Open Meeting

Open Meeting - Winter 2018/19

Please note that places fill up quickly for these events. It is advised that you book asap if you intend to come along. Please book via Eventbrite: Eventbrite/scio-open-meeting-winter-2018/19-tickets to avoid disappointment.

This is an open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Session: Productive Organisational Paradoxes - Ivo Velitchkov

It is often said that organisations are full of paradoxes. But this refers to contradictions and tensions. It is understood as something that needs to be taken care of. When organisations are looked at as social systems, however, it becomes clear that they are only possible because of paradoxes, and particularly paradoxes of self-reference. Understanding how these paradoxes create and maintain organisations is an important skill for practitioners trying to make sense of what's going on and improve it. The basic generative organisational paradox is that of decisions. It brings new light not only on decision patterns and dependencies, but also on understanding the nature of objectives, power, and relations with clients.

Session: Measuring Organisational Agility - Patrick Hoverstadt

Organisational agility is now a relatively hot topic, which it wasn’t when I first talked about this subject at SCiO 6 years ago. Since then, we’ve significantly developed and extended the model for measuring agility, so will be talking about the latest developments.

We’ll start with the need for business agility, going beyond the hype to look at the business reality and strategic importance of agility. We’ll then go on to look at the different aspects and elements of organisational agility, an overview of how we measure those and then go on to talk about the need for balance across the different aspects. We’ll then go on to look at different approaches to increasing agility and the use of agility metrics as an organisation design tool.

In the process, we’ll link the work both in terms of theory and practice to VSM and some other systems models and approaches. In particular we’ll look at the working of the 3,4,5 homeostat in VSM and the critical role that plays in organisational agility. We’ll link the modelling and practice of the homeostat through to some new developments in neuroscience and show how these are important both in terms of agility and in reference to Boyd’s OODA loop. 

Session: Wicked Problems in Design and Ethics - Ben Sweeting

One of the most important intersections between design and systems is their shared concern for ethics. When we think of ethical considerations in either context, we often do so in terms of applied ethics—as the application of ethical insight to guide practice, addressing issues such professional standards of conduct, and our relationships to the environment and to each other.

There are, however, difficulties with thinking of the relationship between ethics and practice in this way. To see ethics in terms of application is to imply that it is external to practice, a view that can lead to us seeing ethical considerations as something to be traded off against other goals. In any case, it is not as if ethics is a settled body of theory that can authoritatively guide our actions. Depending which theories or ideas we refer to we receive different guidance as to what to do.

There are parallels between this situation and the wicked problems that are commonplace in design and systems practice, such that the ways in which we design and organise the world may have as much to contribute to ethical theory as vice versa. Drawing on ideas from design, systems theory and cybernetics, this talk develops an understanding of how ethical questions may be implicitly integrated within how we act in the world, such that they need not be understood in terms of external limitations or competing priorities.

Session: Coordination is not the answer to the division of work ! - Stephen Brewis

The Model T wasn’t Fords product, it was River Rouge, anybody could make the Model T but not  everybody could make River Rouge.  River Rouge was a special type of transactional organisation that gave it competitive advantage. This  advantage comprised of Taylorising the activities by separating the Knowledge from the activity, and coordinating these activities by moving the car between stations, there was no communication/learning between stations, but demonstrated the benefits of efficiency through automation , Brains mechanise and automatons Automate. The Brains were in the few and the automatons were in the many, but the knowledge of the car was no longer present in the worker.

In the knowledge economy, where information rules, this is not sufficient, coordination is no longer the answer to the division of work. This talk will focus on knowledge and information using the fundamental principles of cybernetics and information theory to derive a maximally irreducible organisation set, capable of extracting the maximum amount of information from its operation, to maximise its decisioning effectiveness.

The talk will ground these ideas through a detailed case study looking at how by changing BT's organisational structure the quality of its decisioning can be significantly improved.

Open Meeting - Autumn 2018

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Advance booking can be made here:

Session: Inverting the pyramid - Mike Burrows

Sooner or later, most Agile teams find that it’s hard to sustain change, and harder to still to encourage the wider organisation to change with it. How about we turned it upside down, inverting the organisational pyramid so that supporting change becomes the organisation’s responsibility? How might we make that work?

