Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies


Towards a federated social web 1

Posted on October 30, 2015 by daviding

Systems Thinking World — a LinkedIn group with dialogue from over 19,000 members — ceased to exist by October 28, 2015.  It was a place where learners (new and old) of systems thinking came to overcome barriers, from 2009 through 2015.  A change in the terms and conditions at LinkedIn led to the group owner to move on.  The scale of worldwide participation in Systems Thinking World was significant, and the journey was the subject of a presentation at ISSS DC 2014.

While cleaning house, the Facebook Group formerly known as Systems Thinking World came into the hands of a new owner, and was retitled (at least temporarily) as The Ecology of Systems Thinking.  The new owner has a more open approach, and has authorized additional members to be administrators (including me).  The group had changed temporarily to be closed (i.e. content visible only to members), and Facebook won’t allow groups with more than 250 members to revert from closed to open.

Is there an alternative to the centralized structure of (a) forum owner(s) and members?

Actually, there is.  The diaspora* foundation has a different approach:

diaspora* is based on three key philosophies:

Decentralization: Instead of everyone’s data being contained on huge central servers owned by a large organization, local servers (“pods”) can be set up anywhere in the world.

Freedom:   You can be whoever you want to be in diaspora*.  [….]  diaspora* is also Free Software, giving you liberty to use it as you wish.

Privacy:  In diaspora* you own your data. You do not sign over any rights to a corporation or other interest who could use it.

The history of the diaspora* social network platform goes back to 2010, with a Kickstarter project.  Since 2012, it has been an open source community project.  The project blog shows a continuing stream of releases, so the technical community appears to be viable.

I have had a profile at https://diasp.org/u/daviding since 2011, but haven’t had a reason to exercise the platform.  Maybe the demise of Systems Thinking World is a sign that it’s time for a big change.  I’ve started Systems Sciences groups on Google Plus, Facebook and LinkedIn.  I’ve been experimenting with federated wiki.  Although others may have become comfortable with ease of a corporation managing their content, I’ve always been an advocate for self-sufficiency.  So, in a learning-by-doing mode:

  • I, David Ing, pledge to post on diaspora* with the #systemsthinking tag, if at least 5 people join me.  I will post with public visibility, and others may choose to post publicly or privately.

Join me!  Signing up to diaspora* is easy.  The first decision is choosing a pod.  If you want to follow my example, you could sign up at disasp.org.  (The disasp.org server is physically in New York.  If you normally converse in language other than English, you could pick a pod geographically closer that encourages dialogues in your native dialect).  It would be nice if you reciprocated with a real identity, and posted a photo.  You can even link your profile from Facebook, so you don’t have to fill in all of the fields.

System types as purposeful, and displaying choice 0

Posted on October 28, 2015 by daviding

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.  Servo-mechanisms are goal-seeking.  In contrast, people are obviously purposeful systems, and so are certain types of social groups.  An entity can be multi-goal-seeking if it is goal-seeking in each of two of more different environments.

Types of Systems and Models

There are three basic types of systems and models of them, and a meta-system:  one that contains all three types as parts of it (see Table 1):

Table 1: Types of systems and models
Systems and models Parts Whole
Deterministic Not purposeful Not purposeful
Animated Not purposeful Purposeful
Social Purposeful Purposeful
Ecological Purposeful Not purposeful

(1) Deterministic:  systems and models in which neither the parts nor the whole are purposeful.

(2) Animated:  systems and models in which the whole is purposeful but the parts are not.

(3) Social:  systems and models in which both the parts and the whole are purposeful.

These three types of systems form a hierarchy in the following sense: animated systems have deterministic systems as their parts.  In addition, some of them can create and use deterministic systems, but not vice-versa.  Social systems have animated systems as their parts.  All three types of system are contained in ecological systems, some of whose parts are purposeful, but not the whole.  For example, Earth is an ecological sysetm that has no purpose of its own but contains social and animate systems that do, and deterministic systems that don’t.  [pp. 13-14]

In the unreviewed 2003 paper, Ackoff & Gharajedaghi footnoted “1. This article is a revision and extension of an article we published earlier: “Reflections on Systems and Their Models,” Systems Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 1996, pp. 13-23″.  The table that appears in 2003 is different from that in 1996:

Systems Thinking: A journey, and some prospects 0

Posted on October 24, 2015 by daviding

A system of ideas can be approached through a history of science.  For my annual visit to the Creative Sustainability program, I decided to talk about the context that started me off on systems thinking, and has continued to shape my ongoing research.

