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Sciencing and Philosophizing on Threads in Systems Thinking | Gary S. Metcalf + David Ing | Systems Thinking Ontario 2023-07-10

Digging into philosophies underlying the systems sciences, pragmatism seems to have been a strong historical foundation for some research streams. In ongoing discussions, Gary Metcalf and I have been approaching pragmatism from two directions. Gary has been tracking from mid-1800s forward, listening to the audiobook The Metaphysical Club, with a history of figures living through the American Civil War, seeking alternative approaches to the British and continental European ideas. I have been working backwards on two streams.  (1) West Churchman and Russell Ackoff were students of Edgar A. Singer Jr., who was a father of a pragmatic school of thought at the University of Pennsylvania, having previously taught with William James at Harvard University.  (2) Eric Trist and Fred Emery, in the development of the Socio-Ecological Systems perspective, track back to Stephen C. Pepper, who studied under Ralph Barton Perry, an associate of William James who is recognized for anthologizing and clarifying James’ writing.

The ISSS Kruger Park 2023 meeting was an opportunity for us to share our work in progress.  Tracing the institutional lineages of some of the key figures of interest shows periods when the philosophers and systems scientists had formal appointments to the same places.

Institutional lineages of key figures in systems sciences and pragmatism

Notable institions include Harvard U., U. Pennsylvania, and the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.  The many decades give a sense of the time scales (e.g. Pepper arrived at U.C. Berkeley much before Churchman; Trist and Emery were together at Tavistock, and visited Ackoff at U.… Read more (in a new tab)

Digging into philosophies underlying the systems sciences, pragmatism seems to have been a strong historical foundation for some research streams. In ongoing discussions, Gary Metcalf and I have been approaching pragmatism from two directions. Gary has been tracking from mid-1800s forward, listening to the audiobook The Metaphysical Club, with a history of figures living through the American Civil War, seeking alternative approaches to the British and continental European ideas. I have been working backwards on two streams.  (1) West Churchman and Russell Ackoff were students of Edgar A. Singer Jr., who was a father of a pragmatic school of thought at the University of Pennsylvania, having previously taught with William James at Harvard University.  (2) Eric Trist and Fred Emery, in the development of the Socio-Ecological Systems perspective, track back to Stephen C. Pepper, who studied under Ralph Barton Perry, an associate of William James who is recognized for anthologizing and clarifying James’ writing.

The ISSS Kruger Park 2023 meeting was an opportunity for us to share our work in progress.  Tracing the institutional lineages of some of the key figures of interest shows periods when the philosophers and systems scientists had formal appointments to the same places.

Institutional lineages of key figures in systems sciences and pragmatism

Notable institions include Harvard U., U. Pennsylvania, and the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.  The many decades give a sense of the time scales (e.g. Pepper arrived at U.C. Berkeley much before Churchman; Trist and Emery were together at Tavistock, and visited Ackoff at U.… Read more (in a new tab)

Humanistic Principles and Social Systems Design | Douglas Austrom + Carolyn Ordowich (ST-ON 2021-05-10)

Douglas Austrom and Carolyn Ordowich shared some reflections developed jointly with Bert Painter (Vancouver, BC) on some draft humanistic principles, the three Tavistock perspectives, and a meta-methodology with Systems Thinking Ontario.

Proponents of Socio-Technical Systems design refer back to the 1960s-1980s research of Fred Emery and Eric Trist of the Tavistock Institute. Calls to reinvent approaches to organization design for hyper-turbulent environments may be better viewed through the whole systems view of three perspective for sensemaking:

  • social-psychological systems;
  • socio-technical systems; and
  • socio-ecological systems.

Those who live and work in a given social system should be given the voice and and choice in designing their system. Calvin Pava’s notion of deliberation design applies not only to non-linear knowledge work. It can serve as a meta-methodology for dialogic design of organizations, networks and ecosystems. The role of designers shifts from designing the social system itself, to co-designing the deliberations by which key stakeholders can dynamically design their own systems.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
May 10
(1h50m)
[20210510_ST-ON_HumanisticSocialSystemsDesign.m4v]
(FHD 1431kbps 1.2GB) [on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
May 10
(1h50m)
[20210510_ST-ON_HumanisticSocialSystemsDesign.mp3]
(38MB) [on the Internet Archive]

Doug Austrom has four decades of consulting experience, having co-founded three change consultancies: Turning Point Associates, Adjutant Solutions Group, and People Powered Innovation Labs. He is an adjunct professor with Indiana University’s online MBA program, Kelly Direct.… Read more (in a new tab)

Douglas Austrom and Carolyn Ordowich shared some reflections developed jointly with Bert Painter (Vancouver, BC) on some draft humanistic principles, the three Tavistock perspectives, and a meta-methodology with Systems Thinking Ontario.