Session: Mind the Gap! The missing body of knowledge and methodology for assessing peoples’ systems thinking capability - Niki Jobson

Both the academic and corporate literature recognise the value of systems thinking in helping today’s decision makers address the socially complex and dynamic challenges they face.  However, as systems thinking is an emerging professional practice there are a number of requirements for a body of knowledge to enable organisations and decision makers to develop staff, or access external resources, that have the requisite knowledge and skills. Specifically, what they require are: 1) a competency framework which defines the body of technical knowledge (concepts, methods tools and techniques), practitioner skills and behaviours 2) an assessment framework that enables competencies to be evaluated, measured and assessed and 3) assessment methodologies. This session will include:

  1. an outline of an SCiO’s competency framework being developed in line with the Level 7 apprenticeship
  2. interactive session seeking feedback on the individual elements of the competency framework
  3. exploring the systems methods and tools used during practice that that members find most useful
  4. exploring thoughts on potential assessment of systems competence
Session: Predicting Organizational Crisis using the VSM - Michael Pfiffner

This session looks at organizational crisis – one that poses an existential threat to an organization, and at the VSM conditions, which can be used to understand and predict such organisational crises. The findings of a quantitative phd-study with 135 organizations shows that the (absence of) system viability is significantly and strongly connected with the occurrence of Organisational crisis. We discuss the limitations, implications and consequences of these findings.

Session: Reconnecting Severed Heads: a case for subjective-empiricism in systemic intervention - Louie Gardiner

This will be an interactive workshop session.

I give first-person inquiry (critical self-reflection/reflexion) prominence alongside second and third person inquiry, and I express the emotional experience of being in a research process. I thus avoid the ‘severed head’ syndrome (abstracted rational thinking) advocated in the Academy, which demands the partial or total separation of the Self from the research process, and rational inquiry from the emotions – as if this were even possible. Instead, I take the stance that, without me (the active, reflective-reflexive agent) I could produce no research. Through my approach, I found my way to comprehending what I later discovered von Foerster conveyed through his analogy of the chicken, egg and rooster: when it comes to first, second and third-person inquiry, we need all three.

I embody this inclusive stance in my thesis, writing in four voices/dimensions which I call ‘state-waves’. These constitute ways of ‘being-expressing’ self-knowing. Each enriches my emergent narrative and research experience, contributing to my sense-making and a profusion of insights and novel contributions.

Open Meeting and AGM - Summer 2018

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Please note that places fill up quickly for these events. It is advised that you book asap if you intend to come along. Please book via Eventbrite: to avoid disappointment.

Session: Peter Lacey - System Dynamics in healthcare

Peter will provide insights from the use System Dynamics modelling over a 20yr career in health and social care consultancy.  He will provide people with a walk through of some existing models (see here) and explore some of the pitfalls and benefits of the approach.  There will be an opportunity to explore both quantitative and qualitative elements of systems and how they feature in SD modelling against a background of the culture and expectations of the health and care system today.

Session: Jonathan Higginbottom - Enterprise Architecture and Bi-Modal transformation

Jonathan will talk about his experiences in designing and managing IT led transformations that use a combination of both waterfall and agile approaches and the issues of dealing with these two very different project methodologies in parallel.

Session: Curtis Brackenbury - The Cybernetics of Neuro-Linguistic Programming

In elite sport recognition skills, pattern recall and decision-making are critical success skills that impact the outcome of a game. How good the decisions are, is determined not only by the quality of information available and the quality experience athletes draw or on the athlete’s self interest, memory and outside stimulus but the relationship between the coach and the athlete.

The hockey coach / athlete relationship can be visualized as a cybernetic loop in which meaning is constructed through reciprocal feedback. The first feedback loop enables a coach/athlete or team to learn a pattern of behavior that is appropriate for a particular environment.  This is an observation action cycle in which observations of what is going on plus what has gone in similar situations informs decision making. The second feedback loop enables the coach/athlete or team to take a break in the action. It occurs because they recognized that the environment has changed and that in order for them to survive/win a new pattern of behavior is required immediately. They then revert back to the first loop.  

The cybernetic loop is also used by coaches to not only create an environment that is conducive to learning but be flexible enough to see the athletes for who they are rather than being emotionally driven by what they expect them to be. This developmental coach athlete relationship provides a scaffolding of connection and nurturance while pushing the envelope to support further exploration. The athletes learns with the attuned coaches support that they can tolerate what initially appeared to be intolerable thus widen their window of tolerance. This adaptation leads to a positive change in their behavior traits and an opportunity to reach their goals.

Session: John Rogers - The pain, the potential and the need for paracetamol: bringing systems thinking to complex soft systems for vulnerable people

Wiltshire Council has been using systems thinking as its improvement approach for eleven years; over that time the council has applied the approach with its principal delivery partners in increasingly large systems. One reason for this evolution is that the approach has proved better at tackling complex ‘hard to solve’ problems than other methods (which often did the opposite).

Over the last 18 months, we have focused our keenest attention on where the system is the poorest fit for those for whom it is intended. The evidence is clear that the system could be better – the tricky question we now face is what to do about it.

