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Trist in Canada, Organizational Change, Action Learning

Towards appreciating “action learning”, the history of open systems thinking and pioneering work in organization science, the influence of Action Learning Group — in the Faculty of Environment Studies founded in 1968 at York University (Toronto) — deserves to be resurfaced.

  • 1. Trist in Canada
  • 2. Environmental studies, and contextualism in organizational-change
  • 3. Action learning, based on open systems theory
  • 4. Extending action research into action learning
  • 5. Social engagement in social science
  • Appendix:  Contents

The 1989 book with “A Tribute to Eric Trist” on the cover was titled Learning Works: Searching for Organizational Futures.  The editors were Susan Wright, a part-time assistant professor at York U.; and David Morley, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York U., who would become Dean of FES from 2001-2004.

Front cover: Learning Works

1. Trist in Canada

Eric Trist was a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Social Ecology at York University, 1978-1983, passing away in Carmel, California in 1993.  Systems scholars may better recall Trist as emeritus from the 1969-1978 program in the Social Systems Science program at University of Pennsylvania, that was founded by Russell Ackoff.

The preface to the book describes the origins of its writing.

This volume began life at a 1985 meeting of the York University Action Learning Group, a loose network of people who were participating in the development of a new framework for theorizing, studying, and participating in the creation of new organizational capacities and enabling strategies to operate within turbulent environments (one of Trist’s most important metaphors).

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Towards appreciating “action learning”, the history of open systems thinking and pioneering work in organization science, the influence of Action Learning Group — in the Faculty of Environment Studies founded in 1968 at York University (Toronto) — deserves to be resurfaced.

  • 1. Trist in Canada
  • 2. Environmental studies, and contextualism in organizational-change
  • 3. Action learning, based on open systems theory
  • 4. Extending action research into action learning
  • 5. Social engagement in social science
  • Appendix:  Contents

The 1989 book with “A Tribute to Eric Trist” on the cover was titled Learning Works: Searching for Organizational Futures.  The editors were Susan Wright, a part-time assistant professor at York U.; and David Morley, a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York U., who would become Dean of FES from 2001-2004.

Front cover: Learning Works

1. Trist in Canada

Eric Trist was a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Social Ecology at York University, 1978-1983, passing away in Carmel, California in 1993.  Systems scholars may better recall Trist as emeritus from the 1969-1978 program in the Social Systems Science program at University of Pennsylvania, that was founded by Russell Ackoff.

The preface to the book describes the origins of its writing.

This volume began life at a 1985 meeting of the York University Action Learning Group, a loose network of people who were participating in the development of a new framework for theorizing, studying, and participating in the creation of new organizational capacities and enabling strategies to operate within turbulent environments (one of Trist’s most important metaphors).

Read more (in a new tab)

Systems thinking courses in Finland: cycle two, learning from cycle one

Over in Finland, Gary Metcalf has just started teaching a systems thinking class in the Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University.  Speaking with him yesterday, he described a situation similar to that which I experienced last year:  graduate students intrigued by systems ideas, yet slightly overwhelmed with the shift in perspective; and an appreciation that an intensive class taught over eight days is a lot of territory to cover.  The scheduling of two courses — one in the fall, and one in the spring — fortunately allows some time for intuitions to naturally develop in reflection, between the two weeks of formal classes.  Learning is not a linear activity.

Students — who take these systems thinking courses as a requirement, not an elective — may wonder how these courses came to be.  I served as content creator for two new courses on systems thinking at Aalto University in October 2010 and in February 2011.  The ISSS Hull 2011 meeting provided me with an opportunity to summarize the context and thinking that went into developing the two systems thinking courses de novo for Aalto University.  This article — “Systems Thinking Courses in the Master’s Programme on Creative Sustainability at Aalto University: Reflections on Design and Delivery of the 2010-2011 Sessions” — is available on the Coevolving Commons, and published in the Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS.  At ISSS Hull 2011, the outline was presented as a map.… Read more (in a new tab)

Over in Finland, Gary Metcalf has just started teaching a systems thinking class in the Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University.  Speaking with him yesterday, he described a situation similar to that which I experienced last year:  graduate students intrigued by systems ideas, yet slightly overwhelmed with the shift in perspective; and an appreciation that an intensive class taught over eight days is a lot of territory to cover.  The scheduling of two courses — one in the fall, and one in the spring — fortunately allows some time for intuitions to naturally develop in reflection, between the two weeks of formal classes.  Learning is not a linear activity.

Students — who take these systems thinking courses as a requirement, not an elective — may wonder how these courses came to be.  I served as content creator for two new courses on systems thinking at Aalto University in October 2010 and in February 2011.  The ISSS Hull 2011 meeting provided me with an opportunity to summarize the context and thinking that went into developing the two systems thinking courses de novo for Aalto University.  This article — “Systems Thinking Courses in the Master’s Programme on Creative Sustainability at Aalto University: Reflections on Design and Delivery of the 2010-2011 Sessions” — is available on the Coevolving Commons, and published in the Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS.  At ISSS Hull 2011, the outline was presented as a map.… Read more (in a new tab)

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    • daviding: A small wording shif July 27, 2020
      A small wording shift, yet I really like the idea on belonging rather than just including. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-want-a-more-diverse-work-force-move-beyond-inclusion-to-belonging/
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      On the post-pandemic world, #MargaretAtwood says: > "this is like being in 1952, except with birth control and the internet".https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/opinion/2020/07/17/margaret-atwood-on-post-covid-hopes-plus-baking.html
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    • Wholism, reductionism (Francois, 2004)
      Proponents of #SystemsThinking often espouse holism to counter over-emphasis on reductionism. Reading some definitions from an encyclopedia positions one in the context of the other (François 2004).
    • It matters (word use)
      Saying “it doesn’t matter” or “it matters” is a common expression in everyday English. For scholarly work, I want to “keep using that word“, while ensuring it means what I want it to mean. The Oxford English Dictionary (third edition, March 2001) has three entries for “matter”. The first two entries for a noun. The […]
    • Systemic Change, Systematic Change, Systems Change (Reynolds, 2011)
      It's been challenging to find sources that specifically define two-word phrases -- i.e. "systemic change", "systematic change", "systems change" -- as opposed to loosely inferring reductively from one-word definitions in recombination. MartinReynolds @OpenUniversity clarifies uses of the phrases, with a critical eye into motives for choosing a specific label, as well as associated risks and […]
    • Environmental c.f. ecological (Francois, 2004; Allen, Giampietro Little 2003)
      The term "environmental" can be mixed up with "ecological", when the meanings are different. We can look at the encyclopedia definitions (François 2004), and then compare the two in terms of applied science (i.e. engineering with (#TimothyFHAllen @MarioGiampietro and #AmandaMLittle, 2003).
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    • Field (system definitions, 2004, plus social)
      Systems thinking should include not only thinking about the system, but also its environment. Using the term "field" as the system of interest plus its influences leaves a lot of the world uncovered. From the multiple definitions in the International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics , there is variety of ways of understanding "field".
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      Daytimes full of new work assignment and training, evenings and weekends bicycling around downtown Toronto as it slowly reopens from pandemic.
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