I’ve been approaching the development of an emerging science of service systems from a background of the systems sciences. Describing and designing service systems — not only in business, but also in the public sector — includes the evolution and development both of human organization and of technology. A large body of knowledge on social systems science was developed in the post-war industrial age, e.g. research conducted by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (1941-1989). This work has been categorized in three perspectives:
- the socio-psychological perspective;
- the socio-technical perspective; and
- the socio-ecological perspective.
The socio-ecological perspective emerged while facing cases where “von Bertalanffy’s concept of open systems” was not sufficient to deal with the degree of change in the environment.
We gradually realized that if we were usefully to contribute to the problems that faced the cases mentioned above we had to extend our theoretical framework. In particular, we had to discard the assumption that systems or individuals could not know their environments and the unipolar focus on the system, or individual as system. In a positive sense we had to theorize about the evolution of the environment and the consequences of this evolution for the constituent systems. (Emery 1997, pp. 38-39)
In 1967, Fred Emery summarized needs that the social sciences should have prepared to meet over the next thirty years. More than a decade beyond that, we now have the Internet, globalization, and the prospect of an instrumented, interconnected and intelligent “smarter planet”.
The bridge in social ecology from the Tavistock legacy to current times is made in the 2008 volume, Business Planning for Turbulent Times , edited by Rafael Ramírez, John W. Selsky, and Kees van der Heijden. The collection of papers is a culmination of the Oxford Futures Forum 2005, with a focus on the intersection between social ecology and scenario practice.
… we consider the future through the spectacles of the scenario approach. While we do that, we reflect on our practice in the light of the perspective offered by a school of thought in the social and organizational sciences call social ecology, in particular its description of the ‘turbulent environment’. We will show how scenarios and social ecology inform each other …. [p. 4]
This volume doesn’t directly address service systems. However, the foundations from social ecology provoke some consideration for service systems. Reshuffling the sequencing of the chapters, I found myself reflecting on on the following five ideas:
- A. The problem: an addiction to prediction
- B. Sustaining organizational systems in turbulent environments
- C. Techniques for envisioning future systems
- D. Changing systems
- E. Shared value and engagement
The book has strong experience reports on scenario practices that may interest other readers. I’m particularly focused on how advances in the understanding of social ecology can advance an emerging science of service systems. Let’s expound on the five ideas.
A. The problem: an addiction to prediction
In 1965, Howard Perlmutter suggested that a theory and practice of social architecture was needed, to build indispensable institutions.
One indication of an institution’s indispensability is to be found in the attempts by individuals, groups, and other institutions in the environment to preserve it when it risks failure or begins to be ineffective — when the threat of its disappearance becomes actual (Selznick, 1957). [p. 2-3]
In addition to these environmentally oriented definitions, we may add that an effective or viable institution creates conditions in which the competencies of its personnel are well utilized, and the positive values applied to structures related to its clients are also applied to structure related to its members.
These conditions lead to our definition of social architecture as pertaining to the building of institutions that are considered indispensable both by their members and by their clientele, and that embody positive values regarding persons ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. [pp. 2-3]
Essentially, the question is whether an institution — which could be a service system or part of service system — deserves to continue to exist, particularly as the world changes. The structure of an institution (as a system) comes with a history or legacy. The functions and purpose of an institution (system), in the face of a changing environment, may be altered reactively or proactively … or become obsolete to external constituents.
Reading the postscript first, Angela Wilkinson describes the challenge in the “learning ‘with’ rather than ‘about’ the future.
The inherent uncertainty of the future is its greatest promise, but tends to invoke the darkest fears of key decision-makers. Despite embracing the rhetoric of an uncertain world, key decision-makers still want certainty. In response, there has been a tendency to confuse certainty-seeking with accuracy-seeking, and, in turn, accuracy with precision. [p. 275]
The result is an addiction to prediction. This addition is in turn fed by the combination of … the global spread of adversarial legalism, the increasing emphasis on evidence-based policy, the hubris of experts who drastically overestimate their own knowledge, and overconfidence in the benefits of qualitative approaches to risk management, often enabled through sophisticated computer modelling and a belief that quantitative analysis generates better truths about the future than more qualitative enquiry. [p. 276]
Organizations — particularly large ones — have and often enjoy momentum. Changing course in a world of high uncertainty has risks that the transformed (or reformed) system could be even less productive (or in more trouble) than before. Understanding risks is not, however, the same as avoiding risk. Even with full participation of experts with the community of interest, we can’t foretell the future. It’s human arrogance that gives us misplaced confidence.
B. Sustaining organizational systems in turbulent environments
The ideas about turbulent environments (and beyond) are most directly addressed:
- in Chapter 2, “Historical and Conceptual Overview” by Ramirez, Selsky and van der Heijden; and
- in Chapter 9, “To What Extent do Venezuela’s Causal Textures Allow Scenarios to Work towards Social Dialogue?”, by Martin Thomas.
In Chapter 2, Ramirez, Selsky and van der Heijden trace go back to the origins of causal texture theory in 1965 (that led to the later larger description of social ecology).
…causal texture theory, which Emery and Trist launched for the first time in their seminal 1965 paper… developed a taxonomy of causal textures of environments within which organizations aim to survive and thrive. The one they drew particular attention to was called ‘turbulence’. Turbulence in colloquial English describes conditions that are uncertain, complex, and changing unpredictably and often quickly. In their paper, Emery and Trist (1965) defined ‘turbulence’ in a much more precise way that could refer to organizational environments. [p. 18]
The organizational challenge in turbulence is sustainability of the social system.
