2004/04 Being Social Systems: Awareness and Enactment; IFSR Conversation in Fuschl

Submitted by daviding on Sat, 04/27/2019 - 14:48


David Ing

The proceedings for the IFSR Conversation 2004 were subsequently published in 2005.


This paper is a summary of the processes and outcomes of a Conversation held in Fuschl, Austria from April 18 to 23, 2004. It was part of a larger meeting sponsored by the International Federation for Systems Research, which is held every two years. Five teams were involved in separate Conversations this meeting.

This Fuschl Conversation continued a theme that was begun at the 2000 meeting. Its intent was to build upon and further the possibilities for social systems design, which is the core theme of the Conversations as introduced by Bela H. Banathy. (The Conversations were developed as an alternative to conferences, where typically a great deal of information is presented but little true knowledge is developed or gained amongst participants.)

While the goals of social systems design through Conversation are admirable, the systems communities as a whole have yet to articulate any meaningful and coherent understanding of human social systems, as such. Efforts to affect systems, from family units to international economic and political systems, tend to borrow from an array of disciplines for theory and insight, but typically fallshort or fail at the point of implementation.

The goal of this Conversation team was to continue to explore human social systems specifically, including the emerging realm of “virtual” systems, in an effort to understand how we as individuals participate in them (consciously or not) and to search for means by which we might affect them purposefully and positively.

The conversation began around the triggering question, “How are we social systems?” Ultimately, human social systems only exist to the degree that we, as humans, perpetuate them through our participation. Most of our activities on any given day, though, involve habitual routines to which we pay little attention. It would seem that changing them should require little effort – that we could simply choose to act differently. Just being aware of our actions, much less how they fit into the social systems of which we are parts, though, is more difficult and complex than might be assumed.

An agreed understanding at the beginning was that the point of the Conversation was not the debate of theories, or even the building of theory per se, but an increased awareness of how we create and participate in social systems. While the team encountered all of the mental / rational / theoretical difficulties in understanding social systems that would be expected, in the end we used the opportunity of Fuschl to speak from our own personal experiences. In other settings, we might have focused more on "model-building", as that type of knowledge is more transportable or replicable to external parties, but since we had the luxury of a week to experience "becoming" a social system, we took advantage of that.


Gary S. Metcalf, Charles Francois, David Hawk, David Ing, Marilyn Metcalf and Guenther Ossimitz, "Being Social Systems: Awareness and Enactment", in Proceedings of the Twelfth IFSR Conversation, (G. Chroust, C. Hofer, C. Hoyer editors), Institute for Systems Engineering and Automation, University of Linz, SEA-SR-0, April 2004.