Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Reframing service systems methods as project-portfolio conversations: Appreciating the shift from structured methods to agile systems development 0

Posted on March 02, 2014 by daviding

The Oxford Futures Forum 2014 committee requested an image and an abstract as an application for an Open Space event for 70 participants on May 30-31.  The event description reads:

Purpose and aims

  • Forging and supporting an international community of future-minded practices aimed at stimulating actionable, impactful knowledge;
  • Identifying and investigating academic and practitioner interests at the forefront of scenarios and design, and relating them to each other;
  • Uncovering and pushing the boundaries of scenarios practices and theory, to clarify and extend their effectiveness through critical review and linking with other fields;
  • Enabling networking and publishing  (e.g. two books from first OFF in 2005; a set of sense-making scenarios and two published papers after OFF 2008, which saw another workshop based on the Oxford one organised by Arizona State University; so far one paper from OFF 2011)
  • Leveraging the neutral, highly respected and international convening power of Oxford University.

Theme – scenarios and design

The theme of the fourth Oxford Futures Forum will explore the possible synergies and differences between work on design and the so-called ‘intuitive logics’ school in scenarios.   See “Scoping the Dialogue Space” and OFF2014 supplementary information.

To clarify, in the basic “intuitive logics” method, say Wright, Bradfield, and Cairns (2013):

This model follows the approach developed over many decades by a number of writers … and organizations (e.g. Global Business Networks (GBN; SRI International). It relies upon the application of “intuitive logics” …, and is focused on the development of multiple scenarios that explore the “limits of possibility” for the future, rather than on the development of singular, “normative” scenarios of some ideal future.

A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems 1

Posted on February 15, 2014 by daviding

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

What is a system? (and the challenges of definition) 4

Posted on January 20, 2014 by daviding

When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.


1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother? Who shall answer this?
A mother is a font and spring of life,
A mother is a forest in whose heart
Lies hid a secret ancient as the hills,
For men to claim and take its wealth away;
And like the forest shall her wealth renew
And give, and give again, that men may live.

Thus, for a systems thinker, a word is part of his or her system of ideas.  This leads to a question about could be meant by a system of ideas?  The Oxford Dictionary provides a definition that includes a “system of ideas”:


1. a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained:
Darwin’s theory of evolution

The “independent of the thing to be explained” is the part that could be counter to the way that the deep systems thinker thinks.  The definition as “a supposition” doesn’t mean “the supposition” and presupposes that there is a person to suppose.

Oxford Dictionaries recognizes “system” as on the of the Top 1000 frequently used words in the English language.


1. a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole:
‘the state railway system’
‘fluid is pushed through a system of pipes or channels’

2. a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method:
‘a multiparty system of government’
‘the public-school system’

3. (the system) the prevailing political or social order, especially when regarded as oppressive and intransigent:
‘don’t try bucking the system’

4. Music a set of staves in a musical score joined by a brace.

For most people, the above definition from a well-regarded dictionary source will suffice.  For those whom the definition will not suffice, the alternative is a much more exhaustive work in the International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, edited by Charles François.

Filling in a non-editable PDF form 0

Posted on January 19, 2014 by daviding

Have you ever been asked to fill in a PDF form given not as editable electronically?  The frustrated respondent may print out the form, fill in the fields — either by hand, or with a typewriter (!) — and then transmit the result as a fax. A more persistent respondent looks for a free program that enables annotating the form and preserving an end-to-end electronic format.

One way is to “Open and edit PDF files in OpenOffice“.  This way invokes the Draw program — not the Writer word processor in OpenOffice (or LibreOffice).  The PDF Import extension converts the field labels as well as entry fields.  The import tries to match up the field label fonts, but there may be some shifting.

Another way uses Jarnal — the Java Notetaker and PDF Annotator.  This feature was demonstrated in a Jarnal demonstration video, some time after the basic pen-based sketching features.

Jarnal is a cross-platform application written in Java, that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac.

I subsequently discovered that Xournal offers similar features and is simpler to install as an Ubuntu app.

Xournal is also written in Java, and thus also installable on Linux, Windows and Mac.

Why do power failures seem rare in our Toronto neighbourhood? 0

Posted on December 23, 2013 by daviding

At our home in South Riverdale of Toronto, we rarely seem to have power outages when others report them. Why might that be so?

(1) We live within walking distance of 8 electric substations.

Electric substations in Toronto, South Riverdale

From a link on “Toronto Hydro’s not-so-hidden residential substations” | Derek Place | Oct. 13, 2010 |, I found a list of assets for Toronto Hydro from By-law No. 374-1999 at , and mapped out the addresses close to us.

(2) At least some of the TTC is powered by equipment in a electric substation near us, on Carlaw Avenue.  There was a procurement order in 2004 as “Procurement Authorization – Replacement Of TTC Traction Power Equipment In Toronto Hydro Owned Substations“, so maintenance should have been performed relatively recently.

(3) Toronto Hydro has a 12-acre Service Centre at 500 Commissioner’s Road.  The Toronto Portlands Company saw this development as so important that it produced two videos on the project that started in 1994, originally a Shell Canada site since the 1930s.

Conclusion:  If the power is on for Toronto Hydro and for the TTC, Riverside (South Riverdale) should also have power!

General Systems Yearbook 2013: Service Systems, Natural Systems – Sciences in synthesis 0

Posted on December 02, 2013 by daviding

The fifth issue of Systems Research and Behavioral Science for 2013 has now been officially published.  The special issue features the content of the General Systems Yearbook, including publication of presentations derived from the ISSS San Jose 2012 meeting.  In addition to the hardcopy and official electronic version, authors are allowed to distribute preprint versions of the content.  Thus, two new articles are available:

… in addition to the earlier article:

Here’s an index to the full issue:

Service Systems, Natural Systems—Sciences in Synthesis (pages 519–521) David Ing and Jennifer Wilby DOI: 10.1002/sres.2230
An Overview of International Society for the Systems Sciences 2012 Plenary Presentations: A Supplement to the Editorial (pages 522–526) Gary Metcalf and Pamela Buckle Henning DOI: 10.1002/sres.2212
Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World (pages 527–547) David Ing DOI: 10.1002/sres.2229

↑ Top