Causal texture theory deals with systems trying to survive and thrive in their environments in a sustainable way. The inside (a system) and the outside (the environment of that system) ‘co-evolve’ in the sense that systems and their environments mutually and systematically influence each other, and they proceed into the future together (Selsky et al. 2007). System and environment both have links between variables that exist within them and links with each other. Several interacting systems. their shared environments and the links that connect them together are defined as a ‘field’. [pp. 18-19]
Causal texture is an emergent property of the whole field and concerns the behaviour of all systems within it. The causal texture of a field sets conditions on how these systems and their shared environments transact (Selsky et al, 2007, p74). [p. 19]
Interested readers should read Ramirez, Selsky and van der Heijden (2008), or look up the original Emery and Trist (1965) article. Here’s a brief excerpt to refresh those familiar with the ideas.
The differences among the four ideal types that Emery and Trist (1965) developed depended upon how systems in the field (systems they termed ‘1’) and their surrounding environment (which they termed ‘2’) are linked. They were particularly interested in links they called ‘law-like` (i.e. links driven by a logic that pertains over a period of time). [p. 19]
|Type of causal texture||Structure of field||Most salient connections||Characteristics of successful coping response strategy in the type|
|I: Placid Random||Resources, goals and noxiants are randomly distributed in the field. ‘Perfect market’ conditions.||L11||
|II: Placid Clustered||Resources, goals and/or noxiants are located in advantageous (‘high ground’) position.
Conditions of imperfect competition with market failure.
|Ill: Disturbed Reactive||Oligopoly
Similar organizations in head-to-head competition.
More L21, L12 exchanges than in types I & II.
|IV: Turbulent||The whole common shared ground is in motion.
L22 becomes uncertain and changing, taking on a life of its own; distinctions between L12-L21 and L22 begin to break down.
|L11+ L21+ L12+L22;
Distinctions between 1 and 2 begin to break down.
What do the four types of causal texture tell us? Mistaking a turbulent causal texture (i.e. changes in the external context compounding changes in the organizational field) for a disturbed reactive causal texture (i.e. changes in the field impacted by organization) means that resources expended to defend against immediate issues (e.g. competitors) may be wasted in the context of a larger scale (e.g. industry or societal theatres).
[….] The logical conclusion of conflating turbulence with competitive challenges is that ‘the more turbulent the environment, the more aggressive must be the firm’s response’ (Ansoff, 1988, p173). Causal texture theory, on the other hand, suggests that ‘such “proactive” responses may produce highly problematic unintended consequences in extended social fields’ (Selsky et al, 2007, p77). [p. 23]
The 21st century phenomenon of globalization is coincident with turbulence. Businesses too focused on local and immediate threats (as well as governments aiming to satisfy only their direct constituents) can miss threats and opportunities on a more extended horizon. Collaboration is an alternative strategy for turbulence.
[….] in a field with a turbulent causal texture, systems are advised to collaborate in order to identify a set of values that they can institutionalize to create common ground. At a large-scale level, one can argue that this is what the process of civilization has done throughout history. At a lower level, it entails creating inter-organizational collaborative ‘island’ arrangements that can keep turbulence outside (e.g. Normann and Ramirez, 1993, and the ‘value constellations’). [pp. 23-24]
The “new economy”– with shifts from products to services, and from material to information — has contextual shifts that some organizations have chosen to embrace, while others have chosen to discount or ignore. Inter-organizational arrangements and “value constellations” characterize service systems that warrant deeper inquiry.
The 1965 Emery & Trist article has become a standard reading in graduate-level organization theory classes. In Chapter 9, Martin Thomas describes extensions of the four types by Baburoglu with a fifth type, plus a transitional state.
Emery and Trist (1965) suggested a typology organizational environments that identified four ‘ideal types’, approximations to which exist in the ‘real world’ of most organizations. They gave them descriptive names and assigned them codes numbered I to IV in ascending order of disturbance. McCann and Selsky extended this in 1984 to include hyper-turbulence a transitional step to the vortical environment (Baburoglu, 1988), now widely accepted as type V. Table 9.1 sets out a summary of this framework. [p. 149]
|Type||Environment||Characteristics||Successful strategy||Organizations||Learning consequences|
(Emery and Trist, 1965)
|Economists classical market.
|Tactics (= strategy)
‘Optimal strategy is just doing one’s best on purely local basis‘
|Distributed||Optimal position is learned by trial and error|
(Emery and Trist, 1965)
|Economist’s imperfect competition.
|Strategy dominates over tactics.
Keys are distinctive competencies and ‘optimal location’
|Central control and coordination grow central hierarchies||Knowledge of the environment becomes critical to success|
(Emery and Trist, 1965)
|Economist’s oligopolistic market.
More than one big player seeking same pot of resources.
|‘Operations’ (campaigns of tactical initiatives) between strategy and tactics.
What is key is the capacity to move more or less at will to make and meet competitive challenge
|Flexibility needs decentralization.
Premium on quality and speed of decision at peripheral points.
|‘One has to know when not to fight to the death’.
Dynamic stability is obtained by a coming to terms between competitors
(Emery and Trist, 1965)
|Not just the interaction of organizations: ‘The ground is in motion’.
Increased reliance on R&D to build learning capability interdependency between economic and other social spheres
|Values become ”power fields’ overriding both strategy and tactics.
Effective emerging values create ethical codes that enable simplified action to diverging causal strands.