In this presentation and discussion session I’ll bring our findings and thinking to date, and hope to come away with more that I brought….

Open Meeting - Spring 2018

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Please book through Eventbrite:

Session: Peter Miles: Demosophia - Collective Intelligence through Structured Dialogue

John Warfield and Aleco Christakis developed the field of Interactive Management in the US in the 1980s, and Christakis subsequently evolved it into the methodology Structured Dialogic Design. In its various forms (and under different names) it has been widely applied across the globe in enabling groups to tackle wicked problems and complex challenges, but is not well known in the UK. This presentation will outline the methodology, it’s provenance, and the current state of practice.

Session: Alexandra Stubbings: Adaptive Organisation Design - organising with stakeholders in mind

As companies increasingly need to collaborate to deliver large projects, and as the world of work gets evermore complex with short-term contracts and the ‘gig economy’, it is getting harder to structure organisations that are fit for purpose and adaptive to changing needs. In this session Alexandra will share with us her experience and some of the ideas and tools she has developed to work systemically in organisation design and think about questions like: How do you create effective multi-party teams and partnerships that fully take stakeholders’ priorities into account? How do you engage well across organisational boundaries? How do you ensure accountability in these multi-party teams?

Session: Ian Glossop: STREAMS – Systems Thinking, Real Enterprise Architecture and Management Science

This presentation will outline the STREAMS ideas and Philosophy.  STREAMS is a set of ideas about how to build and manage an Enterprise based on a common, rigorous STREAMS Philosophy. It leads to methodologies, methods and techniques for building, managing, evolving and innovating Enterprises that can be applied in practice but, like an Engineering approach, its methods are grounded in rigorous research and understanding.

Common to the three main strands, or tributaries, of STREAMS is the Use of Models: conceptual models of a variety of descriptions and characteristics ranging from highly complex mathematical models informed by volumes of quantitative data grounded in empirical observation and measurement to simple qualitative models expressing some simple truth. The purpose of the models is to guide Decision Making.

STREAMS is a set of ideas that are both transdisciplinary and integrative of theory and practice. It is "Trans-disciplinary" in the sense that it eclectically draws on ideas, theories, principles and methods from a range of academic disciplines - deliberately paying no heed to the traditional divisions in universities - or similar academic institutions. It is "Integrative" in the sense that is seeks to blend these ideas into a coherent, well-founded theoretical framework - but also incorporate empirically grounded and proven ideas and practices from Practice, not just academic theory. STREAMS is not intended to be an academic exercise in the social science but theoretically-sound ideas and methods for practitioners in engineering enterprises.

Session: Parag Gogate: Using Lego® Serious Play® for problem framing and solving

This will be an interactive workshop session where Parag will introduce the science behind the Lego® Serious Play® methodology and guide the group working on a real world problem.

The Lego® Serious Play® methodology is an innovative, experimental process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. It is based on research which shows that this kind of hands-on, minds-on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities, the Lego® Serious Play® methodology deepens the reflection process and supports an effective dialogue – for everyone in the organisation. It taps into the human ability to imagine, to describe and make sense of the issues at hand, to initiate change and improvement, and even to create something radically new.

Open Meeting - Winter 2017/18

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

There is a fee of £20 for all attendees for these meetings. Please pay by Eventbrite:

Session: 1. Allen Woods - Testing Viability – Data Transitions

Between each of the VSM constituent systems there are feedback loops.  An explanation of the nature of the kinds of processing that each feedback loop may require to support the principle of “Clear Line of Sight” on a coherent basis such that the impact of inferential distance can be reduced  and at the same time detect anomalies associated with “Inversion of Control” and their impact.

Session: 2. Kim Warren - Living Business Models: "practical and powerful"

Kim will talk about his work using system dynamics modelling to model businesses, strategy and change.

Session: 3. Louise Yates and Nairy McMahon – Welcome to the Edge: A Model to Successfully Navigate Change

The term "edge" is more and more part of our daily language. Situations can feel "edgy" or you might declare yourself to be on the "edge of a breakthrough" (or breakdown...)

Understanding Edge Theory provides us with a simple framework to work effectively with the complexities of change. This model helps teams and organisational systems to understand: WHERE they are in relation to the change, WHAT dynamics are present that may help or hinder the change process and HOW to "Cross the Edge" and implement change successfully. Join us for an interactive, experiential workshop that will give you a simple yet effective roadmap which you can use to navigate change more skilfully, shift out of “stuck” situations and motivate teams to embrace a change process.

