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A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems

A meeting of systems scientists and systems engineers together as the Systems Science Working Group at the INCOSE International Workshop 2014 provided a forum for “a proposal for collaboration on a pattern language for service systems (science, management, engineering and design)”.  The title is deliberately long, and required some hours to unpack the content in the slide deck.

A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems (Science, Management, Engineering and Design)

The initiative has been presented as ambitious.  Writing a (good) pattern language is non-trivial.  The originator of the pattern language, Christopher Alexander, published his first work in 1968, and then spent 9 years in collaboration until the 1977 release of the landmark A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In a 2010 interview, Alexander was asked about his perception on similar efforts.

[Rob Hoskins]: What’s been your opinion of subsequent peoples’ attempts at doing Pattern Languages – I’ve seen a couple of different ones, have you seen many?

[Christopher Alexander]:  Some. They’re not that good. The reason I say that is that the people who’ve attempted to work with Pattern Languages, think about them, but are not conscious of the role of morphological elegance in the unfolding. In a biological case, they always are elegant and the unfolding morphology is a sort of magic. But it’s very simple.  It’s not as if it’s magic because it’s complicated, it’s just … like that.

[Rob Hoskins]:  I guess when we were talking before about how a Pattern Language goes from the large down to the small, maybe when we were talking about it as going outwards maybe it is more like an unfolding process?

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A meeting of systems scientists and systems engineers together as the Systems Science Working Group at the INCOSE International Workshop 2014 provided a forum for “a proposal for collaboration on a pattern language for service systems (science, management, engineering and design)”.  The title is deliberately long, and required some hours to unpack the content in the slide deck.

A Proposal for Collaboration on a Pattern Language for Service Systems (Science, Management, Engineering and Design)

The initiative has been presented as ambitious.  Writing a (good) pattern language is non-trivial.  The originator of the pattern language, Christopher Alexander, published his first work in 1968, and then spent 9 years in collaboration until the 1977 release of the landmark A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction.  In a 2010 interview, Alexander was asked about his perception on similar efforts.

[Rob Hoskins]: What’s been your opinion of subsequent peoples’ attempts at doing Pattern Languages – I’ve seen a couple of different ones, have you seen many?

[Christopher Alexander]:  Some. They’re not that good. The reason I say that is that the people who’ve attempted to work with Pattern Languages, think about them, but are not conscious of the role of morphological elegance in the unfolding. In a biological case, they always are elegant and the unfolding morphology is a sort of magic. But it’s very simple.  It’s not as if it’s magic because it’s complicated, it’s just … like that.

[Rob Hoskins]:  I guess when we were talking before about how a Pattern Language goes from the large down to the small, maybe when we were talking about it as going outwards maybe it is more like an unfolding process?

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An interview on “Service Systems, Natural Systems” and the systems sciences

An interview by Performance magazine — with an issue focused on systems in architecture and related disciplines — has now been published. Since the content has been translated into German (as well as reduced for length) — the original interview is posted below, in English.


  • David Ing is the president (2011-2012), of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He welcomes deep thinkers from around the world to join in an interactive learning experience at the annual meeting of the ISSS, scheduled for July 15-20, 2012, in San Jose, California. David Ing responded to this interview from his home in Toronto, Canada.

Performance, 2012, number 2

1. Could you please, in just a few words, explain to us what the systems sciences deal with and what your specialty area is?

The systems sciences — many of us prefer sciences in the plural — study the nature of parts and wholes. People may say that they are systems thinkers: they view the world primarily as relations of part-whole, part-part and whole-whole arrangements in space and time. Systems thinking enables a basic foundation across a wide variety of domains, including (i) natural systems in geographic and biological domains, and (ii) man-made systems in social and informatic domains.

