensemaking about the intersection between ongoing services research and systems sciences perspectives. This sensemaking led the team to focus the dialogue more on posing the right questions to clarify thinking broadly, as opposed to diving deeply towards solutions that would be tied up as issues within a problematique.
During the conversation, the progress on ideas was recorded on flipcharts. Nearing the end of our time together, the team cut up the flipcharts with scissors, and collated the discussion threads into five clusters: (i) philosophy; (ii) science; (iii) models; (iv) education; (v) development. With service systems as a new domain, the team found all five clusters underdeveloped. Recognizing that all five clusters are coevolving, the phenomenon of service systems was listed in order from the most concrete (i.e. development) through the most abstract (i.e. philosophy). Each of the five clusters was then summarized by a meta-question.
- 1. Development: How do we transition from the current paradigm?
- 2. Education: How do we help others learn about service systems?
- 3. Models: How do we understand and decribe service systems?
- 4. Science: What do we know about service systems?
- 5. Philosophy: Why do (or should) we care about services systems?
Each of the meta-questions is described below, with some of the dialogue content associated with the question clusters.
IFSR conversations follow the methods of Béla H. Bánáthy, which means that each participant starting from triggering questions individually develops partial answers and (possibly even more) partial questions. At Pernegg, we had researchers from four countries (which is even more complicated when we list current places of residency in addition to nationality):
- Gary Metcalf (U.S.)
- Jennifer Wilby (U.K.)
- Allenna Leonard (Canada / U.S.)
- Norimasa Kobayashi (Japan)
- Todd D. Bowers (U.K. / U.S.)
- Janet M. Singer (U.S.)
- David Ing (Canada)
As researchers, we puzzled our way through developing an appreciation for service systems at a foundational level. To give a deeper sense of the territory that we covered during the conversation, here’s an outline of the final report.
- 1. Development of service systems: How do we transition from the current paradigm?
- 1.1 What are the entry points to service systems from where they are?
- 1.2 Which systems are better suited for “designing with” rather than “designing for”?
- 1.3 What motivations or incentives encourage the shift to service systems from the legacy state?
- 1.4 Do we know of concrete examples of the new service systems?
- 2. Education on service systems: How do we help others learn about service systems?
- 2.1 Through which processes will novices / beginners best learn about service systems?
- 2.2 How do the systems sciences help in learning about service systems?
- 2.3 How is the approach to service systems different from prior approaches to education?
- 3. Models of service systems: How do we understand and describe service systems?
- 3.1 What should the model deal with? For what purposes to we model service systems?
- 3.2 How do we reconcile service systems across scientists, engineers and managers?
- 3.3 In which ways are service system models different from other models of the world we’ve already created?
- 4. Science of service systems: What do we know about service systems?
- 4.1 What is the scope of a science of service systems?
- 4.2 Are service systems really new?
- 4.3 How far are we on advancing a science of service systems?
- 5. Philosophy of service systems: Why do (or should) we care service systems?
- 5.1 Why would we need a philosophy of service systems?
- 5.2 What shifts in philosophy might be associated with a service systems approach?
- 5.3 What is the scope of a philosophy of service systems?
- 6. Continuing inquiry
People looking for simple answers may be disabused of that idea, as this group of researchers didn’t have that end as a goal. People who are interested in foundational questions may find the downloadable chapter of interest.