‘Institutionalization’ (embodying society’s values) becomes strategic objective
|Individual organizations cannot adapt alone.Collaborative relationships between dissimilar organizations.
Organizational matrix helps to attenuate the effects of turbulence.
Values must be shared between all parts of the matrix for this to be effective
Changes in values take about one generation to develop
(McCann and Selsky, 1984)
|Partitioned ‘enclaves’ attract scarce resources.
‘Vortices’ are left without resources or skills needed to adapt to the environment
|Adaptive capacity to deal with the ‘relevant uncertainty’ is the determinant of short-term success (enclave formation).
Social triage — deliberate partitioning of the field
|Field partitioned by triage policy into enclaves and vortices, with minimal interaction between them||Decoupling of interdependencies.
Dysfunctional vortex relationships threatening to affect enclaves
|Failure of active adaptation.
Reversion to maladaptation:
|Double-loop learning to develop new skills and more resources are needed for long-term removal of vortices.
Collective and external strategy is required, and, possibly, temporary or permanent surrender
|Apparently sealed off from the environment, but not really.
Parts effectively immobile each other
|Decline of vortices depends on external forces, as internal adaptive capacity is inadequate.
Surrender may lead to re-emergence
… In hyper-turbulent conditions, adaptive capacity is key and collective strategy proves too demanding a challenge for the scarce resources. Consequently, social enclaves form from among the ‘haves’ and social vortices from among the ‘have nots’. In the highly challenging conditions of the vortical environment in type V, internal resources are not enough to break out of the enclaves. Baburoglu (1988) suggests that the way out is for the actors in the field to develop new skills and bring in resources from outside the the enclave(s) in order to address the situation with a collective strategy that includes all actors plus outsiders. However, according to Baburoglu (1988), there may be no escape from type V other than surrendering to the possibility of collapse. [pp. 151-152]
In service systems, the hyper-turbulent environment sees “enclaves” — or subsystems — forming, so that the matching of needs and supplies of resources has broken down. The production or provisioning of services, at the scale of the whole, may be challenged as one “enclave” has its needs fulfilled while others don’t. In the vortical environment, institutions and service systems may persist, but their relevancy or ability to fulfill their original purposes may have been lost. Other chapters in this volume aim for approaches to avoid, if not preclude, these types of traps.
C. Techniques for envisioning future systems
If we accept that businesses / institutions / service systems can and should be designed for turbulent environments, how do we do that? There’s entire books written on scenarios (e.g. by the Oxford Futures Forum), so contributions from of approaches from the social ecology community are worth considering. Some are described:
- in Chapter 3, “How Do Scenario Practices and Search Conferences Complement Each Other?”, by Jaime Jiménez, and
- in Chapter 4, “Reflecting on Scenario Practice: The Contribution of a Soft Systems Perspective”, by Trudi Lang and Lynn Allen.
Readers specifically interested in search conferences can refer to books on that topic (e.g. by Emery and Purser). In Chapter 3, Jaime Jiménez contrasts scenario planning and search conferences on focuses (i.e. on one actor versus one issue) and futures (i.e. multiple possible versus one desired):
Although both scenario planning and SC are planning methods aimed at addressing, containing and ultimately, reducing environmental turbulence, a fundamental difference is that scenario planning focuses on one actor (e.g. an executive, a policy-maker or a company) with the aim of helping this actor best address the turbulence it faces, whereas the SC focuses on one issue, upon which different stakeholders try to find a common ground from which to build a desired future — hence, mitigating turbulence. [pp. 40-41]
However. the major difference between scenario planning and search conference refers to the fact that the construction of scenarios is the visualization of possible futures according to what we have now and the drivers detected in the environment, whereas the search conference produces one desired future to be approached gradually in the next 10 to 15 years. Scenario planning can he thought of as a set of reference projections of what can happen in the future. The product of a search conference is, on the one hand, the image of a future desired by all the stakeholders present in the conference and, on the other, a set of courses of action that stakeholders will carry out to approach the desired future. [p. 41]
The above passage includes the term “reference projections”, which is better understood by the social system scientists than the scenarists. Ackoff (1981) provides a definition:
A reference projection is an extrapolation of a performance characteristic of a system from its recent past into the future, assuming no significant change in the behavior of either the system or its environment. Such a projection is, in effect, a glimpse of the future that implied by continuation of the system’s recent history. [p. 98]
The foundations of system design — for applications both in analysis of current state and the (mutual) future state — comes through to search conferences. Opening up scenario work beyond a single organization to a wider variety of constituents may call for extended methods to encourage convergence.
The soft systems methodology (SSM) has been applied for some decades (e.g. Checkland 1981 (revised 1999), Checkland and Scholes 1990 (revised 1999). In Chapter 4, Lang and Allen position scenario practice as a “hard systems thinking:
To be a ‘systems thinker’ is to recognize the need to give an account of the world as a perceived hierarchy of systems. It is also to ‘set some constructed abstract wholes (often called ‘systems models’) against the perceived real world in order to learn about it’ (Checkland and Scholes, 1990, p25).
