Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

A meeting of systems scientists and systems engineers together as the Systems Science Working Group at the INCOSE International Workshop 2014 provided a forum for “a proposal for collaboration on a pattern language for service systems (science, management, engineering and design)”.  The title is deliberately long, and required some hours to unpack the content in the slide deck.

A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems (Science, Management, Engineering and Design)

The initiative has been presented as ambitious.  Writing a (good) pattern language is non-trivial.  The originator of the pattern language, Christopher Alexander, published his first work in 1968, and then spent 9 years in collaboration until the 1977 release of the landmark A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In a 2010 interview, Alexander was asked about his perception on similar efforts.

[Rob Hoskins]: What’s been your opinion of subsequent peoples’ attempts at doing Pattern Languages – I’ve seen a couple of different ones, have you seen many?

[Christopher Alexander]:  Some. They’re not that good. The reason I say that is that the people who’ve attempted to work with Pattern Languages, think about them, but are not conscious of the role of morphological elegance in the unfolding. In a biological case, they always are elegant and the unfolding morphology is a sort of magic. But it’s very simple.  It’s not as if it’s magic because it’s complicated, it’s just … like that.

[Rob Hoskins]:  I guess when we were talking before about how a Pattern Language goes from the large down to the small, maybe when we were talking about it as going outwards maybe it is more like an unfolding process?

[Christopher Alexander]:   I think it is yes. The business of going from the large to the small was more for convenience….you could make sense of the book most easily like that but it isn’t necessarily the way to actually do it.

While contributors to this project can learn from prior art in pattern languages, there’s some basic contexts to be understood and appreciated.

A. Service systems (science, management, engineering and design)

Service systems are described in the context of the 2008 report on “Succeeding through service innovation” by the Cambridge IfM and IBM.  The science, management, engineering and design perspectives are from the 2009 Spohrer and Kwan article on”Service Science, Management, Engineering, and Design (SSMED): An Emerging Discipline — Outline & References”, with ten basic concepts underlying a service systems worldview.

B. Pattern language (c.f. pattern catalog)

The working of a pattern language is described with extract of the 1977 book A Pattern Language, with 127 INITIMACY GRADIENT.  The history of the Hillside Group, with a software (design) pattern (definition) illustrates application in a domain other than the built environment.  The variety of forms of writing patterns has been described by Martin Fowler.  Ties between pattern language and systems thinking are drawn by James O. Coplien and Neil Harrison 2004 and by Werner Ulrich 2006.  Christopher Alexander’s “Quality without a Name” is described in Richard P. Gabriel 1996.  Addition domains with ongoing work with pattern languages are evident in Scrum, in group facilitation processes, and in communications in the public sphere.

C. A starter set?  7 conditions from service systems science

February 15th, 2014

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An interview by Performance magazine — with an issue focused on systems in architecture and related disciplines — has now been published. Since the content has been translated into German (as well as reduced for length) — the original interview is posted below, in English.


  • David Ing is the president (2011-2012), of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He welcomes deep thinkers from around the world to join in an interactive learning experience at the annual meeting of the ISSS, scheduled for July 15-20, 2012, in San Jose, California. David Ing responded to this interview from his home in Toronto, Canada.

Performance, 2012, number 2

1. Could you please, in just a few words, explain to us what the systems sciences deal with and what your specialty area is?

The systems sciences — many of us prefer sciences in the plural — study the nature of parts and wholes. People may say that they are systems thinkers: they view the world primarily as relations of part-whole, part-part and whole-whole arrangements in space and time. Systems thinking enables a basic foundation across a wide variety of domains, including (i) natural systems in geographic and biological domains, and (ii) man-made systems in social and informatic domains.

In 2011-2012, I am serving as the president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). Our annual meeting for July 2012 will be at San Jose State University, in California. We expect a broad range of systems researchers and practitioners to come together for interdiscipinary and transciplinary discussions over five days. For 2013, we have plans for the meeting to convene in Hai Phong, Vietnam, led by the next ISSS president, Alexander Laszlo.

