Open Meeting

SCIO Dach Camp 2019

SCiO - Building Viable Organisations


8:30-9:00 - Beginn/ Get together

9:00- 9:30 - Begrüßung und Vorstellung

Teil 1

9:30 - 12:30 - Viable System Model "Advanced" mit Patrick Hoverstadt ca. 3 h mit Übungen. (in Englisch)

12:30 -13:30 - Mittagessen

Teil 2

Open Meeting and AGM - Summer 2019 [FULLY BOOKED]

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.

This event is now FULLY BOOKED. Sorry!

Session: 1. Kerry Turner - Causal Loop Diagrams: A key tool for Systems Thinking & Practice

Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) are a useful tool in the kitbag of any systems practiotioner. They are used to make our mental models explicit so they can be shared, challenged and understood.  CLDs enable us to capture the parts, connections and feedback in a system. They can be used to build consensus, agree definitions, identify leverage points and explore consequences of potential interventions. They enable us to share our ideas and communicate our understanding of a system to others clearly and powerfully.

The workshop will introduce the concept of a CLD and explore how the diagrams can be developed and used both individually and in teams. There will be the opportunity to practice developing causal loop diagrams from documents and from observed systems. Participants are encouraged to bring a problem/idea they would like to explore with this approach.

Kerry Turner is passionate about understanding and improving systems. She acquired her skills in systems thinking during her career as a management consultant. She has applied it to a wide range of business problems for organisations around the world. For the last decade she has applied systems thinking to every aspect of her life including horsemanship, swimming, relationships, home economics and health. She has also worked with small organisations who share her values.

Session: 2. Alan Arnet –Sensemaking: the art and practice of handling messy, changing realities

Alan is a leadership performance coach, working with people handling the complexities of technology, people and business in our hyperconnected world.  He was around when the first computers hit the workplace, and his consulting career began when ideas like systems thinking, complexity, change management and transformation started to appear.  A few years ago, frustrated that most of the advice was about trying to change others, he decided to focus on the people on the receiving end for a change, exploring what we need as individuals to operate in, and influence, the complex systems we now inhabit.  He has experimented and practised this with around 250 leaders so far, and will share with us the small things he is finding consistently make a big difference to clarity, alignment and impact.

Session: 3. Rod Willis – Dimensions of Strategic Management, Through Time

Many organisations are preoccupied with Strategic Planning and the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with a clear desire to ‘get to where they want to go’.  On this journey, many fall foul of ‘The Tyranny of Meaningless Metrics’ (songs of the Sirens)  Worst still, if they do reach the destination, they may discover where they wanted to get to wasn’t the destination actually required to grow or survive after all! (“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to. Alice: I don't much care where. The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go. Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere. The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

We have been busy over the years in many Business Schools (BS) teaching/supporting passionate learners how to ‘do strategy’, unfortunately, many seem to have missed some key parameters in the process.  To test these assertions, feel free to research Ansoff's work before you come to this SCiO event.  Try to identify what he is known for and let’s discuss and explore together.  Even if you think you have a handle on Igor Ansoff’s approach on Strategic Management, we will add another dimension that (as far as I have been able to identify) is not part of his work.  When Igor Ansoff’s dimensions of Strategic Management are combined with the Organisational ECO-Cycle (by David Hurst) we start to see something new emerge for Strategy.

Linking Igor Ansoff and David Hurst’s work has the ability to create a dynamic approach to Strategic Management.  We hear many calls for ‘Agile Business Strategies’ yet we are often using approaches that come from a school of thought that is NOT about agile or complex adaptive systems.  We live in a world of paradoxes and for strategy, we would seem to be approaching the choice of the blue pill or the red pill.  If you can sense Strategic Turbulence all around you, what pill would you decide to take?

To close, we will share the highlights of a Case Study that combined Ansoff and Hurst's work, creating an adaptive, growing solution in China, please join us.

Session: 4. Jan De Visch - Dynamic collaboration and strengthening of your systemic interventions

Systems thinking is a large field with different approaches. These approaches share a common system theoretical basis, but the specific interpretation is always different. System thinkers often dare to overlook the fact that their developmental stage determines their interpretation. People evolve (as individuals) differently, but according to predictable patterns. In this evolution, one gradually lets go of the ego and can think more fluid.  In project and program approaches, the diversity in developmental stages among the participants determines the breadth and depth of a systemic approach that will be rolled out. You can distinguish between downward and upward team dynamics, and by extension, very narrow to very broad system approaches. These dynamics are responsible for collaborative intelligence that will (or will not) arise. Understanding these dynamics allows you to intervene more precisely from your systemic framework.

