Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Remembering Doug McDavid

Doug McDavidThe news that Doug McDavid — my friend, colleague, and one of the original cofounders of the Coevolving Innovations web site in 2006 — had passed, first came through mutual IBM contacts.  More details subsequently showed up on LinkedIn from Mike McClintock.

Doug left us on May 9, while working at his desk, likely in the very earliest hours of the morning. His wife Carleen, accustomed to his habit of disappearing into intense all-nighters, expected to get him to pay a bit of attention to breakfast. Instead, she found him at peace amid his books and his papers.

I left a response to that posting.

Doug McDavid was in my path towards systems thinking. He was the first person that I had met, who had a copy and read Living Systems by James Grier Miller. This came from his studies when systems were still active at San Jose State University. I’m not sure, but I seen to recall that Bela H. Banathy was an instructor there.

Pattern language, form language, general systems theory, R-theory

One of the challenges with the development of pattern languages is the cross-appropriation of approaches of techniques from one domain (i.e. built physical environments) into others (e.g. software development, social change).

The distinction between pattern language and form language is made by Nikos Salingaros.

Design in architecture and urbanism is guided by two distinct complementary languages: a pattern language, and a form language.

The pattern language contains rules for how human beings interact with built forms — a pattern language codifies practical solutions developed over millennia, which are appropriate to local customs, society, and climate.

A form language, on the other hand, consists of geometrical rules for putting matter together. It is visual and tectonic, traditionally arising from available materials and their human uses rather than from images. Different form languages correspond to different architectural traditions, or styles. The problem is that not all form languages are adaptive to human sensibilities. Those that are not adaptive can never connect to a pattern language. Every adaptive design method combines a pattern language with a viable form language, otherwise it inevitably creates alien environments.  [Salingaros, 2014]

How do Systems Changes become natural practice?

The 1995 article by Spinosa, Flores & Dreyfus on “Disclosing New Worlds” was assigned reading preceding the fourth of four lectures for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University.  In previous years, this topic was a detail practically undiscussed, as digging into social theory and the phenomenology following Heidegger is deep.  Peter Jones and I are fans of ideas expanded into the 1999 book. I was privileged to visit personally with Fernando Flores in Berkeley in 2012, as I was organizing the ISSS 2012 meeting.  Contextualizing this body of work for a university course led into correlated advances in situated learning and communities of practice.

A preface to the lecture included The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, and revisiting Change as Three Steps to clarify what Kurt Lewin did and did not write.

The agenda was in four sections. In the timebox available, the lecture covered the first two:

  • A. Situated Learning + History-making
    • Legitimate Peripheral Participation + Practices (Lave, Wenger)
    • Skill Acquisition + Disclosing New Worlds (Dreyfus, Spinosa)
  • B. Commitment + Language-Action Perspective
    • Conversations for Action (Flores)
    • Deliverables, procedures, capacities, relationships

Whom, when + where do Systems Changes situate?

Covering practical wisdom (phronesis), the third of four lectures again was compressed for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University. The students in the part-time session on February 7 extended their discussion period longer than those in the full-time session on February 5. I again jumped slides in the sequence to stay within the timebox.

The agenda was in four sections:

  • [preamble] Episteme, Techne, Phronesis (reordered)
    • Intellectual Pursuits (Rethinking Systems Thinking)
    • Systems changes as situated c.f. ideal-seeking
  • A. Value(s), Judgment, Soft Systems Thinking
    • Appreciative Systems (Vickers, Checkland)
    • Policy, impacts and consequences of systems changes
  • B. Service Systems (c.f. Production Systems)
    • Science of Service Systems (Spohrer, Kijima)
    • Material-products c.f. information-services as systems changes
  • C. Socio-Technical Systems Perspective
    • Tavistock Institute + Legacy (Trist, Emery, Ramirez)
    • Coproduction and design principles guiding systems changes

The web video can be streamed on Youtube.

Copies of the video files are downloadable for disconnected viewing.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM
February 7
(1h21m)
[20200207_OCADU_Ing HD m4v]
(HD 2477kbps 1.6GB)
[20200207_OCADU_Ing nHD m4v]
(nHD 1344kps 866MB)
[20200207_OCADU_Ing HD webm]
(HD VP8 375kbps 349MB)
[20200207_OCADU_Ing nHD webm]
(nHD VP8 139kbps 206MB)

Why (Intervene in) Systems Changes?

With a focus on “ecological systems”, the second of four lectures planned for the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University proceeded as a timeboxed presentation:  targeting 40 minutes of content (skipping slides to stay within time constraints), followed by 10 minutes of discussion.  Since the slides are rich with content and links to sources, students were directed to pay attention to what I was saying, over trying to read the slides projected behind me. 

The agenda was in four sections:

  • [preamble] Errors, Attention and Traps (Ecological Understanding)
    • Systems Changes Learning Circle (Bateson, Gibson, Ingold)
    • (Resistances to) Changing as primary system of interest
  • A. Socio-Ecological Systems Perspective
    • Tavistock Institute (Emery, Trist)
    • Organization as primary system of interest
  • B. (Social-) Ecological Systems  + Panarchy
    • Stockholm Resilience Centre (Holling, Walker, Peterson)
    • Ecology as primary system of interest
  • C. The Ecosystem Approach
    • Resilience Alliance (Waltner-Toews, Kay)
    • Sustainable development project as primary system of interest

Online, the video is available on Youtube for streaming.

Viewers who prefer to watch video on a disconnected device can download a video file.

Video H.264 MP4 WebM

Are Systems Changes Different from System + Change?

The Systems Changes Learning Circle has met at least every 3 weeks over the past year.  As part of an hour+ lecture to introduce systems thinking, students in the Systemic Design course in the Master’s program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University were immersed in questions where we’ve focused our attention, complemented by background into traditional foundational materials.  An audio recording has now been matched up with presentation slides, so that learners outside the classroom can partially share in the experience.

This lecture begins with the rising interest in “systems change”, that is related to “theory of change” from funders of social innovation programs.  From there, the lecture aims to recast (speak in a different way) and reify (make some specified ideas more prominent) an understanding of systems thinking.

The presentation was overprepared — we can’t predict how engaged students will be on the ideas, before their brains are full.  Of 55 slides, we stopped on slide 37.  For streaming, the video is accessible on Youtube. (with a 6-minute excerpt on the Luoyang Bay abalone farms from the documentary Watermark, by Edward Burtynsky, removed).

Viewers who prefer to watch video on a disconnected device can download a video file.

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