Systems thinking is familiar to many scenario practitioners, particularly in their quest to understand deep, systemic changes in the environment. However. to date, much of the usefulness of a systems approach to scenario practice has come from a ‘hard’ perspective that assumes systems exist in the real world and that they can be described objectively. Hard systems tools used by scenario practitioners include causal loop diagrams that are used to explore driving forces of change and scenario logics (see, for example, van der Heijden, 2005). [p. 47]
While ‘hard’ systems thinking tools have their value, a ‘soft’ systems perspective makes another contribution by proposing that human activity systems (a series of purposeful activities that exhibits emergence) may exist in the real world. but they exist only as ‘notional systems’ — that is, they only make sense through the perspectives. in the sense of worldviews (or Weltanschauungen) of the persons describing them. Therefore, by focusing on perspectives or worldviews. SSM offers an ‘organized way of tackling perceived problematical (social) situations’ through learning (Checkland and Poulter, 2006, pxv-xvii). Learning occurs when individuals bring their different worldviews to the table, come to appreciate those differences and develop a new shared meaning and agree on ways forward through what Checkland calls ‘accommodation’. Checkland (1999) suggests that the enquiry process itself can be organized as a learning system. [p. 48]
Trudi Lang and Lynn Allen describe a 2003 Deep Conversation in Australia with Peter Checkland and Kees van der Heijden that was summarized in a report, and seems to have evolved (by 2009) into the Ariadne program. They suggest two key systems concepts that can inform scenario practice:
Boundaries as judgements
Scenario practitioners distinguish between two levels of the environment. The first is called the transaction is is that aspect of the environment that managers feel the organization has influence over and in which it can be a significant player. The second, the contextual environment, is that part of the environment that manages believe the organization has no influence over …. Scenarios then focus on appreciating and illuminating possible developments in the contextual environment by mapping the major driving forces of change that could influence the future transactional environment.
Thus, scenario practitioners must make decisions about where to draw the boundary between the contextual and transactional environments before they can develop scenarios. [….] [p. 52]
Conceptualizing the contextual environment as a subject domain
The contextual environment in scenario practice is by definition a shared environment among a set of organizations that is delineated by an issue or subject (e.g. superannuation). We would like to suggest that there are times when it is useful for organization so think of their contextual environment as a subject domain and to develop scenarios in reference to this domain rahter than more directly to the organization. One time, in particular, would be developing scenarios for what Morgan (1997) refers to as ‘egocentric’ organizations. [pp. 52-53]
Such organizations, says Morgan (1997, p259), have a ‘fixed notion of who they are or what they can be and are determined to impose or sustain that identity at all costs’. This leads them to overemphasize the importance of themselves while underplaying the significance of the wider system of relations in which they exist.’ This means, as Morgan points out, that they potentially miss important environmental changes. [p. 53]
They then continue to suggest five main contributions of SSM to scenario practice:
- conceptual modelling (including CATWOE: customers, actors, transformation processes, Weltanschauung/worldview, owner and environmental constraints);
- developing scenario narratives with CATWOE;
- separating the process subsystem (owned by the enquirer or facilitator) from the content subsystem (owed by the client);
- appreciating the social and political context (with roles, norms, values and power); and
- reflective scenario practice, with continuous redesign of their enquiry and a sense of which techniques work in which contexts.
In service systems — particularly in initiatives led by systems engineers coming from a technical perspective — including social and human elements as well as environmental uncertainty into the design space may introduce unwelcome ambiguity into the process, but may produce more robust results.
D. Changing systems
Interests into social ecology and scenario practice generally aren’t just academic, but instead associated with change. This theme is well represented in many chapters:
- in Chapter 5, “New forms of coherence for the Social Engagement of the Social Scientist: The Theory and Facilitation of of Organzational Change from the Perspective of the Emery-Trist Paradigm and the Ilya Priogine School of Thought”, by Mary Bernard;
- in Chapter 7, “Swarm Planning: A New Design Paradigm Dealing with the Long-Term Problems Associated with Turbulence”, by Rob E. Roggema;
- in Chapter 10, “Managing Disruptive Change and Turbulence through Continuous Change Thinking and Scenarios”, by John W. Selsky and Joseph E. McCann; and
- in Chapter 12, “From Causal Thinking to Predetermined Elements to New Realities in Scenario Thinking and Practice”, by George Burt.
The power of systems theory — crossing from physical systems to social systems — is brought to bear by Mary Bernard. In Chapter 5, she provides a concise description of the work of Ilya Prigogine, that led to the 1997 Nobel prize in chemistry.
Prigogine (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984; Prigogine, 1996) presents a comprehensive theory of change that recognizes that most of reality is in a process of change and disorder as opposed to being orderly and stable. Central to this theory is the idea that order arises spontaneously out of chaos through a process of self-organization — islands of order in a sea of change. He considers that we live in a multifaceted world where there are some processes that are deterministic and reversible, and others that are irreversible with various degrees of uncertainty, randomness and fluctuation. Rather than being viewed as an exception to order and reversibility, randomness and irreversibility are beginning to be perceived as closer to normality.
The body of Prigogine’s work addresses two primary themes. The first theme is the apparent contradiction between two ways of seeing the world, both current in science, between what could be called the ‘static paradigm of dynamics’ and, on the other hand, the ‘evolutionary paradigm of thermo-dynamics’. The first view considers reality expressible in terms of laws of nature, valid for all times, while the second view considers reality essentially related to and dependent upon time.