In 2011-2012, I am serving as the president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). Our annual meeting for July 2012 will be at San Jose State University, in California. We expect a broad range of systems researchers and practitioners to come together for interdiscipinary and transciplinary discussions over five days.… Read more (in a new tab)

An interview by Performance magazine — with an issue focused on systems in architecture and related disciplines — has now been published. Since the content has been translated into German (as well as reduced for length) — the original interview is posted below, in English.


  • David Ing is the president (2011-2012), of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He welcomes deep thinkers from around the world to join in an interactive learning experience at the annual meeting of the ISSS, scheduled for July 15-20, 2012, in San Jose, California. David Ing responded to this interview from his home in Toronto, Canada.

Performance, 2012, number 2

1. Could you please, in just a few words, explain to us what the systems sciences deal with and what your specialty area is?

The systems sciences — many of us prefer sciences in the plural — study the nature of parts and wholes. People may say that they are systems thinkers: they view the world primarily as relations of part-whole, part-part and whole-whole arrangements in space and time. Systems thinking enables a basic foundation across a wide variety of domains, including (i) natural systems in geographic and biological domains, and (ii) man-made systems in social and informatic domains.

In 2011-2012, I am serving as the president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). Our annual meeting for July 2012 will be at San Jose State University, in California. We expect a broad range of systems researchers and practitioners to come together for interdiscipinary and transciplinary discussions over five days.… Read more (in a new tab)

Systems thinking and (the) systems science(s) in a system of ideas

On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge.  Basic descriptions are hard to write.  Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.

I appreciate that novices like definitions.  In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas.  In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals.  As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.  Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store.  Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration.  Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.

Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think.  … Read more (in a new tab)

On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge.  Basic descriptions are hard to write.  Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.

I appreciate that novices like definitions.  In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas.  In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals.  As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.  Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store.  Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration.  Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.

Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think.  … Read more (in a new tab)

Digest on Service Systems Science at Tokyo Institute of Technology (2009)

Systems Sciences Meet Service SciencesThe Service Innovation Educational Program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology hosted an “Open Seminar on Service Systems Science” (with a flyer in PDF) — as well as a private “Invited Workshop on Services Science, Management and Engineering” — in February 2009.

I’ve just noticed that much of the content is totally opaque to people who don’t read Japanese, so I’ve posted my (English-language) digest of the meetings on the Coevolving Innovation Commons.  The text is incomplete, but it at least provides a minimal sketch of some of the ideas discussed. (Digital photographs help, too!).  Speakers include:

The 2009 meetings were an annual extension of the 2008 21st Century CoE Symposium, and the first Invited Workshop on SSME.

With many of the researchers coming from a perspective of systems science, the trend has been to work out some of the ideas on an emerging science of service systems.

Systems Sciences Meet Service SciencesThe Service Innovation Educational Program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology hosted an “Open Seminar on Service Systems Science” (with a flyer in PDF) — as well as a private “Invited Workshop on Services Science, Management and Engineering” — in February 2009.

I’ve just noticed that much of the content is totally opaque to people who don’t read Japanese, so I’ve posted my (English-language) digest of the meetings on the Coevolving Innovation Commons.  The text is incomplete, but it at least provides a minimal sketch of some of the ideas discussed. (Digital photographs help, too!).  Speakers include:

The 2009 meetings were an annual extension of the 2008 21st Century CoE Symposium, and the first Invited Workshop on SSME.

With many of the researchers coming from a perspective of systems science, the trend has been to work out some of the ideas on an emerging science of service systems.

Business Models and Evolving Economic Paradigms: A Systems Science Approach

In summer 2006, I constructed a curriculum on International Service Business Management for a one-year master’s program in Finland. Appropriate to the Finnish style, this content was assembled in rapid development. With a profile of students admitted mostly with technical undergraduate degrees and 5-to-10 years of working experience, the curriculum leaned toward the style normally expected in a practical executive MBA program.