Session: 4. Stephen Brewis – Modelling BT using the Viable System Model

Stephen will talk about the latest developments in building and using his dynamic computer based viable system model for planning and delivering change in BT.

Open Meeting - Autumn 2017

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Please pay via eventbrite:

Session: Portia Light - Fake art, bad science and what we can learn from using systems thinking to examine the mechanics of law

Stemming from the Enlightenment period, science has come to be viewed as the best way to establish truth from an objective standpoint. In its quest for the black and white outcomes of “guilty/not guilty”, it is perhaps not surprising that the legal system has become affected by the dominant reductionist narrative of positivism. Positivist politics have been enforced though both the technicalities of law and the details of legal procedures that have come to rely heavily on forensics.

Art on the other hand has, and always will be, a platform for communities who have been marginalised by scientific fact to disrupt the usual narrative, to point out its limitations.

When the two fields of art and science collide in the theatre of a courtroom it creates an intriguing situation from which to observe the mechanics of the legal system. With stories from the time she has spent observing such phenomena, Portia will show how considering what could be ‘true’ in what many people have come to define as ‘not true’ is key to creating both less-politicised and less-positive systems that allow for more variety of outcomes. Portia is a strategy consultant who studied Law and Anthropology to masters level at the London School of Economics.

Session: Steve Whitla - Making more meaningful models: A hands-on guide

This will be a practical session on visualising systems in ways that other people can understand. If “all models are wrong but some are useful”, we propose that some of this usefulness comes down to how meaningful the model is to those who didn’t create it. If you have ever built an elegant, powerful, predictive model of a system that excited little or no interest from the people affected by it, then this workshop is for you!

You can apply the principles from this session whether you are building a representation yourself or briefing a graphic designer, standing in front of a whiteboard with a marker pen or making sense of what someone else is scribbling in front of you, building a Powerpoint deck to explain your findings to stakeholders or revising existing material you have inherited. The session will be interactive and will involve drawing, but purely to make the principles come to life - you do not need any artistic talent.

The session will be run by Steve Whitla, the founder of Visual Meaning (, and illustrated with examples from real-life projects. Visual Meaning is a niche consultancy that seeks to make the world a more meaningful place by bringing systems thinking and visual thinking together.

Session: Peter Lacey - System Dynamics in Healthcare

Peter Lacey will provide insights from the use System Dynamics modelling over a 20yr career in health and social care consultancy. He will provide people with a walk through of some existing models (see here: ) and explore some of the pitfalls and benefits of the approach. There will be an opportunity to explore both quantitative and qualitative elements of systems and how they feature in SD modelling against a background of the culture and expectations of the health and care system today.

Session: Benjamin Taylor - Meta-contextuality through the medium of Bongard games: why methods and practices depend on context

Many of us are searching for 'neat and complete' answers to the messiness and complexity of (organisational / social / economic / ecological) life. Me too, though I've always known it's impossible. Then I stumbled across Bongard games on thanks to Mike Haber, and discovered a way to demonstrate - through experience - why it's not possible. I'll invite you to experience the joy of Bongard, and lead a discussion on Meta-contextuality, meaning-making and related ideas - focusing on why this is really valuable. This practice session will use a lot of pretentious language and high-falutin' concepts, but only for fun. The underlying idea is deadly simple, important, and useful.

Benjamin P Taylor runs RedQuadrant, a network consultancy, mainly in public services, and the not-for-profit social enterprise the Public Service Transformation Academy, is a nonexec director of SCIO and is trying to organise and make useful the world's systems thinking at

Open Meeting - Summer 2017

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

There is a fee of £20 for all attendees for these meetings. Places are limited so booking through Eventbrite is recommended to avoid disappointment.

Session: Russell Gundry - An Ecology of Health

We refer to 'healthcare' as a system, suggestive of structures and boundaries.  What can we take health to mean beyond healthcare?  Are our efforts to create 'person centred healthcare' simply a matter of re-drawing organisational charts with patients at the middle?  If we define patient as a person in the care of a health professional, are we increasing reliance on a system geared toward the treatment of illness?  If we assume free supply is met with unlimited demand, do we, intentionally or otherwise, create a system in that image?

Russell argues that our healthcare systems have, by large, failed to take account of the complexity of people, and that our limited approaches to managing complexity have the perverse effect of increasing demand on an ailing system.  He suggests that a radical reconceptualisation of health as an ecological system is necessary - to address the needs of people, rather than the needs of the system.