The second theme is the relationship between order and disorder. One view paints a picture of a world which evolves from order to disorder, with structures crumbling and everything eventually returning to dust. This is the sort of world described by the laws of thermodynamics and chemistry. Biology and social evolution. however, provide an opposing picture: the simple evolving into the complex. [p. 68]
Bernard blends a reading of Prigogine with Emery Trist, in the sociological paradigms of Burrell & Morgan. This are described in a series of tables, with the following summary:
|Burrell-Morgan social science framework||Majority of conventional organizational theory||Prigogine’s theories on chaos and self-organization||Emery-Trist systems paradigm and related work|
|Ontology assumptions||<- Towards
|Epistemology assumptions||<- Towards
|Human nature||<- Towards
|Respect, not control
|Methodology assumptions||<- Towards
|Intellectual tradition||<- Towards
|A new position
|A new position
|Societal nature||<- Towards
|Order out of chaos
|Order out of chaos
Source: Adapted from Bernard (1999), p440
This understanding of science leads us to ask about the value of chaos.
Many contemporary chaos theorists tend to present a view of chaos that is value free. Prigogine is not one of them; he, like Trist, adds values — and hope. Prigogine’s fundamental insights bring forth a new culture that is relevant across disciplines. Prigogine describes himself as having always been concerned with the ethical problems of human freedom (Prigogine, 1996). Similarly, the work of Eric Trist and many of his colleagues is value laden. ln particular, Trist’s work reflects great concern for the betterment of humankind, its organization and its environment. The articulation of affinity between the Trist-Emery systems paradigm and the Prigogine school of thought entails an ideology as much as an understanding of turbulent conditions. [pp. 82-83]
Talking about systems — and service systems, in particular — the layman may initially take a static perspective, assuming an equilibrium state and order. In a different view of chaos, a system can still exist and described without the assumption of order.
In order to prepare society, with its endless interactions, for the future, it is necessary to bring the regional spatial design to a higher level of complexity that it is able to adapt better to future and unforeseen changes. In the long term, a region of higher complexity is better capable of adjusting itself to a new circumstances than an inert one. In order to reach this higher level of complexity, new crucial interventions must be discovered that can change the entire regional spatial system and make it more robust. A new design paradigm, which focuses on these interventions, is therefore required. The new design paradigm can be called swarm planning (an analogy of a swarm of birds). [p. 117]
A swarm is transforming constantly, influenced by external impules and directed by one a few, very simple rules. The swarm is changing its pattern suddenly by apparent impulse: it alters its form and direction. The question is which interventions bring the swarm to a higher degree of complexity, which can be characterized as above average and which as ‘multilayered thinking’. [p. 118]
Roggema suggests that changing the approach, area by area, can be done to “steer the swarm”. For a service system, the result at a large scale might appear chaotic, but self-organized order could emerge at the local levels.
We suggest there are three broad kinds of disruption — operational, competitive and contextual (Bouchikhi and Kimberly, 2003). Managers need to cope with each kind in distinctive ways. [p. 170]
Operational disruption is the normal fluctuation in demand, supply and price for an organization’s goods and services over time. This type of disruption occurs in placid environment textures. [….] [pp. 170-171]
Competitive disruption is characterized by jostling for superior position and sustainable advantage among players within and even between industries (see Bower and Christensen, 1995). this kind of disruption occurs in disturbed-reactive environmental textures. [….] [p. 171]
Contextual disruption is less predictable as it falls in the category of ‘unknowns that we don’t know’. As such, it poses potentially damaging consequences much more broadly — but also potential opportunities. These are the truly surprising exogenous changes that buffet all firms in an industry and disturb their well-crafted plans and strategies. This kind of disruption occurs in turbulent environmental textures; they are intrusions of the new and unexpected L22 relationships into the shared transactional space of organizations. [p. 171-172]
In the 2006 survey on “Agility and Resilience in the Face of Continuous Change” for the American Management Association and Human Resource Institute, McCann, Lee, Morrison, Selsky & Vickers found that managers recognized increased frequency of disruptions, and most saw them as exploitable opportunities. To prepare for this Selsky and McCann recommend a shift in perspective.
In sum, shifting mental models from episodic to continuous change leads to several understandings that can help managers to cope with high levels of contextual disruption:
- An awareness that one’s strategic situation is (merely?) a part of fields (i.e. whole systems in environments) that are emerging over time. In a turbulent environment, contextual forces intrude upon the shared transaction space of firms int he same industry or value constellations. These forces drive the emergence of fields.
- An awareness that fields are in continuous change and that longing for, or trying to return to, a state of normalcy or stability is future. Here the strategic task is to improve effective action [….]
- An awareness that collaboration endeavours with other organizations must be a much larger part of strategy. This is in order to have much of a chance of dealing effectively with contextual disruption.
In thinking about service systems, not only do the operations of functions need to be more agile, but the mindsets of managers of the system need to shift.
Wack suggested that within the environment, predetermined elements could be identified as:
- events that are already in the pipeline and will emerge in time;
- a series of interrelated actions that will together be co-producing a particular outcome; and/or
- inertial forces within the wider contextual environment, which are slow to change. [p. 212]
In a case study, Burt describes predetermined elements as generative (reinforcing) and/or negative (balancing) feedback loops that help to capture and structure managers perceptions of contextual elements and their behaviour in the environment. This resulted in the identification of a new situation not immediately obvious from the current state.
In a systems view of the future, planners can anticipate changes resulting from decisions made today, yet still recognize uncertainty. In service systems, the impact of both emergent and planned changes should be taken into account.