The session was conducted as a continuous two-hour lecture.  An abstract was sent in advance:

Learning about systems thinking is a journey. How and what each person learns is different.

In reflection, my appreciation of systems thinking was shaped by the 42nd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences meeting in Atlanta, in July 1998. The context was a profession in management consulting in IBM, followed by an assigned to the IBM Advanced Business Institute in Palisades, NY, as the Adaptive Enterprise book was being written by Stephan Haeckel. Some key speakers at ISSS 1998 shaped my perspective on systems thinking, and have continued to have an influence even after 15 years.

The presidency, culminating in the ISSS meeting in 2012 at San Jose led to prospects looking into Service Systems, Natural Systems. Complementary associations have risen over the past few years, including the Systems Sciences Working Group with INCOSE, and the Systemic Design Research Network (conducting Relating Systems Thinking and Design symposiums) with OCAD U. and AHO.

Recent research includes encouragement of a Service Systems Thinking community based on Alexandrian pattern language and open collaborative technologies.

This presentation aims encourage systems thinkers to reflect on their own journeys, and gain awareness of some new prospects for further deepening their knowledge.

Part 1 Audio [20151008_1000_AaltoCS_Ing_SystemsThinkingJourneyProspects.mp3]
(114MB, 1h58m22s)
Part 1 Video (58m06s) nHD
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An Introduction to Service Systems Thinking 0

Posted on October 21, 2015 by daviding

A lecture for the Master’s Program in Industrial Management at Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences was an opportunity to talk about the research that has been brewing over the past 18+ months, from the basics.  These students were unlikely to have heard much about (i) systems thinking; (ii) service systems, (iii) generative pattern language, or (iv) federated wiki.

Coming to Metropolia in 2015 was like a return home.  In 2006, the institution was named Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia, and I collaborated on starting up the curriculum as part of the Rendez project.  In recent years, I haven’t been so involved.  As I was planning a trip to Europe this fall, I discovered that Satu Teerikangas had returned from teaching at UCL in the UK to Finland, becoming the Head of the Industrial Management Program.  My itinerary coincided well with the course dates, so I pulled together a presentation from the evolving ideas over the last year.  The audience would be a combination of students from the Industrial Management program and the Logistics program.

The session was conducted in two parts, each slightly under 60 minutes.  The first part covered:

  • 1. What could Service Systems Thinking be?
  • 2. Systems Thinking
  • 3. SSMED (Service Science, Management, Engineering and Design)

Part 1 Audio [20151002_1300_Metropolia_Ing_ServiceSystemsThinking.mp3]
(55MB, 57m02s)
Part 1 Video (58m06s) nHD
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WebM [1280×720
1006Kbps webm] (439MB)

In the second part after the break, the agenda covered:

  • 4. Generative Pattern Language
  • 5. Multiple Perspectives Open Collaboration (federated wiki)
  • 6. Context that are coevolving?

Industrial Ecology in 2015 0

Posted on August 16, 2015 by daviding

Up to a month before the biannual conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, I hadn’t heard of this field.

Industrial ecology is the study of the flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities, of the effects of these flows on the environment, and of the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources.  (U.S. National Academy of Engineering, 1994)

The first international conference of the ISIE was held in 2001, in the Netherlands.  The organization has recently described the progress in the field:

In the early days of industrial ecology, investigation of the soundness and utility of the biological analogy and efforts at eco-design were prominent. In the past decade, input-output analysis (especially multi-regional IOA), studies of resource criticality, integration of social science and operations research, agent-based/complexity modeling, urban metabolism and long-term socio-ecological research have become central to the field.

The influence of industrial ecology is significant and growing, and the analytical tools that are central to the field, such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and material flow analysis (MFA), are increasingly used in other disciplines. Both LCA and MFA are used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report to examine the embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings, transportation, and other sectors. Additionally, industrial ecology specialists comprise the core of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Resource Panel. They have authored five of the Panel’s seven reports since 2011. (ISIE 2015)

The way I came to Industrial Ecology was by another route. While doing research in June, I encountered a 2001 book, Construction Ecology: Nature as a Basis for Green Buildings, edited G. Bradley Guy , Charles J. Kibert and Jan Sendzimir.  Here’s an extract from the table of contents.

