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Systems Thinking and Futures Studies (Systems Thinking Ontario, 2013-02-21)

The pre-reading of Emery (1967), “The Next Thirty Years: Concepts, Methods and Anticipations” was introduced as a challenging article for the second meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario on Feb. 21, 2013.  The theme for the evening was “Systems Thinking and Future Studies”, so there was some irony in looking backwards to 1967 to have a discussion on looking forward.

In my role as reviewer in Systems Thinking Ontario sessions, I would prefer to try to stick to the text rather than adding editorializing.  However, since this Emery (1967) article is particular rich, I tried to provide some additional context to make the reading easier.

Fred Emery is especially known for his work with the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, as one of the pioneers of the field we know today as organization science, including organization development and organization design.  In 1967, systems thinking was new:  The Systems Approach would be published by West Churchman in 1968, and On Purposeful Systems by Ackoff and Emery would follow years later in 1972.  The Club of Rome was founded in 1968.  In this article, Emery was thinking about how systems thinking frames viewing the future.

I. Prediction and Planning; II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future

In I. Prediction and Planning, the systems of interest are in the social sciences.  The longer history of systems thinking prior to 1967 would have been a stronger cybernetics orientation.  The research from the Tavistock Institute on the socio-psychological, socio-technical and socio-ecological systems perspectives would have been fresh.  Emery wrote:

In this section we have sought to argue that:

  • (a) there is a need for developments in the social sciences that go beyond their present concerns;
  • (b) this development needs planning;
  • (c) the planning needs to be in a context of expected social developments for several decades ahead;
  • (d) the planning should be more than projection or forecasting;
  • (e) planning should actively seek to extend the choices men can make, not to dictate them.  [p. 199]

Essentially, the challenge is that human beings can shape their futures, and not just be passive participants in the changes.  Much of the influence that human beings have on the future, particularly when working collectively as a social group, is through planning.

From the article, the figures in II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future were helpful towards deciphering the text.

The pre-reading of Emery (1967), “The Next Thirty Years: Concepts, Methods and Anticipations” was introduced as a challenging article for the second meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario on Feb. 21, 2013.  The theme for the evening was “Systems Thinking and Future Studies”, so there was some irony in looking backwards to 1967 to have a discussion on looking forward.

In my role as reviewer in Systems Thinking Ontario sessions, I would prefer to try to stick to the text rather than adding editorializing.  However, since this Emery (1967) article is particular rich, I tried to provide some additional context to make the reading easier.

Fred Emery is especially known for his work with the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, as one of the pioneers of the field we know today as organization science, including organization development and organization design.  In 1967, systems thinking was new:  The Systems Approach would be published by West Churchman in 1968, and On Purposeful Systems by Ackoff and Emery would follow years later in 1972.  The Club of Rome was founded in 1968.  In this article, Emery was thinking about how systems thinking frames viewing the future.

I. Prediction and Planning; II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future

In I. Prediction and Planning, the systems of interest are in the social sciences.  The longer history of systems thinking prior to 1967 would have been a stronger cybernetics orientation.  The research from the Tavistock Institute on the socio-psychological, socio-technical and socio-ecological systems perspectives would have been fresh.  Emery wrote:

In this section we have sought to argue that:

  • (a) there is a need for developments in the social sciences that go beyond their present concerns;
  • (b) this development needs planning;
  • (c) the planning needs to be in a context of expected social developments for several decades ahead;
  • (d) the planning should be more than projection or forecasting;
  • (e) planning should actively seek to extend the choices men can make, not to dictate them.  [p. 199]

Essentially, the challenge is that human beings can shape their futures, and not just be passive participants in the changes.  Much of the influence that human beings have on the future, particularly when working collectively as a social group, is through planning.

From the article, the figures in II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future were helpful towards deciphering the text.

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