Session: Jan de Visch - A Map To Think “Systemically” About What Is Not Yet There

The fourth industrial revolution is powered by cognitive computing, which automates many aspects of the human intellect. Algorithms are increasingly capable of identifying connections, patterns and co-evolution in big data, enabling us to make sense from a systemic perspective. At the same time complexity is paralyzing innovation in ecosystems. It is more and more difficult to describe interconnections between parts of an eco-system and while individual behavior can be predicted it becomes difficult to predict aggregate behavior. This calls for fundamental new ways of dialog, thinking and modelling for a complex world.

Our natural emphasis in dialog is predominantly on content, on what is said, with scant attention paid to how it is said, and the movements-in-thought that have led to what is said. Even in thinking systemically we tend to focus on the information, categories and queries used to describe relationships. It is very rare to pay attention to the thought structure of what is said by a dialog partner or oneself. Speaking is not primarily a way of ‘describing’ but actually of ‘creating’ (constructing) reality. Recent cognitive adult developmental research provides us a map to assess how we construct our reality and to identify many different types of systemic thinking. The map helps us to understand how we co-construct a wide variety of systemic realities through dialog.

The focus of this introduction will be on how to discover the predominant structures in one’s own systemic thinking, and how to transcend the limitations of formal logical thinking in making sense of non-linearity, path dependence, feedback-loops, instability and many other characteristics of complex dynamic systems. Jan De Visch will highlight how the top structure of sustainable growth companies think differently, engage in different dialog and how they make sense about what is not yet there. He will close his introduction by highlighting the relevance of the ‘dialectical’ approach for policy design, making sense of the fourth industrial revolution, sustainable organizational growth and facilitating future leadership development.

Jan De Visch is managing director of Connect & Transform ( and Executive professor Human Capital Management at Flanders Business School (Catholic University of Leuven). He has more than 25 years of experience in business model shift facilitation, innovation in human capital processes, and supporting sustainable business development. He works on the alignment of accountability design, performance management, an talent development. His most recent publication is Leadership: Mind(s) Creating Value(s) (2014).

Session: Elizabeth McDonnell - Thinking Systemically - what is it and how might diagramming help?

In this session, I wish to explore 3 themes (1) the nature of 'thinking systemically' (2) the role of critical reflection in thinking systemically (3) the interplay between use of diagramming, critical reflection and thinking systemically.

The approach will be a mix of presentation and participant discussion. I will present some of my own thoughts on each theme, and at intervals ask participants to consider this input and discuss their views on the theme.

Session: Paul King - Making it Personal: Viable Systems, NLP & A Body-Mind of Knowledge

Gregory Bateson’s influence reaches deep into the fabric of NLP which can be defined in essence as ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience’. All its major techniques are based on cybernetic principles. We will explore some key systemic NLP concepts and what these might offer the conversation between the inner world of the individual and the larger systems that form its life conditions. We might also explore why Bateson developed a close friendship and appreciation for the work of my Tai Chi teacher!

Paul is an experienced coach and consultant, and co-founder of The Beyond Partnership. His work and that of Beyond  explores and brings together multiple descriptions addressing the issues arising within and between the inner and outer games of individuals, teams and organisations. This includes collaborating with Nora Bateson, the poet David Whyte, the neuro-biologist Andrew Curran and the disciplines of NLP, Spiral Dynamics, Somatics and Tai Chi plus working with horses – a web of repeating patterns, and metaphors. 

Open Meeting and AGM - Spring 2017

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

Please note that the AGM will follow on from the open day (for members)


Session: Michael Walker - From Maidstone to Vilnius: A practitioner’s journey into theory with the VSM

Mike is a currently a consultant supporting ‘transformational’ projects in UK local government.  His previous career has included roles in the Civil Service, Higher Education and a range of Local Authorities, including as Head of Performance & Risk at Swindon Council and Senior Business Change Manager at Trafford Council.  Mike has also followed the well-trodden path of the Open University STiP course, due to complete the MSc this April.

Mike will be speaking about various transformations in local government which he believed closely aligned with the VSM, and which formed the basis of his paper, ‘The Search for Viability: A practitioner’s view of how the Viable Systems Model is helping transform English local government (and how it has passed unrecognised)’, which Mike presented in August 2016 to a symposium in Vilnius, and which is due to be published in Systems Research and Behavioural Science

As well as exploring these examples of transformation, and also why the model might still not be viewed positively in local government, Mike would like to consider with the group his personal journey from working in a Kent council to presenting at a conference in Lithuania, and how we might look again at the age-old tension between theory and practice.


Session: Arthur Battram - Miles Runs the Gurus Down: what we can learn from Miles Davis

Miles Davis merely changed the face of music 4 or 5 times in his career. To be a successful jazz musician and leader is a challenge; to sustain that over more than 30 years is astonishing. He was an indifferent trumpet player and had a reputation as a difficult and arrogant performer. (His controversial personal life has also come under attack, but that falls outside the scope of this work.) Yet aspiring jazz musicians dreamt of playing with him, and all his alumni cherished the experience.