My interests are in (i) social systems — particularly in the context of work in business organizations and government — and in (ii) information systems — most recently transformed through the rise of the Internet, globalization, and social computing. Much of my current research is centered on the emerging science of service systems — often called service science — as the world has shifted from industrial age into global service economy.

2. In which areas of research can conclusions and consequences be drawn from the results of systems sciences?

Questions about the systems sciences lead us to think more deeply about the definitions of both science and systems.

May 21st, 2012

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Since 2008, I’ve been conducting research on service systems and the systems sciences, with my core collaborators Gary Metcalf, Jennifer Wilby and Kyoichi (Jim) Kijima.  As senior members of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, we’ve been working towards a more formal association with the International Council on Systems Engineering, and with the Systems Science Working Group in particular.  Our organizations came together for the first time in the INCOSE International Symposium 2010, in Chicago.

For the International Symposium, our contribution was a panel on our progress in researching service systems and the systems sciences, with position papers and presentation slides discussed in Chicago in July.  After that meeting, a summary of the session was reported in an article published in INCOSE Insight in October.

The publications page on this web site includes links to the:

Our core group will be continuing our research into 2011, with a two-day co-learning workshop at the International Workshop 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The linkages between the systems sciences and systems engineering should continue to develop.

December 31st, 2010

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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.

November 21st, 2010

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One of the benefits of the IBM’s Smarter Planet vision(s) is its encouragement to think about the 21st century world from a fresh perspective.  The rise of the service economy — which is not the same as the service sector — calls for the nurturing of talents with different emphases.  While curricula typically have a strong grasp of agricultural systems (developed since, say, 1600 A,.D.), and industrial systems (since, say, 1850 A.D.), the science of service systems is still emerging.

A study on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education by a 2007 National Academies committee published recommendations in 2008 for professional science master’s education that is interdisciplinary in character.  Such an investment in curriculum change has been proposed as a good use of stimulus funding in the U.S. In concert, 8 of 10 students expressed a wish for universities to revamp their traditional learning environments in the Smarter Planet University Jam conducted in spring 2009 .

In 2008 and 2009, the focus has shifted to primary and secondary school education, convening another National Academies committee centered on K-12, with a report due in 2010.  Jim Spohrer — formerly the Director of Almaden Services Research, and now the Director of IBM Global University Programs — updated me on his current thinking about a potential design for education on Smarter Planet Service Systems.

Systems that move, store, harvest, process Kindergarten Transportation
1 Water and waste management
2 Food and global supply chain
3 Energy and energy grid
4 Information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure
Systems that enable healthy, wealthy and wise people 5 Building and construction
6 Banking and finance
7 Retail and hospitality
8 Healthcare
9 Education (including universities)
Systems that govern 10 Government (cities)
11 Government (regions / states)
12 Government (nations)
Higher education Specific service systems
Professional life Specific service systems

Jim is following confirmation of the effectiveness of a Challenge-Based Learning approach by the New Media Consortium as “a strategy to engage kids in any class by giving them the opportunity to work on significant problems that have real-world implications”.  I liked his ordering of systems into three levels:

January 12th, 2010

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Towards the development of a science of service systems I’ve been facilitating a group of senior researchers, internationally.  I’ve posted a presentation from a workshop in early September at the UKSS meeting in Oxford that reflects the current status of this project.

The results of this year-long project will be presented at the ISSS annual meeting scheduled for July 2010 in Waterloo, Canada.  The conversation started with an organizational meeting at ISSS Brisbane in July 2009.  Key face-to-face meetings when content will be developed include …

The essential attributes of participants are an interest in service science and systems science … plus a tolerance for jet lag, or at least the willingness to work with collaborator spanning 14 time zones.  The core of the researcher team are drawn from among the officers of the International Society for the Systems Sciences.

October 7th, 2009

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