Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

At the Oxford Futures Forum 2014, hosted by the Saïd Business School, I was invited to be a participant in a generative dialogue.  Each of the invitees was requested to submit a 250-word abstract and an image four months ahead of the event.  In two days, we had three group discussion meetings, where individuals were free to go to other groups (or form new groups) according to the ideas emerging from the dialogue.

This event runs on the Chatham House Rule:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Further, in a generative dialogue, ideas flow and merge as participant learn from each other, so representations related to people outside of the involved group don’t get a full appreciation for the unfolding learning.  Having been a participant in a series of prior IFSR Conversations that similarly focus on generative dialogue, any describing of the experience turns out somewhat inadequate.  The most that can be related to others are “proceedings”, where some of the ideas in progress are captured.  As a participant in Oxford Futures Forum, I was involved in three rounds of conversations, which can be roughly framed as:

  • design and scenarios to instigate change (as an introductory clustering to start the first round);
  • methods framing (as the emergent theme from the first round to go into a second round); and
  • scenario-buffered design (as the label that was presented as the conclusion of the third round).

Based on the abstract I had contributed some months earlier, the conference organizers initially slotted me into the “Design and Scenarios to Instigate Change” group.  A few of us had brief contact on a teleconference a few weeks before arriving at the event, and then in the pub on the night of arrival.  When the full group finally met face-to-face, we still didn’t really know each other.  As a way of getting involved with others, we were asked to present the abstract of another person from the group.  From those foundations, we started a loose discussion making sense of some common themes.  The organizers helpfully provided a note taking volunteer, Saba Riaz, to record some of this preliminary dialogue — a challenging flow to track, as the round 1 groups tried to make sense of  the ideas of others, as well as ourselves!  The proceedings (final report) included the following synopsis:

Round 1: Design and scenarios to instigate change

August 18th, 2014

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The Oxford Futures Forum 2014 committee requested an image and an abstract as an application for an Open Space event for 70 participants on May 30-31.  The event description reads:

Purpose and aims

  • Forging and supporting an international community of future-minded practices aimed at stimulating actionable, impactful knowledge;
  • Identifying and investigating academic and practitioner interests at the forefront of scenarios and design, and relating them to each other;
  • Uncovering and pushing the boundaries of scenarios practices and theory, to clarify and extend their effectiveness through critical review and linking with other fields;
  • Enabling networking and publishing  (e.g. two books from first OFF in 2005; a set of sense-making scenarios and two published papers after OFF 2008, which saw another workshop based on the Oxford one organised by Arizona State University; so far one paper from OFF 2011)
  • Leveraging the neutral, highly respected and international convening power of Oxford University.

Theme – scenarios and design

The theme of the fourth Oxford Futures Forum will explore the possible synergies and differences between work on design and the so-called ‘intuitive logics’ school in scenarios.   See “Scoping the Dialogue Space” and OFF2014 supplementary information.

To clarify, in the basic “intuitive logics” method, say Wright, Bradfield, and Cairns (2013):

This model follows the approach developed over many decades by a number of writers … and organizations (e.g. Global Business Networks (GBN; SRI International). It relies upon the application of “intuitive logics” …, and is focused on the development of multiple scenarios that explore the “limits of possibility” for the future, rather than on the development of singular, “normative” scenarios of some ideal future.

March 2nd, 2014

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The pre-reading of Emery (1967), “The Next Thirty Years: Concepts, Methods and Anticipations” was introduced as a challenging article for the second meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario on Feb. 21, 2013.  The theme for the evening was “Systems Thinking and Future Studies”, so there was some irony in looking backwards to 1967 to have a discussion on looking forward.

In my role as reviewer in Systems Thinking Ontario sessions, I would prefer to try to stick to the text rather than adding editorializing.  However, since this Emery (1967) article is particular rich, I tried to provide some additional context to make the reading easier.

Fred Emery is especially known for his work with the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, as one of the pioneers of the field we know today as organization science, including organization development and organization design.  In 1967, systems thinking was new:  The Systems Approach would be published by West Churchman in 1968, and On Purposeful Systems by Ackoff and Emery would follow years later in 1972.  The Club of Rome was founded in 1968.  In this article, Emery was thinking about how systems thinking frames viewing the future.

I. Prediction and Planning; II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future

In I. Prediction and Planning, the systems of interest are in the social sciences.  The longer history of systems thinking prior to 1967 would have been a stronger cybernetics orientation.  The research from the Tavistock Institute on the socio-psychological, socio-technical and socio-ecological systems perspectives would have been fresh.  Emery wrote:

In this section we have sought to argue that:

  • (a) there is a need for developments in the social sciences that go beyond their present concerns;
  • (b) this development needs planning;
  • (c) the planning needs to be in a context of expected social developments for several decades ahead;
  • (d) the planning should be more than projection or forecasting;
  • (e) planning should actively seek to extend the choices men can make, not to dictate them.  [p. 199]

Essentially, the challenge is that human beings can shape their futures, and not just be passive participants in the changes.  Much of the influence that human beings have on the future, particularly when working collectively as a social group, is through planning.

From the article, the figures in II. Conceptual Bases for Predicting the Future were helpful towards deciphering the text.

March 21st, 2013

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