Following the workshop at 2019 CANSEE Conference, cohosted with David L. Hawk, we were invited to contribute an article to a special issue of WEI Magazine. Here’s the abstract for the workshop in May:
Systems Changes, Environmental Deterioration
This dialogue-oriented workshop will be framed by two short position papers (< 30 minutes each) towards energizing a discussion on the prospects for systems thinking and ecological economics.
(1) Systems Changes research program
Shifting the emphasis from stable states to a fluid world, what patterns describe shifts due to (i) human will, and (ii) nature? The Systems Changes program aims to extend research from the 1970s (e.g. West Churchman systems approach; Horst Rittel wicked problems; Christopher Alexander pattern language; Eric Trist and Cal Pava action learning) with 21st century advances (e.g. holons and hierarchy theory; resilience science; ecological anthropology; open sourcing).
(2) Environmental Deterioration: What have we learned about systems change(s) over the past 50 years?
Since the 1960s, nations have enacted regulations towards environment issues, sustainability of resources and stewardship of the environment: USA EPA (1969); Canadian EPA (1988/1999); EU Treaty of Maastricht (1993). Yet in 2009, the Stockholm Resilience Centre declared that human activity has exceeded two thresholds of nine planetary boundaries. Is it too late for the human race to act, or even to try? The 1979 Ph.D. dissertation on “Regulation of Environmental Deterioration” from the University of Pennsylvania will be considered retrospectively.
(3) Dialectic: Group Discussion
In an open group discussion, in what ways might a shift from “systems thinking” towards “systems changes” make a difference (or not)?
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With governance of online communications a problematique, the Systems Changes learning circle has actively been advancing our collaborations on the Open Learning Commons as an open platform, and the Digital Life Collective for semi-private communications. Complementing the Systems Community of Inquiry, this combination of technologies presents alternatives for Systems Thinking communities who are uncomfortable with the terms and conditions of commercial providers (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn).
The systems sciences community was invited to participate in workshops at the ISSS 2019 Corvallis meeting in June.
The governance of the Open Learning Commons operates under Creative Commons licensing. The Digital Life Collective operates globally as a member-owned platform cooperative, incorporated under a UK jurisdiction.
Joining these online platforms may not be as convenient as having a commercial enterprise “take care” of communications amongst individuals. While I personally participate (and am named in groups of administrators) on most major social platforms involving systems thinking, my depth of involvement is consciously selective based on terms and conditions. On a Dec. 23 thread on The Ecology of Systems Thinking group on Facebook, I responded to some questions, and have permission to repost the exchange publicly.
From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, methods for organizing for service engagements at scale were developed at IBM. Although this investment in knowledge management was huge, changes in the organization by the late-2000s saw this rich body of intellectual capital practically disappear. Appreciation for the framework remains in the memories of practitioners in the IBM Global Services organization — particularly the methodologists — immersed during that period. Some foundational historical artifacts can be rediscovered on the open Internet:
- 1. Configurable Development Processes (2002)
- 2. Method Adoption Workshops (2000)
- 3. Eclipse Process Framework Composer (2007)
The resemblance to pattern language, as prescribed by Christoper Alexander, is not accidental. Excerpts from these three sources are provided here, to entice readers who might seek out the full articles.
1. Configurable Development Processes (2002)
The Work Product based methods started in IBM at the rise of object-oriented methods. With OO as a new paradigm, incompatibilities across the variety of approaches frustrated clients trying to get work done. The end results seemed pretty much the same. The resolution for IBM came through centering on ends (work products) first, and means (techniques) second. The methods originating in software development became cross-appropriated into services engagement for other domain offerings (e.g. business strategy, organizational change).
Here’s an excerpt that shows the centrality of Work Product Descriptions (WPDs) from:
Work products cover the full range of project work including project management, business process design, organizational change, requirements, usability, architecture, design, construction, and testing.