How did Miles do it? I think I know.

The answer to what can we learn from his approach can be found in the ecology of jazz in New York, in the late ’50s and the early to late ’60s, in the nature of the musical employment field at that time, and in his recruitment and HR practices, his succession planning, his learning facilitation, his responsiveness and flexibility, his focus on craft and excellence, and his focus on his key purpose.

Arthur Battram wrote a book: 'Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management' a long time ago, which is being reissued by RedQuadrant in a new enhanced edition with bonus tracks and previously unreleased alternate takes. His next album has the working title of Consensual Communication. In addition to his solo work, he composes and plays keyboards with RedQuadrant, the well-regarded fusion outfit.

Session: Natalie Marguet - Organisational Decision Making: What lies beneath managers’ decisions

Natalie Marguet is currently a PhD student at Alliance Manchester Business School.  The session focuses on an emergent and unexpected finding of her PhD that is aligned with VSM.

Her PhD uses Personal Construct Theory and organisational sensemaking to explore the ways that decision are actually made within organisations. The research considers three interconnected levels of decision making (individual, group and organisation) and utilises a  long standing and well proven 'thinking device' known as a Repertory Grid. The visualisation of the intertwined individual and group decisions permitted a description of the organisational decision from the decision makers themselves.  Further providing the ability to map and quantify the interwoven terrain of an organisational decision. Thrusting managers to refocus and move beyond words, assumptions, clichés and banalities and engage with a reflective person centred approach to decision making practices.  From such a perspective, Stafford Beer's (1979) Viable System Model emerged, supporting a view that the viable system model is not simply a theoretical framework of how a system should operate.  The findings demonstrate that systems do operate in accordance with VSM principles.


Session: Sam Williams - Systems Thinking and Doing in Defence – the misadventures of a boundary spanner and other experiments

Adoption of systems thinking and systems approaches in a hierarchical public sector organisation such as defence can be challenging. The Systems of Systems Approach (SOSA) change programme has spent the last 5 years trying to help the MoD tackle complex problems and improve coherency across defence. This presentation will be an interactive discussion on the application of Systems Approaches and how we communicate them to a non-expert audience in an attempt to make that ‘leap of faith’ for adoption of Systems Thinking and System Approaches more achievable in the business. The talk will give an overview of what SOSA has been doing in the last 5 years, how we are using hindsight to support foresight and how some of that learning might be applicable to other complex organisations. Some audience participation will be required.

Sam Williams has spent the last 20+ years trying to understand and tackle complex problems in Defence. Sam is part of the Systems of Systems Approach team in the MoD, her current work includes promoting the awareness and adoption of applied systems thinking and systems approaches in Defence. Always keen to find new ways of bringing systems thinking and doing to life in both the work and education context, she spends her time trying to bridge the gaps between different fields of knowledge and experience. Sam is Chartered Engineer, an INCOSE Certified Systems Engineering Practitioner and an active STEM ambassador.

Open Meeting - Winter 2016/17

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory. Booking now available through Eventbrite:

Session: Ivan McTaggart - Limitations of Systems Approaches, Methods and Models in Addressing Challenges in Complex Environments

Issues such as the Anthropocene are testament to the complexity of the issues with which systems people (Thinkers, Practitioners, and Engineers) are having to address. The nature of the systems we need to create are more interdependent with complexity inherent and require transient and agile approaches. However, no matter the approach, method, methodology or model our interventions often fail to lead to the implementation of systems that resolve these complex problems, even if used appropriately. This does not mean these approaches are wrong or even flawed, simply that no single philosophy, applied in isolation, can address the variety of complexity.
Ivan Mactaggart is currently a Principal Systems Engineer at the Defence Science &Technology Laboratory (Dstl) where his primary role is providing technical leadership, assurance and consultancy across Land Platforms and associated programmes. Ivan’s current portfolio includes:
• Assured Autonomous Resupply
• Mounted Close Combat
• System Engineering Capability Development
• Enterprise Resilience

Ivan has published on the development of systems understanding, organisational resilience, Systems Engineering in Sport and Agile Systems Engineering. Ivan is a Chartered Engineer, an Associate Lecturer at the Open University and since November 2016, President of INCOSE UK.

Session: Stephen Brewis and Stephen Cassidy - Creating living strategies in a complex world: Implementing cybernetics to create the social capital needed for sustainable success.

