Researching the philosophical foundations of systems theory to understand the meanings of “causal texture, contextualism, contextural” from the Tavistock legacy led to philosopher Stephen C. Pepper.
The philosophical lineage and contributions of Pepper were the focus for the January online meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario. A deep reading of Pepper’s work (over a month!) was digested on a wiki site on the Open Learning Commons at http://wh.daviding.wiki.openlearning.cc/view/welcome-visitors/view/world-hypotheses . That is better as a reference resource than an easy explanation.
The online meeting began with usual self-introductions. After 15 minutes, a quick overview of the wiki site was reviewed, interjected with clairifying questions by Zaid Khan, and moderation monitoring by Dan Eng. Participants were engaged in making sense of the World Hypotheses as a precursor to systems thinking, continuing for well over an hour.
This recording of the session is available on Youtube, as well as on the Internet Archive .
A standalone audio was extracted from the video.
Participation in this discussion was intended more to provoke thought and conversation about philosophical framings inherent in the evolution of systems thinking, than to explicate with the intricacies of an American pragmatist taking a position against logical positivism in the 1940s.… Read more (in a new tab)
The first Systems Thinking Ontario session for 2023 is scheduled for January 9, on “Root Metaphors and World Hypotheses”. This is philosophical content, for which a guided tour and discussion will be better than attempting a solo reading of the World Hypotheses wiki on the Open Learning Commons. Upon announcing the session on social media, I was honoured to receive a response from Michael C. Jackson, OBE.
Very interesting, David. And great that you are bringing Pepper and Emery/Trist back into centre of debates about systems thinking – where they belong.
Thanks, also, for drawing attention to my 2020 discussion of world hypotheses.
Sociotechnical thinking went through a brief ‘mechanical systems’ phase (Trist and Bamforth) before discovering von Bertalanffy and embracing organicism. It is also true that both Trist and Emery later claimed to have moved beyond organicism and embraced contextualism.
My own view is that they did not succeed and that organicism continued to dominate in the L22 work and even in the later socio-ecological work.
I recently had an exchange with Merrylyn Emery on this who, of course, says I am wrong and that her and Fred’s later work is clearly contextualist.
My argument, which I still adhere to, can be found in the chapter on sociotechnical thinking in my ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’. It is this chapter Merrylyn objected to. She is still very active in Australia.
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The October online meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario presented an opportunity for an update on progress made by the Systems Changes Learning Circle by 2022. A slide deck had been prepared an in-person seminar at the Universitat de Barcelona Graduate Programmes in Business, organized by Ryan C. Armstrong, one week earlier. Our regular monthly meeting, centered in Toronto, allowed a more leisurely pace, and a better affordance for capturing the session for playback.
The agenda provided the background history leading to the Systems Changes Learning Circle, and then focused on the practical approach to “doing” on our pilot engagement.
|A. Rethinking Systems Thinking
|B. Doing: Hub + 4 spokes
|C. Thinking: Action learning for facilitators
|D. Making: Systematic methods via multiparadigm inquiry
|E. Ongoing learning opportunities
The meeting followed our usual practice of having participants introduce themselves. About 10 minutes in, the presentation on Parts A and B then started. At 47 minutes, we took a pause for questions and comments. At 1h14m, the presentation on Parts C, D, and E resumed. At 1h32m, the presentation was completed, and more questions and comments were taken to the meeting ending at 1h51m.
This recording of the session is available on Youtube , as well as on the Internet Archive .
A standalone audio was also created during the meeting.… Read more (in a new tab)
Just before starting a trip to Spain, I received an invitation from Ryan C. Armstrong at the Universitat de Barcelona Business School to give some lectures. The students in the bachelor’s programme in international business had a short mention of systems thinking in the first lecture of the operationa management class. With that brief entry, this lecture was an opportunity to introduce a broader view of the traditions of systems thinking, in addition to the practices, theories, and methods under development by the Systems Changes Learning Circle in Toronto.
Having studied business myself at undergraduate and graduate levels, I can empathize with this audience. The essential theme for these students is often: why should I care about systems thinking?; and what is systems thinking?
|A. Knowing better
|B. Systems thinking (one description)
|C. Traditions (some favoured)
|D. Contemporary approaches (in progress)
|E. Ongoing learning opportunities
The presentation took about 40 minutes, followed by 15 minutes for questions and comments.
This audio augmented with slides is available on Youtube , as well as on the Internet Archive .
The original audio was processed through a noise gate to remove some echo, followed by an audio compressor.
This lecture was at the end of the visit to Barcelona, after the Creative Systemic Research Platform Institute Symposium. … Read more (in a new tab)
While the adaptive cycle and panarchical connections reflect the possiblity of movement from one stable state to another, it’s possible to get “stuck” in a disfavoured trap. Social ecological systems involve both natural systems and human systems.
After widespread recognition of the 2002 Panarchy book, reflections in 2010 revealed further development of the theory and practice.
Applying Resilience Theory
[….] The theory has shifted focus away from managing for particular equilibria to the management of regimes, as described below.
Adaptive capacity has been defined in the ecological literature as the ability to manage resilience (Gunderson 2000, Walker et al. 2004). Humans manipulate ecological systems to secure goods and services and in doing so leave the system more vulnerable to change, by eroding ecological resilience (Holling and Meffe 1996). Ecological resilience is difficult to assess and measure a priori and is often known only after the fact — that is, the complexities, nonlinearities, and self-organized processes that generate regime shifts or ecological phase transitions are generally understood only after a shift has occurred, and then only partly. Even so, humans do manage for adaptive capacity. Those management actions can be categorized as those that are aimed at buffering the impact of disturbances (Berkes and Folke 1998, 2002), those that accelerate recovery and renewal, and those that attempt to choose and manage transitions among alternative regimes.
Regime management has two key components that must be actively managed. Quite simply, they revolve around two basic questions: (1) “What kind of system do we want?”
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In order to appreciate the influence of resilience science and panarchy on ongoing research into systems changes, revisiting foundational works sometimes resurfaces insights. In the 2002 Panarchy book, Chapter 15 provides a summary of findings.
In the course of the project hat led to this volume, we identified twelve conclusions (Table 15-1) in our search for sustainable futures. Those conclusions are reviewed in this section. [p. 395]
Table 15-1. Summary Findings from the Assessment of Resilience in Ecosystems, Economies, and Institutions [p. 396]
|Multistable states are common in many systems.
||1. Abrupt shifts among a multiplicity of very different stable domains are plausible in regional ecosystems, some economic systems, and some political systems.
|The adaptive cycle is the fundamental unit of dynamic change.
||2. An adaptive cycle that aggregates resources and periodically restructures to create opportunities for innovation is a fundamental unit for understanding complex systems from cells to ecosystems to societies to cultures.
|Not all adaptive cycles are the same, and some are maladaptive.
||3. Variants to the adaptive cycle are present in different systems. These include physical systems with no internal storage, ecosystems strongly influenced by external pulses, and human systems with foresight and adaptive methods to stabilize variability. Some are maladaptive and trigger poverty and rigidity traps.
|Sustainability requires both change and persistence.
||4. Sustainability is maintained by relationships among a nested set of adaptive cycles arranged as a dynamic hierarchy in space and time-the panarchy.|
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