E. Shared values and engagement
Experiences involving constituents towards co-creating a future can inform the practice of establishing a shared vision. This theme is described in a series of chapters:
- in Chapter 6, “Turbulence in the Industrial Agricultural Sector: A Scenario Analysis”, by Kees van der Heijden;
- in Chapter 8, “Designing More Effective Political Governance of Turbulent Fields: The Case of Healthcare”, by Niklas Arvidsson;
- in Chapter 11, “Scenarios that Provide Clarity in Addressing Turbulence”, by Rafael Ramirez;
- in Chapter 13, “Conceptions of Fairness and Forming the Common Ground”, by Shirin Elahi; and
- in Chapter 14, “Turbulence and Corporate Social Responsibility: Is There a Role for Scenarios?” by Andromache Athanasopoulou.
In Chapter 6, Kees van der Heijden in Chapter 6 describes a case about agriculture in India, resulting in four scenarios:
In summary, each of the four scenarios explores a different value set. In broad terms:
- valley: justice-based ethics sacrificing wealth for equity;
- edge: utilitarian ethics sacrificing equity for self-reliance and personal choice;
- mountains: rights-based ethics centralizing power in the light of major catastrophe;
- hills: communitarian ethics decentralizing individual responsibility for the joint project.
The results of the scenario project strongly suggests that, following Emery and Trist’s argument, Indian society will eventually evolve a set of institutionalized behavoural codes based on traditional Indian values, but remoulded for the global environment of the 21st century. [p. 98]
If/when a similar approach is taken with service systems, there are two implications: (1) the description or understanding of a system may or may not converge of a single worldview, given the variety of backgrounds to a conversation and/or differing values associated with the “conventional wisdom”, and (2) even if concrete elements of a future system attain an accord, the underlying values and subjective interpretations of parties will still be at play. In a changing world, the ongoing challenge will be to maintain coherence among the parties as a system naturally has to adapt in response.
In Chapter 8, Niklas Arvidsson sees the inclusion of more stakeholder groups as a way of improving governance in setting policy. Scenarios can improve collaboration, but may also result in challenges if not conducted properly.
For many people, a drawback when using scenarios is that they increase anxiety since they underline that there are no easy answers to a contentious (Rittel and Webber, 1973) or complicated (Ackoff, 1974) situation in a turbulent context. Since scenarios may not single out one ideal and preferable policy, creating, instead, a learning process through which improved policy-making may emerge, they do cause anxiety. […] [p. 138]
I argue that future-oriented stakeholder engagement may improve political governance’s ability to respond to Ostrom’s (1990, p7) call for studies that ‘address the question of how to enhance the capabilities of those involved to change the constraining rules of the game to lead to outcomes other than remorseless tragedies’. Instead of being stuck in a prisoners dilemma where a superior power — whether it is the district attorney or the policy maker — sets the rules of the game, my chapter aims to describe a policy approach in which concerned individuals may actually co-create the rules of the game before (or simultaneously) playing it. [p. 138-139]
In a case of designing a healthcare field in Sweden, idealized design was a tool to stimulate ideas, with scenarios used to identify restrictions on the path from the current state to the future state.
A service system not only has a current state — and future state, as many with an interest in redesign will emphasize — but also a history. Governing transitions from the past to the present to the future is often an art. Over time, there may be some questions as to whether the system is maintaining its identity and fulfilling its original purpose. Governing through evolution is expected; governing through revolution should not be taken for granted.
In Chapter 11, Rafael Ramirez proposes clarity as an aesthetic in scenario work. Clarity can be a challenge, as understandability is often predicated on simplication, which is difficult (if not impossible) in turbulent environments.
Atlan (1991) had found that simplification works in addressing ‘complicated’ systems where components are known, and where relations among these can be mapped. The degree of complication in such systems had to do with how simply one could map or model the system in question — the more elements in the map or model, the more complicated the system. But Atlan discovered that such conditions are not found in the ‘complexity’ of turbulent conditions, where some components remain unknown; the relations among them remain hidden and/or changed; the dimensions of both components and the relations among them are contingent upon othe factors; causality is non-linear; and the systems the constitute are thus ‘messy’ (Ackoff, 1970) or ‘wicked’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973). [p. 188]
In a Singerian inquiring system, as described by C. West Churchman, the guarantor is progress. This means that an inquiry should continue until progress stops, i.e. we cease to learn more about the phenomenon or conditions. Ramirez makes a direct linkage between the design of inquiring systems and clarity:
Churchman (1979, p192) suggested that clarity should be considered to be an aesthetic category. [p. 190]
I have proposed that the measure of performance for scenario effectiveness rests on clarity. [p. 192]
Ramirez describes a 2002 workshop in which participants reflected on the aesthetics of scenario work. The purposes of scenario work were brainstormed, and then organized.
We then organized the clusters into a triangle that follows Vicker’s (1968) idea of the elements needed to make judgements — instrumental (action oriented to direct, conclude and close), coupling (creating relations and their norms) and appreciative (sensing what the context might hold in the future). [….] [p. 197]
We then returned to the original clustering of scenario purpose and attempted to distill what the scenario addressing that type of purpose would feel like for a participant — if aesthetic quality were the single most important purpose of a scenario intervention. [p. 199]
… one of the most experienced participants … [made a comment]: ‘I now really know why these people have been stuck. They are stuck in one of the clusters, and I must move them into another one if we are going to get their situation unblocked.’ [p. 199]
If a group of people are unable to reach an accord on their own, a facilitator may be introduced to mediate communications. That facilitator should generally try to remain neutral, with a focus of maintaining forward motion. The question of which direction or vector should be seen as “forward” should not be biased for any one party or another. If that direction is set as “clarity” — as opposed to convergence — the facilitator has a measure by which to guide his or her actions in the interests of the group. The parties to a conversation may or may not achieve an accord, but if clarity is achieved within the group, they may recognize areas where they “choose to disagree”.