In contrast, at presentations in August 2007, and then again in March 2008, Jim Kijima proposed a more ambitious challenge — for the new program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology — looking at services science based on systems science. For full-time graduate students, he sees systems science as a “liberal art” where their perspectives are broadened beyond their disciplinary technical teaching. In Japan, it’s not enough to have T-shaped professionals, they expect pi-shaped people, i.e. two downward stems with at least a major and a minor, in addition to the crossbar.

I took the idea of services science and systems science as a challenge, and constructed an article and a presentation for the ISSS Madison 2008 meeting as an exercise. With a target of master’s level engineering and management students, developing this content was based on a few premises:

In summer 2006, I constructed a curriculum on International Service Business Management for a one-year master’s program in Finland. Appropriate to the Finnish style, this content was assembled in rapid development. With a profile of students admitted mostly with technical undergraduate degrees and 5-to-10 years of working experience, the curriculum leaned toward the style normally expected in a practical executive MBA program.

In contrast, at presentations in August 2007, and then again in March 2008, Jim Kijima proposed a more ambitious challenge — for the new program at the Tokyo Institute of Technology — looking at services science based on systems science. For full-time graduate students, he sees systems science as a “liberal art” where their perspectives are broadened beyond their disciplinary technical teaching. In Japan, it’s not enough to have T-shaped professionals, they expect pi-shaped people, i.e. two downward stems with at least a major and a minor, in addition to the crossbar.

I took the idea of services science and systems science as a challenge, and constructed an article and a presentation for the ISSS Madison 2008 meeting as an exercise. With a target of master’s level engineering and management students, developing this content was based on a few premises:

Curriculum in a coevolving world

If the world is changing so that co-evolution of organizations and technology is required, what is the content that students should be trained in?

Here’s an interesting high-level view of “New ICT Curricula for the 21st Century“:

… the Career Space consortium recommends that ICT Curricula should consist of the following core elements:

  • a scientific base of 30%,
  • a technology base of 30%,
  • an application base and systems thinking of 25% and,
  • a personal and business skills element of up to 15%.

It’s probably something that should be noted, given the “brand name” recognition of sponsors associated with the consortium.

I’m active in the systems science community, so I find it interesting that “systems thinking” is named on the list. This requirement is less surprising, given the origins of the initiative in Europe.

So, should we have a similar interest in “systems thinking” in North America?

If the world is changing so that co-evolution of organizations and technology is required, what is the content that students should be trained in?

Here’s an interesting high-level view of “New ICT Curricula for the 21st Century“:

… the Career Space consortium recommends that ICT Curricula should consist of the following core elements:

  • a scientific base of 30%,
  • a technology base of 30%,
  • an application base and systems thinking of 25% and,
  • a personal and business skills element of up to 15%.

It’s probably something that should be noted, given the “brand name” recognition of sponsors associated with the consortium.

I’m active in the systems science community, so I find it interesting that “systems thinking” is named on the list. This requirement is less surprising, given the origins of the initiative in Europe.

So, should we have a similar interest in “systems thinking” in North America?

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      Ames and Hall (2003) provide some tips for those studyng the DaoDeJing.
    • Diachronic, diachrony
      Finding proper words to express system(s) change(s) can be a challenge. One alternative could be diachrony. The Oxford English dictionary provides two definitions for diachronic, the first one most generally related to time. (The second is linguistic method) diachronic ADJECTIVE Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “diachronic (adj.), sense 1,” July 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/3691792233. For completeness, prochronic relates “to […]
    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2”, edited by F. E. Emery (1981)
      The selection of readings in the “Introduction” to Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2, Penguin (1981), edited by Fred E. Emery, reflects a turn from 1969 when a general systems theory was more fully entertained, towards an urgency towards changes in the world that were present in 1981. Systems thinking was again emphasized in contrast […]
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      In reviewing the original introduction for Systems Thinking: Selected Readings in the 1969 Penguin paperback, there’s a few threads that I only recognize, many years later. The tables of contents (disambiguating various editions) were previously listed as 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings. — begin paste — Introduction In the selection of papers for this […]
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