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The producer-product relation, and coproducers in systems theory

In appreciating the systems sciences, it can be important to appreciate distinctions around the producer-product relation and coproducers.  A system — which is conceptually bounded by observer(s) defining a boundary — does not exist independently of its environment.  A system may draw on inputs or resources in its environment.  Changes in the environment may be associated with reactions, responses or proactive reformation (i.e. changes in structure(s)) or transformation (i.e. changes in structure(s) and function(s)).

The most rigourous description of these distinctions is in Ackoff and Emery (1972), but this is a derivation of Ackoff’s original dissertation, and relatively difficult to read.  I happened across a more readable, and helpful summary in Ackoff (1981).

The Machine Age’s commitment to cause and effect was the source of many dilemmas, including the one involving free will. At the turn of the century the American philosopher E. A. Singer, Jr., showed that science had, in effect, been cheating.  It was using two different relationships but calling both cause and effect.  He pointed out, for example, that acorns do not cause oaks because they are not sufficient, even though they are necessary, for oaks.  An acorn thrown into the ocean, or planted in the desert or an Arctic ice cap does not yield an oak.  To call the relationship between an acorn and an oak ‘probabilistic’ or ‘non deterministic causality,’ as many scientists did, was cheating because it is not possible to have a probability other than 1.0 associated with a cause; a cause completely determines its effect. 

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In appreciating the systems sciences, it can be important to appreciate distinctions around the producer-product relation and coproducers.  A system — which is conceptually bounded by observer(s) defining a boundary — does not exist independently of its environment.  A system may draw on inputs or resources in its environment.  Changes in the environment may be associated with reactions, responses or proactive reformation (i.e. changes in structure(s)) or transformation (i.e. changes in structure(s) and function(s)).

The most rigourous description of these distinctions is in Ackoff and Emery (1972), but this is a derivation of Ackoff’s original dissertation, and relatively difficult to read.  I happened across a more readable, and helpful summary in Ackoff (1981).

The Machine Age’s commitment to cause and effect was the source of many dilemmas, including the one involving free will. At the turn of the century the American philosopher E. A. Singer, Jr., showed that science had, in effect, been cheating.  It was using two different relationships but calling both cause and effect.  He pointed out, for example, that acorns do not cause oaks because they are not sufficient, even though they are necessary, for oaks.  An acorn thrown into the ocean, or planted in the desert or an Arctic ice cap does not yield an oak.  To call the relationship between an acorn and an oak ‘probabilistic’ or ‘non deterministic causality,’ as many scientists did, was cheating because it is not possible to have a probability other than 1.0 associated with a cause; a cause completely determines its effect. 

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Coproduction, interactive value, offering, value constellation

In the pursuit of gaining a stronger understanding of a science of service systems through systems science, I’ve been working my way through the works of Richard Normann, Rafael Ramirez and Johan Wallin. There’s a long evolution of thought there, with a depth that may not be obvious to readers who aren’t systems scientists. Thus, phrases such as coproduction, interactive value, offering and value constellation have a specific meaning within the systems science community that the layman may not appreciate. Let me try to bring together some of the ideas, across the references.

  • 1. A service system includes a supplier with a customer (and possibly subcontractors) as coproducers of outcomes
  • 2. Interactive value is actualized not in coproduction of the supplier with customer, but in coproduction of the customer with his/her customer / counterparts
  • 3. Offerings are interactions that provide benefits in the form of (a) physical product, (b) service and infrastructure and (c) interpersonal relationship
  • 4. An offering can be either an output of coproduction, or input into coproduction
  • 5. A value constellation includes the supplier, customer and subcontractors as coproducers

The systems flavour comes out not only in recognizing parts within the service system, but in emphasizing the interactions between parts. It’s worth re-examining these writings in the context of a new science of service systems.

In the pursuit of gaining a stronger understanding of a science of service systems through systems science, I’ve been working my way through the works of Richard Normann, Rafael Ramirez and Johan Wallin. There’s a long evolution of thought there, with a depth that may not be obvious to readers who aren’t systems scientists. Thus, phrases such as coproduction, interactive value, offering and value constellation have a specific meaning within the systems science community that the layman may not appreciate. Let me try to bring together some of the ideas, across the references.

  • 1. A service system includes a supplier with a customer (and possibly subcontractors) as coproducers of outcomes
  • 2. Interactive value is actualized not in coproduction of the supplier with customer, but in coproduction of the customer with his/her customer / counterparts
  • 3. Offerings are interactions that provide benefits in the form of (a) physical product, (b) service and infrastructure and (c) interpersonal relationship
  • 4. An offering can be either an output of coproduction, or input into coproduction
  • 5. A value constellation includes the supplier, customer and subcontractors as coproducers

The systems flavour comes out not only in recognizing parts within the service system, but in emphasizing the interactions between parts. It’s worth re-examining these writings in the context of a new science of service systems.

