This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.


It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.


It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

NCP Fantasy Systems Thinking "A" Team - Ackoff and Argyris

The next two team members on the NCP five-member Fantasy Systems Thinking Team again consists of one the same as the SP UK course and one new as with the previous post. The difference is that this time the course choice is featured more extensively in the course material discussed on these pages.

Jay Forrester and Systems Dynamics added to the team in the last post, provided what was seen as a clear, straightforward, and relatively uncluttered perspective on the basic internal mechanism comprising a system without a need for any additional lens or any particular overlaid specialized procedures. No doubt there are limitations and levels of complexity increase rapidly but it is inherent complexity not imposed layers.

Russel L. Ackoff's career provides us with insightful, overall perspectives on our approach to systems. It was Ackoff who admonished us to Never improve a part of the system unless it also improves the whole. It was Ackoff, cited in the SP UK course, who had us consider, Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking, and who, as discussed in Approaching a Systems Practice, Yet Again, contrasted “messes” with difficulties.

Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other. I call such situations messes. Problems are abstractions extracted from messes by analysis; they are to messes as atoms are to tables and charts …

Managers do not solve problems, they manage messes.

Future of Operational Research is Past

He also discussed messes in the paper, Systems, Messes and Interactive Planning - Modern Times Workplace, which dealt with the evolution of systems at a paradigm level, as well as extolling the benefits of Participative Planning as something done not for or to an organization but by it, and listing the four attitudes towards planning, Inactive, Reactive, Pre-active and Interactive. There is also the four principle of planning practice that Inter-activists have extracted from their experience - participative, coordinated, integrated and continuous.

More Thinking on Mastering Systems Practice, Dealing with Messes contrasted the SP UK course’s concept of Ackoff’s idea of messes with, for this blog, the more familiar concept of wicked problems, questioning how are "messes" qualitatively different from"wicked problems”?

In Toward a System of Systems Concepts, Ackoff spoke of concrete systems meaning a system that contains at least two elements which are objects. A so-called concrete result then is a supposed state within a moment of time of a concrete system. Jay Forrester and Systems Dynamics seem especially attuned to these types of systems.

Many systems though, such as explored in Digging Systematically Deeper into Designing for a Public Participation Process are mostly abstract, meaning that they are composed of concepts which are defined in large part by the relationships between them and preset assumptions, axioms or postulates. Forrester and Systems Dynamics could still provide valuable insight but more has to be considered.

Such systems also have agents involved in them. They are a purposeful system, which Ackoff defined as one that can, “…produce the outcome in different ways in the same (internal or external) state and can produce different outcomes in the same and different states". More importantly, it can be also an Ideal-seeking system (Kumu) requiring consideration of differences between goals, objectives, and ideals and some concepts related to them. They are also invariably non-linear.

In Creating the Corporate Future 1981, pp. 26–33, Ackoff, as featured in Systems of Complexity, Complexity of Systems Part 1, asserted that for a set of elements to be usefully viewed as a system, it was necessary that the behavior of each element of the set should have an effect on the behavior of the whole set and that their effects on the whole set should be interdependent. Each subgroup, regardless how they are formed, should have the same effect on the behavior of the whole and none should be completely independent. It was the phrase “usefully viewed as a system” or purposeful that is pertinent here in my view. The solely mechanical aspects of a car (running the engine) do not necessarily require all subsystems of the automobile to work in unison towards a purpose but as a (personal) transportation system, it could be argued that they are so required.

The outsider is Chris Argyris whose ideas on Ladder of Inference, as well as his theories of action, single and double-loop learning and organizational learning in, "Teaching Smart People How To Learn” were cited in Systems of Complexity, Complexity of Systems Part 2 and previously by New Community Paradigms in addressing meta-issues discussed in Dancing through the Complexities of Thinking Systematically about Systems Thinking.

Argyris has been more predominantly featured in the exploration and experimentation done first through Insight Maker models and then in Kumu maps. New Organizational Learning Inhibited through Bureaucratic Over Complicatedness & Corruption (IM-16192) is an Insight Maker model with three reinforcing, repeating single loops which, as defined by Argyris, twist the entire system into knots, entrenching the system into the larger environment. The storytelling format (use the “Step Forward” button at the bottom right corner) moves through the model to assert that institutions within entrenched systems can result in the “Corruption of the System” through a “Status Quo Politically Based Corruption of Entrenched Institutions” (R3).

This model was later revised in the Kumu map Inhibited Community Learning Entrenched Institutions which explored How Institutional Entities Created to Benefit Public Organizations Becomes Entrenched to Benefit Only Themselves.

Defending the institutional system’s continued existence in its current form which means maintaining the system in its current form and status of power does not necessarily mean benefiting those individuals in or coming to power. New players may be brought in but the system will be maintained regardless of any well-meaning but ineffectual attempts to change it. A system exists beyond the individuals which are a part of it, the momentum of ongoing processes, the legacy of historical structure and the conscious and unconscious mental models can thoroughly entrench a system, particularly an institutional one.

There is also the ability of institutions such as public sector institutions like city halls to impose legally sanctioned constraints that benefit the few rather than the system as a whole. This is corruption of the system going beyond the usual idea of corruption as an illegal or unethical act by someone. Corruption of a system here is seen as anything that prevents a system from fulfilling its espoused and intended purpose. Well-meaning regulations that result in unintended and unfailingly detrimental consequences are therefore also corruptions of a system.

More recently, the post Active Digital Citizens Seeking New Community Paradigms pt. 3 saw “volunteering” through civil society as important to a community because the political institutions and market institutions cannot be expected to be able or to be trusted to fulfill all the needs of the community, especially in addressing Wicked Problems. Our community challenges are increasingly complex. Our responses to these challenges, therefore, cannot be merely simplistic but needs to be coherently complex.

The blog post Virtual Systemic Inquiry - GPS for New Community Paradigms? asserted that:

“Wicked problems have become so complex, incoherently complex, that they're broken down and perceived as complicated by not only the general public but also those tasked with addressing them with top-down complicated and reductionistic based management systems, sometimes tending to reach high levels of bureaucratic complicatedness."

There is still, however, the added value question regarding any additional complexity system thinking and systems mapping might have to a complex situation or system. It is not up to the system thinker to come up with the expert answer but to first facilitate the true community question and then have them provide the answer.

The Kumu mapping project Changing Assumptions was based on Argyris’ Ladder of Inference and involved both exploration and (thought) experimentation resulting in a presentation which while it still gets increasingly complex and remains hypothetical, hopefully, could be made to provide some helpful insights. It does not provide an out of the box, one size fits all answer, each community must find its own answer.

A systems thinking approach has the potential to take a significantly different path than one dictated by a command and control management approach. The systems thinking approach can call upon the stakeholders of the system in question to take an investigation resulting from a preceding exploration and craft a strategy which will use points of leverage to address the current situation in a manner that is beneficial to the whole system by changing stakeholder and organizational behaviors and avoiding unintended consequences to the greatest extent possible.

The perception is that systemic interventions will promote successful interventions and those successful interventions will result in a better world as well as promote the perceived utility of Systems Thinking.” (Ackoff?)

Past Posts