In a fast-moving and complex world we need to make speedy decisions involving a large number of business perspectives. We need to co-ordinate a large number of activities to deliver on those decisions. We need all these elements to be bound by a common purpose, to ensure the buy-in of all those involved. Rather than, as in the past, sticking rigidly to “strategic” plans defined at the start of a programme, we need the plan to flex continuously in the light of evolving circumstances – under a more stable held purpose. This requires us to combine concepts of human and social capital with cybernetic principles to co-evolve the organisation.
We present work on a massive and complex change programme, where we have co-evolved the team and complex decision tools to create a smart and sustainable balance between costs, customer service, employee engagement, and corporate & social responsibility (CSR).

Stephen Brewis is a Chartered Engineer and a Chief Research Scientist in the ‘Future Organisation’ research practice where he is currently leading on the closure plans for BT’s TDM Network. He has authored many publications and reviewed several books within his field of Management Cybernetics. He is a Research Fellow at the Manchester Business School and a member of the Computer Science Industry Steering Board at Herriot Watt University, Scotland. Stephen is also a conference organiser and regularly gets asked to speak at conferences as well as giving many talks on his subject at top universities including the Judge Business School at Cambridge University and the Sloane Business School at MIT. He provides thought leadership on Management Problems supporting senior operations managers within BT. His current research interest is the organisational move from human capital to social equity using ideas from brain science and biological Stigmergy.

Stephen Cassidy MA MInstP CEng FIET, Chief Researcher, Systems Science, BT Group is leading a strategic research programme on how organisations will transform in the future, taking account the impacts of technology on industry structure and working practices. This combines computer-based modelling and decision support with the human aspects of culture and organisational structure to optimise key behaviours of the organisation as a whole. Having started his career in optical communications, he has published around 60 papers and 4 book chapters on optical technology and organisational modelling, and holds nearly 60 patents. He is an Advisory Board Member of the Cambridge University Arts and Humanities Doctoral Training Partnership.

Session: Niki Jobson - Ladder of Abstraction

This short presentation will give an overview of the Ladder of Abstraction, a simple but effective tool for helping practitioners and their customers identify the most appropriate level at which to tackle a stated problem and explore a broader range of potential solutions. A real example will be worked through to demonstrate its application.

Dr. Niki Jobson is a Principal systems consultant at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, a visiting Fellow at Cranfield University (Shrivenham) and a non-executive director of SCiO. She has worked in the Defence and Security environment for 20 years focusing on the design of holistic approaches and frameworks that enable problem owners to explore, define and structure their problem situation and establish options for addressing them. Her philosophy is that the breadth and complexity of the problems experienced demands the application of multiple-methods that span both “soft” and “hard” disciplines (systems thinking to systems engineering) and encourage an appropriate balance of divergent and convergent thinking.

Session: Patrick Hoverstadt and Lucy Loh - Patterns of Strategy

Patterns of Strategy has been described as: “the first major new approach to strategy in a long time.”* It is also the first systems approach developed specifically for understanding and formulating strategy.

This extended session will introduce the Patterns of Strategy approach, some of the systems theory behind it and then we’ll move into a practical workshop where the participants will use the approach working in groups on strategic issues of their choice.

The approach drew on several strands of systems and management science: VSM, Game/drama theory, Bateson, Boyd, but primarily Maturana’s structural coupling. Where conventional approaches to strategy focus on either the market or the organisation, Patterns of Strategy focuses on the relationship between an organisation and its environment and specifically on modelling the dynamics of the strategic fit between the two.

For practitioners, some key differences are the ease of modelling and the speed with which strategic situations can be explored, options developed assessed and chosen and the direct linkage to action planning and success criteria. Patterns of Strategy is equally effective in developing strategy for competitive or collaborative situations.

*Paul Barnett, CEO Strategic Management Bureau

Lucy Loh and Patrick Hoverstadt have over 50 years’ combined experience consulting with private and public sector clients internationally and in organizations of all sizes from small to global. Both have designed and delivered postgraduate courses at several European business schools.

They specialise in using systems thinking and management science approaches to tackle complex, intractable management issues where traditional approaches consistently fail. This includes the development of Patterns of Strategy to provide a fresh and systemic approach to this key organisational challenge.

Open Meeting - Autumn 2016

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given - this will include 'craft' and active sessions, as well as introductions to theory.

There is a fee of £10 for all attendees to these meetings. Places are strictly limited due to a change in venue, so booking through Eventbrite is recommended to avoid disappointment

Session: Angela Espinosa - Organisations as complex viable systems:

In this talk Angela will provide a brief review of development of complex systems approaches to management and sustainability research. In particular she will brief the ‘Viability and Sustainability (V&S)’ approach, its methodologies, tools and some recent applications. Then she will summarise the theory offered by the Complex Adaptive Systems approach to this research field, and reflect on examples of application. A comparison among cases studies using the V&S approach and the CAS approach will be provided, and used as a basis for discussion of the differences and complementarities between these and other theoretical approaches to complexity which do also contribute to management and sustainability research.