Jan De Visch is Exec. Prof. Organizational and Human Capital at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), Managing Director of Connect & Transform (a consulting company), and Co-Founder of In-Flow Solutions (an HR Tech company). His most recent book (Dynamic Collaboration – see with Otto Laske as co-author describes in detail team dynamics from developmental diversity in collaborations.

Open Meeting - Spring 2019

An open meeting where a series of presentations of general interest regarding systems practice will be given. At 9.30 Patrick Hoverstad will give an introduction to the Viable Systems Model. Please note that the meeting has moved 'back' into the new main MBS building - you will be given a pass on entry.

Please book tickets through Eventbrite:

Session: 1 Ray Ison: How is Systemic Change different?

Claims are frequently made about changing THE system.  Many talk about Whole System change. Then there is systematic change as well as systemic change.   What do practitioners do when they engage, or claim that they engage, with these types of change?  What are the elements of systemic praxis (theory informed practical action)? What are the implications for the use of methods and methodologies? And for situational change which constitutes an improvement? Ray will draw on his experiences of designing successful modules within the STiP (systems thinking in practice) program at the Open University as well as his own research/consultancy praxis to explore what it means to become a reflexive practitioner of systemic change.

Session: 2 Robin Stowell: From Perilous Ignorance to Autonomous Safety

If your occupational health and safety policy states a commitment to providing a safe workplace, reporting accidents, continual improvement etc. have you considered this from a cybernetic viewpoint?
Most organisations govern their safety management by trying to achieve Zero Harm through implementing corporate risk assessments, but accidents still happen, and management hunts down someone to blame for poor safety statistics on the management review dashboard. The system hasn't failed, it is doing what it has been designed (and allowed) to do. How do the requirements of safety management system standards integrate into the Viable System Model?
Variety, and in particular the requisite variety needed in operations to counter unwanted states in the local environment (accidents), has never been considered before from a safety perspective. This presentation will propose that requisite variety of an individual worker can be directly equated to competence, and furthermore through assessment of the person-task it provides the basis for a real-time safety performance monitoring and control mechanism

Session: 3 Keekok Lee: Why the 21st century is the century of Systems Thinking

This talk examines System Thinking by exploring the following themes:

1. System Thinking is embedded within a philosophical framework which is totally different from that of so-called “standard thinking” found in what may be called the Newtonian sciences, such as classical physics, DNA/ molecular biology, the monogenic conception of disease in Biomedicine, and so on.
2. Modern science beginning in the 17th century in Western Europe (which was/is Newtonian) suffered a rupture in its philosophical orientation at least thrice in the 20th century: quantum physics from the 1920s onwards, the establishment of ecology as well as the emergence of Epidemiology as proper scientific disciplines in the last century, the former at the end of WWII and the latter in the last quarter of the 20th century. The 21st century may well turn out to be the century of Systems Thinking, of the triumph of non-/not-Newtonian sciences.
3. The oldest form of Systems Thinking in world history may be found in The Yijing/I Ching as well as in Classical Chinese Medicine whose foundation rests on the insights of The Yijing/I Ching, the most well-known is the iconic Yinyang symbol. These basic insights include: Process-ontology, Wholism, non-linear/multi-factorial causality.
4. In my opinion, Systems Thinking could more tellingly be re-labelled “Ecosystem Thinking” as any phenomenon under study could best be portrayed as a nesting of ecosystems, the smaller within a larger. The benefit of this new presentation of data will be illustrated by one particular example from Classical Chinese Medicine.

Session: 4 Ian Kendrick: Three Horizons – Concept & Practice

Three Horizons is a simple and intuitive tool for thinking about the future. It grew out of a wealth of experience in future thinking, notably in strategic scenario thinking. It is an easy to use but potent way of thinking about working towards the future in the present, including maintaining the best of the present system.
It helps groups explore systemic patterns to identify which of the dominant patterns are no longer fit for purpose, how the emerging trends can shape the future, and what visionary action is needed to collectively move us towards a viable future.
The future can be perceived through three lenses:

Horizon 1: Continue Business as Usual
Horizon 3: Vision of a Viable Future
Horizon 2: Innovation towards the Vision

The way in which we view the future impacts how we set our priorities and which decisions we make today.
Every person will have their own unique mix of orientation toward the horizon perspectives. If they remain unsurfaced, these orientations can unconsciously impact the quality of decisions as well as team cohesion.
The three horizons are about much more than simply stretching our thinking to embrace the short, medium and long term.  The Three Horizons  offer a co-ordinated way of managing innovation, a way of creating transformational change that has a chance of succeeding, a way of dealing with uncertainty and a way of seeing the future in the present.

Ian is a co-founder of H3Uni and will explore the Three Horizons approach and show real world examples of its deployment in different domains, how it is being used online and by groups large and small.

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. 

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