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Socio-Technical-Systems, Sustainable Work, Open Systems Theory

Posted on August 05, 2010 by daviding

I’ve received news about an Aalto University course on  “Socio-Technical Systems Paradigm: History and Further Developments” [see pdf], led by Frans M. van Eijnatten (Eindhoven University of Technology) and Mari Kira (Academy Research Fellow at sustain.tkk.fi), scheduled  for September 27-28 in Espoo, Finland.

The course is associated with the Sustain Research Program that “focuses on creating sustainable work in contemporary working life”.  I also noticed a book on Creating sustainable work systems:  developing social sustainability, edited by Peter Docherty, Mari Kira and Abraham B. Shani (Taylor & Francis 2008) [preview at Google Books].

We would seem to be at the leading edge of research with this topic.  Since I’m active in the systems community, I was intrigued by a reference to an article in 2008 article in Systems Research and Behavioral Science by Mari Kira, and Frans M. van Eijnatten, “Socially sustainable work organizations: A chaordic systems approach”.

This 2008 article has led to a yet-to-be-printed (in 2010) SRBS research note by Merrelyn Emery, “Refutation of Kira & van Eijnatten’s critique of the Emery’s open systems theory” [available in early release].  She points out that the Emery variant of Open Systems Theory (OST) comes with a history of divergence in Social-Technical Systems (STS) thinking.  Emery cites continuing work with OST in a 2007 chapter by Emery and DeGuerre “Evolution of Open Systems Theory” [preview at Google Books in The change handbook:
the definitive resource on today’s best methods for engaging whole systems
, (Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, Steven Cady, editors)].

The Emery refutation is followed by a yet-to-be-printed (in 2010) SRBS research note by Mari Kira and Frans M. van Eijnatten, “Socially sustainable work organizations and systems thinking” [available in early release].  The coauthors thanked Emery for her criticism, and clarified some aspects of the original paper.

The foundations cited for research into sustainable work leads back to articles in a 2004 The Learning Organization special issue on “Chaordic systems thinking for learning organizations, guest edited by Frans M. van Eijnatten and Goran D. Putnik.

The research debate amongst these authors reflects evolution in the systems sciences from the heritage of the Tavistock Institute (circa 1941-1989) with Fred Emery and Eric Trist, and the newer interest in chaos and order by Dee Hock (circa 1991-2001) in the chaordic perspective with chaordic initiatives.

On a brief look at the articles, I’m interested in digging into them.  If I’m going to do the reading, I should seriously think about registering for the course.  (I was planning to be in Finland around that time, already).  Some alternatives that will require fewer air miles include web movies of lectures by Frans Eijnatten at videolectures.net.

P.S.  I hadn’t seen The Learning Organization journal before.  While I was there, I noticed a 2007 special issue on “The relevance of systems thinking and systems dynamics“.  The first article is by an acquaintance in the Ackoff community, Jamshid Gharajedaghi, with an article on “Systems thinking: a case for second-order-learning”.  Jamshid had helped me (both in his writing, and over the telephone) by clarifying some basic concepts when I was climbing the systems learning curve in 1998 with Steve Haeckel and the Adaptive Enterprise / Sense and Respond research.  Jamshid’s 2007 article seems to be a finalization of a draft that appeared on the Ackoff Center Weblog in 2004.

The change handbook:

the definitive resource on today’s best methods for engaging whole systems

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