Angela was born in Bogota, Colombia and graduated as a computer and systems engineer in 1981; she then got a PhD on Organisational Cybernetics from Aston Business School, UK in 1995. She worked originally as an Information Systems Manager, in private and public enterprises, and then as the Director of the Secretariat of Information and Systems of the Colombian President's Office (1990 – 1992). From 1993 to 2002, she taught systems and cybernetics in Los Andes University and provided consultancy for both private and public organisations. She led projects involving the restructuring of national auditing practices, the application of systems tools to national educational and environmental policies, and the introduction of participation in political systems. In this period, she published extensively in Colombia and lead hundreds of postgraduate dissertations in systems and cybernetics.

Since 2002 she has been researching at the Centre of Systems Studies, and teaching at Hull University Business School (HUBS). Since 2009 she has been half time in HUBS and half time an invited fellow at Los Andes Business School. In the last decade, she has focused her research on complexity, sustainability, and self-governance in businesses, eco-communities and networks and regions. She has recently published the second edition of a research monograph on an Imperial College Book Series on Complexity. with developments on theory and applications of Beer’s viability theory, in the context of sustainability research. It includes a summary of works suggesting new research directions, combining Beer’s viability work with state of the art complexity and sustainability research. She has also supervised many MSc and PhD dissertations, developed innovative modules on systemic and environmental management; published extensively in systems and operational research journals; and authored and co-edited several books on the application of cybernetics and systems thinking.

Session: Bryan Hopkins - Using systems thinking tools to identify training needs and evaluate training

Organisations often see training as an important way to improve individual and team performance, but may fail to consider how training relates to broader organisational issues affecting performance, or how it may complement ongoing informal learning activities. Systems thinking as a broader concept provides a useful way of identifying how training can be designed so that it supports individual and team performance more effectively. Tools such as Critical Systems Heuristics, Soft Systems Methodology and the Viable Systems Model can be extremely useful in helping in the design of training programmes. Systems thinking also useful for evaluating the outcomes of training, helping us to move beyond simplistic models which assume that liking training leads to improved performance. This talk will look briefly at some different ways in which systems approaches can play an important part in different aspects of training design and evaluation.

Bryan Hopkins is an independent consultant who specialises in helping international organisations and NGOs in the humanitarian and development sectors to develop training strategies and programmes and evaluate performance- improvement activities. Since 2011 he has been enrolled as a student on the Open University&rsquo;s Systems Thinking in Practice Master&rsquo;s programme, and has been using this as a basis for strengthening the use of systems approaches in his professional practice. One outcome has been a forthcoming book, entitled &ldquo;Learning and Performance: A Systemic Model for Analysing Needs and Evaluating Training&rdquo;.</p>

Session: Joan O'Donnell - Reflexivity in Systems Thinking

How do we regulate ourselves in practice? How do we bring elegance and aesthetics to our work? How can single double and triple loop learning prompt greater reflexivity in practice? How can we embody theoretical knowledge in a way that encompasses all our being and act with deep awareness? How do we ensure that the quality of the interventions we make are enhanced by an awareness of our internal states?
This presentation will draw on a recent study I conducted with social justice advocates working in Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and from which a refined model of how levels of reflexive practice relate to effectiveness emerged. This may be of interest to Systems thinking professionals, who seek to deepen personal practice, or mentor others to develop their reflexive stance.
As an advocate who engages in supervision and peer mentoring of others working towards social justice goals, I have a strong interest in how our internal worlds engage in the systems we seek to change and how that becomes explicit or remains inaccessible to ourselves and others in how we move forward with situations.

Session: Tim James and Mike Haber - Systems Thinking Focussed Workplace Learning Groups

Mike Haber, a University IT Team Leader, and Tim James, a Health Care Commissioner, met at a recent SCiO Development Day and discovered they were independently leading Systems Thinking focussed workplace learning groups.

In a time of tight or non-existent training budgets, both have tapped into a real appetite for bottom-up informal learning groups. They have also found a particular thirst among their colleagues for learning about genuine approaches to deal with complex organisational problems beyond the more typical Project Management Office style “solutions”.

The two groups are quite different in their approaches. One structured, one more free-form. One focussed on tools and process, one more about personal learning styles and perspectives of systems.

This talk will explore their motivations, the similarities and differences between the groups, the reasons for those differences, and what can be learned from them for anyone thinking about establishing their own group.

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