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One of my millennial sons has framed IBM as “the Google of my generation”. My career path included assignments and visits to the IBM Advanced Business Institute, in Palisades, NY. Mentions of that team, and the Palisades Executive Conference Center where it was located, have mostly disappeared from the Internet. As one of the younger IBM professionals to have known the ABI, I can provide some history. (If friends want to correct me, I welcome that!)
- 1. The Palisades Executive Conference Center opened in 1989
- 2. The Executive Consulting Institute from 1993 was instrumental in education for IBM Consulting Group
- 3. The Advanced Business Institute offered courses for customer executives 1989-2004
While the Facebook page for the IBM Palisades Executive Conference Center has recent additions, the venue hasn’t had that title for some years.
1. The Palisades Executive Conference Center opened in 1989
IBM Palisades is not to be confused with the IBM Learning Centre in Armonk, that was opened in 1979, a facility primarily for the (internal) management development of IBM executives. IBM Palisades is also not the Thornwood Conference Center in Westchester County, opened in 1985, that was more often used for customer technical briefings.
IBM Palisades was originally designated for customer executive education, i.e. CEOs and VPs on corporate retreats hosted by IBM. The grounds are well-secluded, and easy to secure. The site is on the west side of the Hudson River, which most people would presume as being in New Jersey. … Read more (in a new tab)
One of the aims of the Systems Changes research program is to build on the pattern language approach. This body of work stretches back into the 1960s, and has been cross-appropriated from built environments to software development (e.g. agile methods) and organizational change. The February 2019 meeting of Systems Thinking Ontario was an opportunity to bring some people not familiar with the territory up to speed.
Here is the abstract for the talk:
The 1977 book, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction is prominent in public library collections around the world. It represents, however, only one stage of the many works by Christopher Alexander, from his first book published in 1964, to his final book released in 2012. In addition multiple international conferences continue his legacy, in architecture and urban design (PUARL, for 10 years), in software development (PLoP, for 25 years), and in social change (PURPLSOC, for 5 years). Alexander was a builder of environment structure — an architect — and other communities have aspired to adopt the approach that he championed.
This Systems Thinking Ontario session will review pattern languages in three parts:
- The Eishin School project (1985, published as a book in 2012);
- Multi-Service Centers (1968); and
- Beyond Built Environments, cross-appropriating the approach from architecture to other domains.
The pursuit of “systems generating systems” at the foundation of Christopher Alexander’s pattern language has generally not been appreciated, and deserves a deeper inquiry.
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In what ways might the generation of wholeness through pattern language be strengthened, through an appreciation of advances in the systems sciences? A workshop at the 2018 International PUARL Conference was an opportunity to review linkages and discuss some details.
An outline to frame the conversation was written in three parts.
- 1. Communicative Framing
- 1.1 Form and synthesis
- 1.2 Organization as semi-lattice
- 1.3 Systems generating systems
- 1.4 Generative patterns and non-generative patterns in software development
- 1.5 System-A and system-B, as two ways of shaping and building living environments
- 1.6 Holons (from systems ecology)
- 2. Dialectical Sensemaking
- 2.1 Types of systems and models
- 2.2 Autopoiesis and allopoiesis
- 2.3 Economies as agricultural, industrial and services (coproduction)
- 3. Narrative Synthesizing
In full, the abstract read:
Does a pattern language generate into (a) whole(s)? This workshop will discuss the meaning of architecting a system, complemented with recent research from the systems sciences.
In 1967, at the formation for Center for Environmental Structure, Pattern Manual specified that (sub)systems are fewer in number (and implicitly larger) than patterns:
The environmental pattern language will contain hundreds of subsystems and tens of thousands of individual patterns. Every conceivable kind of building, every part of every kind of building, and every piece of the larger environment will be specified by one or more subsystems of the environmental pattern language.
In summary: An environmental pattern language is a coordinated body of design solutions capable of generating the complete physical structure of a city.
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