  • 1. Defining an ecology of construction: Charles J, Kibert, Jan Sendzimir and G. Bradley Guy

Part 1: The ecologists

  • 2. Material circulation, energy hierarchy, and building construction: Howard T. Odum
  • 3. On complexity theory, exergy, and industrial ecology: James J. Kay
  • 4. Applying the principles of ecological emergence to building design and construction: Timothy F.H. Allen
  • 5. Using ecological dynamics to move toward an adaptive architecture: Garry Peterson

Part 2: The industrial ecologists

  • 8. Construction ecology and metabolism: Stefan Bringezu

Part 3: The architects

  • 10. Ecologic analogues and architecture: Sim Van Der Ryn and Rob Pena

The book followed from a “Rinker Eminent Scholar Workshop on Construction Ecology and Metabolism” at the University of Florida in 1999.  I was intrigued that of the four “ecologists”:  (i) I’ve met all four in person; (ii) two were ISSS presidents (i.e. Odum and Allen); and (iii) two were speakers at the ISSS San Jose 2012 meeting that I organized (i.e. Allen and Peterson).  Howard Odum and James Kay has both passed, so I’ll have to read their legacies to learn. Tim Allen is in Wisconsin, and fortunately welcomes researchers who want to visit him.

One way that I learn rapidly about a field is to attend a conference where current research is presented.  The ISIE runs its conferences biannually.  The choice to go was either then almost immediately (i.e. July 2015), or in two years (July 2017).  The 2015 theme was “Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology” where “plenary speakers and panels will give reviews – both retrospective and prospective – of different aspects of industrial ecology”.  For a beginner, this was enticing.  A quick check of airfares made the trip feasible, so I went (with a fortunate routing through Austria for Purplsoc bringing down the cost even more).

DI_20150707 031044 ISIE plenary RolandClift ChrisFrance ChrisKennedy

On the Tuesday morning, ISIE 2015 started with plenary talks more on the history and basic concepts, and then two panels (of which I chose the one with industry speakers):

Purplsoc 2015 digests and presentation 1

Posted on August 10, 2015 by daviding

The pattern language community — followers of Christopher Alexander’s approach — is distributed globally.  I participated in PLoP 2014 at Allerton Park, Illinois last September, and then attended AsianPLoP 2015 in Tokyo last March.  I had been eyeing the PUARL (Portland Urban Architecture Research Laboratory) conference for fall 2015, but then heard that the event was being incorporated into Purplsoc for 2015.  I originally couldn’t justify a trip to Europe for the Purplsoc (Pursuit of Pattern Language for Societal Change) 2015 conference, but then its timing turned out to be back-to-back with the ISIE conference.  So, just 3 weeks before the conference, I booked a triangular routing to arrive just in time for the start on July 3, in Krems, Austria.

On the Friday, the program started with some plenary session keynotes:

  • Hermann Czech, “Remarks about the Truth and the Whole” [digest]
  • “Opening”, with Peter Baumgartner; a delegate of the Mayor of the City of Krems; Monica Kil; Christian Hanus; Hajo Neis [digest]
  • Wolfgang Stark, “Performative Patterns for Innovation: The Power of Tacit Knowing in Social Systems” [digest]

Saturday morning started with a keynote.

The rest of Saturday morning had parallel streams.  I was in the Pattern applications and practices session.

  • Hajo Neis and Perrin Wright, “Up and Out: Oregon Tsunami Wayfinding Survival Language” [digest]
  • Taichi Isaku, “The Cooking Language: Applying the Theory of Properties and Patterns into Cooking” [digest] [slides on slideshare.com]
  • Hiroshi Nakano, “Japanese Spirituality and Pattern Language” [digest]
  • David Ing, Service Systems Thinking: From Environmental Structure to a New Generative Pattern Language [abstract + presentation slides]

By Saturday afternoon, some of the parallel sessions were being juggled.  I attended:

  • Wolfgang Rang, “Early Experiments with A Pattern Language” [digest]
  • Thomas Hruschka and Wolfgang Stark, “EcoBusiness Plan Vienna: An Organizational Pattern Language for Networking Sustainability In and Between Companies” [digest]

To close out Saturday, there was a plenary panel:

  • “Christopher Alexander’s Ethics: An Ethic of Design”, with David West, Peter Baumgartner, Christian Kohls, Helmut Leitner, Hajo Neis, and Till Schummer [digest]

Sunday morning opened with a most impressive plenary keynote:

  • Howard Davis, “Pattern Languages and the New Productive City” [digest]

The Sunday parallel session on Pattern languages for societal change had one impromptu workshop set up, before the scheduled one.

  • Hajo Neis, Takashi Iba and Helene Finidori, “Pattern Languages 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0″ [digest]
  • Norihiko Kimura and Takashi Iba, “The Fundamental Behavioral Properties” [digest]


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