Science of service systems, service sector, service economy

As Service Science, Management and Engineering (SSME) has been developing, I’ve noticed a refinement of language. Rather than just abbreviating the long clause to service science, I’m now careful to use the phrase of a science of service systems, following Spohrer, Maglio et. al (2007). There’s a clear definition of service system in the final April 2008 revision of the report by the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing.

What is a service system?
A service system can be defined as a dynamic configuration of resources (people, technology, organisations and shared information) that creates and delivers value between the provider and the customer through service. In many cases, a service system is a complex system in that configurations of resources interact in a non-linear way. Primary interactions take place at the interface between the provider and the customer. However, with the advent of ICT, customer-to-customer and supplier-to-supplier interactions have also become prevalent. These complex interactions create a system whose behaviour is difficult to explain and predict. [p. 6]

I’ve been sorting through the significance of this service system orientation, and have reached the following personal points-of-view.

  • 1. The definition of a service system as a system is earnest
  • 2. A service system creating and delivering value emphasizes a value constellation perspective over a value chain perspective
  • 3. Research into service systems is muddled in the ideas of coproduction and (value) cocreation
  • 4. A service system creates value with an offering as a platform for co-production
  • 5.
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As Service Science, Management and Engineering (SSME) has been developing, I’ve noticed a refinement of language. Rather than just abbreviating the long clause to service science, I’m now careful to use the phrase of a science of service systems, following Spohrer, Maglio et. al (2007). There’s a clear definition of service system in the final April 2008 revision of the report by the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing.

What is a service system?
A service system can be defined as a dynamic configuration of resources (people, technology, organisations and shared information) that creates and delivers value between the provider and the customer through service. In many cases, a service system is a complex system in that configurations of resources interact in a non-linear way. Primary interactions take place at the interface between the provider and the customer. However, with the advent of ICT, customer-to-customer and supplier-to-supplier interactions have also become prevalent. These complex interactions create a system whose behaviour is difficult to explain and predict. [p. 6]

I’ve been sorting through the significance of this service system orientation, and have reached the following personal points-of-view.

  • 1. The definition of a service system as a system is earnest
  • 2. A service system creating and delivering value emphasizes a value constellation perspective over a value chain perspective
  • 3. Research into service systems is muddled in the ideas of coproduction and (value) cocreation
  • 4. A service system creates value with an offering as a platform for co-production
  • 5.
Read more (in a new tab)
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    • Reformation and transformation (Ackoff 2003, 2010)
      In his system of system concepts, Russell Ackoff made the distinction between reformation and transformation in many of his lectures. Here are two written sources. From Redesigining Society (2003) … Systemic Transformation A system is transformed, as contrasted with reformed, when its structure or functions are changed fundamentally. Such changes are discontinuous and qualitative, quantum […]
    • Goal, objective, ideal, pursuits (Ackoff & Emery, 1972)
      While Ackoff’s definitions of goals, objectives and ideals have been republished (and rewritten) multiple times, the 1972 definitions were derived from his original dissertation work.  Accordingly, in addition to the human-readable definitions, some mathematical notation is introduced. — begin paste — OUTCOMES 2.30. End (an immediate intended outcome) of a subject A in a particular […]
    • Pure Inquiring Systems: Antiteleology | The Design of Inquiring Systems | C. West Churchman | 1971
      The fifth way of knowing, as described by West Churchman, is a Singerian inquiring system. (This fifth way of knowing is more colloquially called Unbounded Systems Thinking in Mitroff and Linstone (1993)). The book On Purposeful Systems (Ackoff and Emery, 1972) was derived by Ackoff’s dissertation that was controversially coauthored with West Churchman. Purpose can […]
    • Process-Function Ecology, Wicked Problems, Ecological Evolution | Vasishth | Spanda J | 2015
      Understanding Process-Function Ecology by Ashwani Vasishth leads to luminaries in the systems sciences, including C. West Churchman, Eugene P. Odum and Timothy F.H. Allen.
    • The Innovation Delusion | Lee Vinsel, Andrew L. Russell | 2020
      As an irony, the 2020 book, The Innovation Delusion by #LeeVinsel @STS_News + #AndrewLRussell @RussellProf shouldn’t be seen as an innovation, but an encouragement to join @The_Maintainers where an ongoing thought network can continue. The subtitle “How Our Obsession with the New has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most” recognizes actual innovation, as distinct from […]
    • Republishing on Facebook as “good for the world” or “bad for the world” (NY Times, 2020/11/24)
      An online social network reproduces content partially based on algorithms, and partially based on the judgements made by human beings. Either may be viewed as positive or negative. > The trade-offs came into focus this month [November 2020], when Facebook engineers and data scientists posted the results of a series of experiments called “P(Bad for […]
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