How will we know when adequate effort has been put into the design of a service system? Clarity could be proposed as a major criterion for assessment. This could drive group interactions beyond the level of “facts”, to “interpretations”, and potentially to “values”.
In Chapter 13, Sharin Elahi provides a concise outline of ideas associated with fairness. In any group interaction, there are implicit — if not explicit — perceptions about whether the process and/or outcome going forward is fair. Turbulent environments can drive groups who previously have not had a motive to engage, towards working together towards attainment of a common ground.
… the formation of the common ground creates a climate of cooperation and social adaptability and thereby enhances the possibility of a positive response to … challenging environments. [p. 223]
Conceptions of fairness have long and deep roots in philosophy. The concise categorization of three (or more) doctrines guides thinking through what might be considered “fair”.
Fairness as we have come to understand it in the West falls into two basic categories. The first attends to method and the second to results. Procedural or process fairness is achieved when the method by which a decision is reached is fair, while outcome or substantive fairness is the result of a decision that is intrinsically a fair one. Undoubtedly, achieving outcome fairness is more desirable than achieving process fairness as the result is (generally) more important than the means. However, there are instances where no outcome will be fair for all parties …. [p. 226]
There are three major philosophical doctrines on which the concepts of fairness are based — equality, equity and priority ….
[….] With equity, resources (rewards such as honours, public property or profits) or burdens are meant to be distributed proportionally to relevant contributions (inputs). [p. 226]
[….] This implies that all parties should receive an equal share of rewards and burdens, irrespective of their needs, differing resources and contributions. [….] [p. 227]
Priority (compensatory or redistributive justice)
… most famously studied by Rawls (1972). It maintains that one cannot achieve fairness by using the system of equity between contributions and gains (which will usually rewards those already well endowed) until resources have been divided so as to improve the well-being of the worst-off members of society, up to a bare minimum level of well-being to meet basic human necessities. [….]
Other principles of fairness
Precedent has sometimes formed the basis for outcome fairness — and it is a particular feature of common law countries. [….] So-called super-fairness or envy-free distributions are based on the principle that no party should prefer the portion of another to his own (Baumol, 1987). [p. 228]
On the first category, of fair methods, the emphasis is on process:
Procedural fairness or fair process refers to the ability of all parties to take part in the decision-making process, and it concerns the methods for arriving at an acceptable decision in law. [p. 228]
[….] Many argue that even when a fair outcome cannot be achieved, a fair process will go a long way to ensure acceptance, linked to perceptions of respect and fair treatment (Lind and Tyler, 1988). [p. 229]
A most critical aspect of fair process is whether all stakeholders affected by, or who affect, the situation are represented in the process and that they have a genuine opportunity to participate. [p. 229]
[…] In order to be fair, all parties require an equal chance to formulate and agree upon these structures and codes. [….]
Discussion and decision
Open and frank discussion without repercussion is a feature of procedural fairness. In practice, this means ensuring that all parties are heard and multiple issues are part of an integrated whole … [p. 229]
Information and access to knowledge are currencies of power: if withheld or manipulated, no decision will be considered fair. The quality and extent of information available affects fairness. [p. 230]
The second category emphasizes the fairness of outcomes.
Substantive fairness means a fair outcome. In essence fair outocmes will be those that enlarge the group within which there is a shared identity. Fair outcomes enable stakeholders or actors to find a means of co-existing without conflict by establishing a new shared set of beliefs and values, working out a modus vivendi or building a community of trust (i.e. creating the ‘common ground’).
[….] There are a number of mechanisms used to distribute goods and liabilities ….
- Division: the value of environmental goods is seldom equal; but in some case a fair division can be achieved based on reciprocity. This can take the form of equal sacrifice, tit-for-tat, split the difference or an exchang ef equal concessions. [….] [p. 231]
- Destruction or delegation to a third party: when parties cannot agree on how to distribute a resource, it might be fairest to destroy it or give it to a third party. [….]
- Random chance: when an asset cannot be divided simply, random chance can be used to share an asset or liability. This could take the form of a lottery ….
- Rotation: sometimes joint custody or rotation is a fair solution to the decision-making process. [….]
- Ownership in common: when an area is indivisible, it can be possible to achieve a fair decision by sharing ownership. In 1959, the Antarctice Treaty was signed by the 12 powers who had all made claims on the continent …. [p. 232]
- Sale: there are cases when the value of an asset is realized and the proceeds shared among the parties. [p. 233]
Attaining perceived fairness in both the process and outcomes with a group — particularly in a time of turbulence — can be a great challenge. If the problematique is intractable, then the group may have to give up fairness either in process or in outcome. Failing on both dimensions would probably result in disintegration of the group into irreconcilable factions, potentially adding to the environmental turbulence already at hand.
In designing service systems, there may be an assumption that commitments towards voluntary agreements are “fair”, because they’re voluntary. This assumption may not only be challenged by the parties directly involved in the service system, but also others outside who may be impacted by externalities.
In Chapter 14, Andromache Athanasopoulou addresses issues in corporate social responsibility (CSR) by describing cases in two different contexts.
