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Why (Intervene in) Systems Changes?

With a focus on “ecological systems”, the second of four lectures planned for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University proceeded as a timeboxed presentation:  targeting 40 minutes of content (skipping slides to stay within time constraints), followed by 10 minutes of discussion.  Since the slides are rich with content and links to sources, students were directed to pay attention to what I was saying, over trying to read the slides projected behind me. 

The agenda was in four sections:

  • [preamble] Errors, Attention and Traps (Ecological Understanding)
    • Systems Changes Learning Circle (Bateson, Gibson, Ingold)
    • (Resistances to) Changing as primary system of interest
  • A. Socio-Ecological Systems Perspective
    • Tavistock Institute (Emery, Trist)
    • Organization as primary system of interest
  • B. (Social-) Ecological Systems  + Panarchy
    • Stockholm Resilience Centre (Holling, Walker, Peterson)
    • Ecology as primary system of interest
  • C. The Ecosystem Approach
    • Resilience Alliance (Waltner-Toews, Kay)
    • Sustainable development project as primary system of interest

Online, the video is available on Youtube for streaming.

Viewers who prefer to watch video on a disconnected device can download a video file.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
January 31
(1h18m)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD m4v]
(HD 2666kbps 1.2GB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD m4v]
(nHD 1352kps 637MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD webm]
(HD VP8 425kbps 292MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD webm]
(nHD VP8 224kbps 156MB)

Readers who want to follow through on web link references may want to review the slides directly.… Read more (in a new tab)

With a focus on “ecological systems”, the second of four lectures planned for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University proceeded as a timeboxed presentation:  targeting 40 minutes of content (skipping slides to stay within time constraints), followed by 10 minutes of discussion.  Since the slides are rich with content and links to sources, students were directed to pay attention to what I was saying, over trying to read the slides projected behind me. 

The agenda was in four sections:

  • [preamble] Errors, Attention and Traps (Ecological Understanding)
    • Systems Changes Learning Circle (Bateson, Gibson, Ingold)
    • (Resistances to) Changing as primary system of interest
  • A. Socio-Ecological Systems Perspective
    • Tavistock Institute (Emery, Trist)
    • Organization as primary system of interest
  • B. (Social-) Ecological Systems  + Panarchy
    • Stockholm Resilience Centre (Holling, Walker, Peterson)
    • Ecology as primary system of interest
  • C. The Ecosystem Approach
    • Resilience Alliance (Waltner-Toews, Kay)
    • Sustainable development project as primary system of interest

Online, the video is available on Youtube for streaming.

Viewers who prefer to watch video on a disconnected device can download a video file.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
January 31
(1h18m)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD m4v]
(HD 2666kbps 1.2GB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD m4v]
(nHD 1352kps 637MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD webm]
(HD VP8 425kbps 292MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD webm]
(nHD VP8 224kbps 156MB)

Readers who want to follow through on web link references may want to review the slides directly.… Read more (in a new tab)

System types as purposeful, and displaying choice

Russell Ackoff has a four-way categorization of systems that I’ve found useful, and often shows up in my presentations.  I’ve had a history of citing a 1996 article that is peer-reviewed.  However, when I first saw him in person, speaking with an overhead slide projector in 1997, I recalled a slightly different language.  I’ve now discovered an article that is consistent with my memory.

In 1996, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi wrote (in a language consistent with the Ackoff & Emery 1972 On Purposeful Systems book):

Whatever one considers a system to be — and there is considerable agreement as to what a system is — there are obviously different ways of classifying them.  For example, they can be classified by size, by discipline (physical, biological, psychological, and so on), by location, by function, and many other ways as well.  The choice of a classification scheme normally depends on its intended use.  For our purposes — examining the consequences of mismatching systems and their models — the critical classifying variable is purpose and purpose is a matter of choice.

An entity is purposeful if it can produce (1) the same functionally defined outcome in different ways in the same environment, and (2) functionally different outcomes in the same and different environments.  Although the ability to make choices is necessary for purposefulness, it is not sufficient.  An entity that can behave differently but produce only one outcome in any one of a set of different environments is goal-seeking, not purposeful.  

Read more (in a new tab)

Russell Ackoff has a four-way categorization of systems that I’ve found useful, and often shows up in my presentations.  I’ve had a history of citing a 1996 article that is peer-reviewed.  However, when I first saw him in person, speaking with an overhead slide projector in 1997, I recalled a slightly different language.  I’ve now discovered an article that is consistent with my memory.

In 1996, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi wrote (in a language consistent with the Ackoff & Emery 1972 On Purposeful Systems book):

Whatever one considers a system to be — and there is considerable agreement as to what a system is — there are obviously different ways of classifying them.  For example, they can be classified by size, by discipline (physical, biological, psychological, and so on), by location, by function, and many other ways as well.  The choice of a classification scheme normally depends on its intended use.  For our purposes — examining the consequences of mismatching systems and their models — the critical classifying variable is purpose and purpose is a matter of choice.

An entity is purposeful if it can produce (1) the same functionally defined outcome in different ways in the same environment, and (2) functionally different outcomes in the same and different environments.  Although the ability to make choices is necessary for purposefulness, it is not sufficient.  An entity that can behave differently but produce only one outcome in any one of a set of different environments is goal-seeking, not purposeful.  

Read more (in a new tab)
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    • Reformation and transformation (Ackoff 2003, 2010)
      In his system of system concepts, Russell Ackoff made the distinction between reformation and transformation in many of his lectures. Here are two written sources. From Redesigining Society (2003) … Systemic Transformation A system is transformed, as contrasted with reformed, when its structure or functions are changed fundamentally. Such changes are discontinuous and qualitative, quantum […]
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      While Ackoff’s definitions of goals, objectives and ideals have been republished (and rewritten) multiple times, the 1972 definitions were derived from his original dissertation work.  Accordingly, in addition to the human-readable definitions, some mathematical notation is introduced. — begin paste — OUTCOMES 2.30. End (an immediate intended outcome) of a subject A in a particular […]
    • Pure Inquiring Systems: Antiteleology | The Design of Inquiring Systems | C. West Churchman | 1971
      The fifth way of knowing, as described by West Churchman, is a Singerian inquiring system. (This fifth way of knowing is more colloquially called Unbounded Systems Thinking in Mitroff and Linstone (1993)). The book On Purposeful Systems (Ackoff and Emery, 1972) was derived by Ackoff’s dissertation that was controversially coauthored with West Churchman. Purpose can […]
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      Understanding Process-Function Ecology by Ashwani Vasishth leads to luminaries in the systems sciences, including C. West Churchman, Eugene P. Odum and Timothy F.H. Allen.
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      As an irony, the 2020 book, The Innovation Delusion by #LeeVinsel @STS_News + #AndrewLRussell @RussellProf shouldn’t be seen as an innovation, but an encouragement to join @The_Maintainers where an ongoing thought network can continue. The subtitle “How Our Obsession with the New has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most” recognizes actual innovation, as distinct from […]
    • Republishing on Facebook as “good for the world” or “bad for the world” (NY Times, 2020/11/24)
      An online social network reproduces content partially based on algorithms, and partially based on the judgements made by human beings. Either may be viewed as positive or negative. > The trade-offs came into focus this month [November 2020], when Facebook engineers and data scientists posted the results of a series of experiments called “P(Bad for […]
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