Proponents of Socio-Technical Systems design refer back to the 1960s-1980s research of Fred Emery and Eric Trist of the Tavistock Institute. Calls to reinvent approaches to organization design for hyper-turbulent environments may be better viewed through the whole systems view of three perspective for sensemaking:

  • social-psychological systems;
  • socio-technical systems; and
  • socio-ecological systems.

Those who live and work in a given social system should be given the voice and and choice in designing their system. Calvin Pava’s notion of deliberation design applies not only to non-linear knowledge work. It can serve as a meta-methodology for dialogic design of organizations, networks and ecosystems. The role of designers shifts from designing the social system itself, to co-designing the deliberations by which key stakeholders can dynamically design their own systems.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
May 10
(1h50m)
[20210510_ST-ON_HumanisticSocialSystemsDesign.m4v]
(FHD 1431kbps 1.2GB) [on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
May 10
(1h50m)
[20210510_ST-ON_HumanisticSocialSystemsDesign.mp3]
(38MB) [on the Internet Archive]

Doug Austrom has four decades of consulting experience, having co-founded three change consultancies: Turning Point Associates, Adjutant Solutions Group, and People Powered Innovation Labs. He is an adjunct professor with Indiana University’s online MBA program, Kelly Direct.… Read more (in a new tab)

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
January 31
(1h18m)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD m4v]
(HD 2666kbps 1.2GB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD m4v]
(nHD 1352kps 637MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD webm]
(HD VP8 425kbps 292MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD webm]
(nHD VP8 224kbps 156MB)

Readers who want to follow through on web link references may want to review the slides directly.… Read more (in a new tab)

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
January 31
(1h18m)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD m4v]
(HD 2666kbps 1.2GB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD m4v]
(nHD 1352kps 637MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing HD webm]
(HD VP8 425kbps 292MB)
[20200129_OCADU_Ing nHD webm]
(nHD VP8 224kbps 156MB)

Readers who want to follow through on web link references may want to review the slides directly.… Read more (in a new tab)

Revisiting the Socio-Ecological, Social-Technical and Socio-Psychological Systems Perspectives

A report, plus a contributed article, on the socio-ecological, socio-technical and socio-psychological systems perspectives is now available.

The Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, from the 1950s through the 1980s, developed a legacy of research based in systems thinking that has had lasting impact on theories of organization design and change.  The International Federation for Systems Research biannually hosts a conversation event in Austria where systems researchers have the luxury of time to share in mutual learning.  A trigger question for a team was proposed:

  • In which ways is the Tavistock legacy still relevant, and which ways might these ideas be advanced and/or refreshed (for the globalized/service economy)?

Pointers to some of the relevant literature were provided.  Joining the team, at Linz, were:

Minna Takala led the development of the team report for the proceedings, as well as contributing an independent article extending learnings from the group.  An excerpt of these two publications is a repackaging from the full proceedings that comprise the work of four teams meeting in parallel.

A report, plus a contributed article, on the socio-ecological, socio-technical and socio-psychological systems perspectives is now available.

The Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, from the 1950s through the 1980s, developed a legacy of research based in systems thinking that has had lasting impact on theories of organization design and change.  The International Federation for Systems Research biannually hosts a conversation event in Austria where systems researchers have the luxury of time to share in mutual learning.  A trigger question for a team was proposed:

  • In which ways is the Tavistock legacy still relevant, and which ways might these ideas be advanced and/or refreshed (for the globalized/service economy)?

Pointers to some of the relevant literature were provided.  Joining the team, at Linz, were:

Minna Takala led the development of the team report for the proceedings, as well as contributing an independent article extending learnings from the group.  An excerpt of these two publications is a repackaging from the full proceedings that comprise the work of four teams meeting in parallel.

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