… two case studies — a recently privatized public-service utility and a multinational tobacco company … CSR can serve as a stabilizing mechanism for mitigating environmental turbulence by producing a ‘common ground’ among a firm and its various stakeholders. Evidence when the opposite occurs — that is, where CSR practices become a destabilizing mechanism further contributing to environmental turbulence — will also be discussed …. [p. 243]
Issues of corporate social responsibility can be contributors to, as well as antecedents to the causal texture that an organization faces.
One of the key challenges associated with CSR is an ongoing lack of agreement on its fundamental scope and content. Basu and Palazzo (2008, p122) identified three main lines of CSR enquiry prevalent in the academic literature:
the stakeholder driven (where CSR is viewed as a ‘response to the specific demands of largely external stakeholders’);
the performance driven (which ’emphasizes the link between external expectations and a firm’s concrete CSR actions’, focusing on CSR performance measurement and selection of the activities that can best deliver the requisite performance); and
the motivation driven (which examines either ‘the extrinsic reasons for a firm’s CSR engagement’ or the ‘intrinsic rationales’ of the associated obligations and responsibilities). [p. 244, editoral paragraphing added]
… in the management literature … Andrews (1973, p59) sorted out these views into two categories …
The social interventionists view CSR as extending beyond the minimum legal requirements and give emphasis to companies’ voluntary engagement in activities that would advance societal well-being. On the other hand, the economic isolationists’ view is best represented by the well-known CSR definition provided by Milton Friedman in 1962: ‘there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits as long as it … engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud’ (Friedman, 1962, p133) [p. 245]
One one side, CSR can serve as a stabilizing influence to bring parties together.
With regard to the company’s external environment, clearly CSR became the common ground to which the company and its stakeholders can come together. The way in which a CSR project was communicated across different contexts and different audiences indicated how CSR could help in creating ‘areas’ of common ground. [p. 251]
On the other side, CSR could also be destabilizing.
… CSR may become a destabilizing mechanism. The evidence suggests that this is because:
- CSR implementation serves as an idiosyncratic change agent that can alter the balances of power within an organization.
- When CSR is not effectively communicated, the CSR implementation may end up destabilizing (rather than stabilizing) the environment in which a company operates. [p. 252]
Corporate social responsibility may originate in action initiated from inside an organization, in either a responsive and proactive mode, or a reactive one. Turbulence introduced from outside an organization can be actively engaged, or else the causal texture will permeate the system internally.
Service systems may require a greater acknowledgement of corporate social responsibility. In public service systems, the political process tends to drive continual awareness of the interests of constituents. In commercial service systems, the inclusion or exclusion of external parties is a matter of mindsets.
F. Cross-appropriating ideas for describing and designing service systems
Let’s recap how these ideas should inform activities describing and designing service systems:
The problem: an addiction to prediction. Service systems should not be viewed as permanent. A description of a service system may be expected to change with evolution (or revolution). Similarly, after a service system has been created (or reformed or transformed), the future reality may diverge from the expected trajectory set at the point at which defining decisions will have had to have been made.
Sustaining organizational systems in turbulent environments. Service systems — if they are expected to endure — should be constructed to withstand the forces of turbulent (or vortical) environments. Since these conditions are essentially unforeseeable, the ability for service systems to learn and adapt are necessary.
Techniques for envisioning future systems. Approaches — of which search conferences and soft systems methodology are examples — draw in larger communities and perspectives which can improve the (re-)design of service systems.
Changing systems. Evolution and redesign of a service system may take into account new ideas since the days of Emery and Trist (e.g. complexity theory). The propensity for a system to change may be influenced by its state of (in)stability, mindsets of episodic versus continuous change, and decisions made in the near-future that will have ripple effects in the longer term.
Shared value and engagement. Service systems emphasize a view of coproduction (i.e. as an alternative to producer-product). That view may need to recognize the voices of external or peripheral parties, who could either encourage or inhibit the goals of the directly involved coproducers as initially described as within the system.
The intersection of authorship in this work (i.e. Rafael Ramírez) and earlier work in service systems (i.e. Normann and Ramirez) makes me reflect deeper on how service systems can and should be described and designed. There’s a lot of implicit ideas to be worked out.
Ackoff, Russell L. 1981. Creating the Corporate Future: Plan or Be Planned For. John Wiley and Sons, 1981, preview available at Google Books.
Emery, Fred E., and Eric L. Trist. 1965. “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments”. Human Relations 18, no. 1 (2, 1965): 21-32, DOI:10.1177/001872676501800103, reprinted in The Social Engagement of Social Science, Volume 3: The Socio-Ecological Perspective (Eric Trist, Fred Emery, and Hugh Murray, editors), University of Pennsylvania Press 1997, reproduced on moderntimesworkplace.com
Emery, Fred E. 1967. “The next thirty years: concepts, methods and anticipations”. Human Relations 20, no. 3 (1967): 199-237, DOI:10.1177/001872679705000802 , reprinted in The Social Engagement of Social Science, Volume 3: The Socio-Ecological Perspective (Eric Trist, Fred Emery, and Hugh Murray, editors), University of Pennsylvania Press 1997, manuscript available at moderntimesworkplace.com .
Emery, Fred E. 1997, “Introduction to Volume III”. The Social Engagement of Social Science, Volume 3: The Socio-Ecological Perspective (Eric Trist, Fred Emery, and Hugh Murray, editors), University of Pennsylvania Press 1997, reproduced on moderntimesworkplace.com .
Perlmutter, Howard V. 1965. Towards a Theory and Practice of Social Architecture: The Building of Indispensable Institutions, Tavistock Publications, Pamphlet No. 12, preview available at Google Books.