Open Meeting

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.

Session: Peter Lacey - title to be confirmed
Session: John Raven - title to be confirmed

Session: Portia Light - title to be confirmed
Session: Benjamin Taylor - title to be confirmed

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.

Session: Elizabeth McDonnell - title to be confirmed
Session: Jan De Visch - title to be confirmed
Session: Russell Gundry - title to be confirmed
Session: Paul King - title to be confirmed

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.

Open Meeting and AGM - Spring 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. This open meeting will be followed by the SCiO AGM.

Session: Martin Reynolds - critical systems heuristics (CSH) and viable systems model (VSM): contemporary challenges to promoting systems praxis.

CSH and VSM derive from quite separate rich traditions of systems thinking, each with enigmatic original champions - C.West Churchman and Stafford Beer respetively. This session will open space to explore common and divergent lineages, challenges, and opportunities of each approach for the future prospects and developments of promoting systemic praxis in the Anthropocene. A particular focus will be on the peculiar capacity of both traditions to be adaptable whilst perhaps being less successful in being adopt-able; a feature possibly resulting from conventional management adherence towards contingency theory.

Martin is Senior Lecturer and Qualifications Lead for the postgrad programme in Systems Thinking in Practice at the Open University. He specialises in the application of critical systems thinking and, amongst many authored publications on the subject, was lead editor (with Sue Holwell) of the book Systems Approaches to Managing Change.

Session: Bay Jordan - Restoring Democracy - Systematically

This talk will look at some of the symptoms of a democracy that is clearly under attack; some of the toxins that are attacking it and some systemic solutions that offer an antidote and that will help restore it.

Bay Jordan, Director of Zealise Limited is the author of several books including, "Lean Organisations Need FAT People" and "The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped."

Bay is a Chartered Accoutant with financial and change experience in premier and blue chip organisations in Southern Africa, Canada and the UK. A conviction that organisations could do considerably, and sustainably, better if people were better managed led him to write his first book, "Lean Organisations Need FAT People" and to found his company, Zealise Limited. He recently published "The Democracy Delusion" to challenge wider socio-economic and political management issues, and offer new solutions.

To learn more about Zealise, visit their website at www.zealise.con or to find out more about Bay and his books visit Alternatively you can check out his profile on LinkedIn/


Session: Tony Korycki - Systems Laws Practise Session

The group will take a common current affairs topic and discuss this topic, in small groups, each using one of several 'systems laws'. Each group will then feed back to the plenary, reflecting on their learning about the systems law that they used, and what the law also revealed about the topic. The objective of the session is to take familiar or perhaps unfamiliar systems laws and develop insights into how those laws are applied.

Session lead Tony Korycki is Service Improvement Architect at BT Global Customer Services, specialising in complex contract process design and implementation, especially those based around ITIL guidelines. He is also Development & Outreach Director for SCiO. 

Session: Jane Searles and Roger Duck - Exploring Levels of 'Connected Happenings' - Visioning and Architecture for Transforming the Electrical Power System

This is a talk about systemic methods in practice. Roger and Jane have been addressing the architecture for future GB electrical power systems in various ways over the last three years. This talk will bring SCiO up to date on progress since their previous SCiO talk, in October 2013, on a distributed electricity architecture. They will address their experiences of grounding a wholly systemic approach and the learning which has ensued.

Topics will range from visioning, through architecture, based on Process Oriented Systems Design (POSD) and the Viable System Model (VSM), to agile approaches, communication, the links between creativity and abstraction, teamwork, engagement and facilitation all from a systemic perspective. These topics will be backed up by examples from community energy, Integrating for Life (a UK government supported feasibility study), responses to government consultations and papers for the Institute of Engineering (IET) and the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum.

About the Authors

Roger Duck ( is a self-employed consultant, facilitator, researcher and interim manager, focussed mostly on strategic planning for technology infrastructure. In 2012-13 he led a review of regulatory issues for smart energy in Europe ( He was awarded a PhD in 1994 for his research related to controlled nuclear fusion.

Jane Searles is a self-employed systems practitioner, specialising in facilitation, methods and shared model development. This is often part of the visioning and organisational architecture development. Jane worked for around 35 years in the IT industry (ICL and Fujitsu) as a business architect and analysis on the boundary between customer business and technical solution providers.

Session: SCiO AGM - will commence after the open meeting sessions

Open Meeting - Summer 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 for these meetings. Places are limited so booking through Eventbrite is recommended to avoid disappointment.

Session: Richard Pantlin - CareStellations: A systemic constellations approach for the health and care sector

Richard will give an introduction to the constellations methodology used in 1:1 coaching and with organisations to explore underlying dynamics of systems. It will include an experiential element. The technique was originally devised within psychotherapy and now has a wide range of applications. Richard will explain the CareStellations structural approach that he is developing specifically for the care and health sector.

Richard Pantlin is an independent expert on English Adult Social Care systems. As consultant to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) he supported councils and software suppliers with implementation of the Care Act and advised DH on system implications of policy.

His book “Making a difference in Adult Social Care – Release your leadership ambitions” includes exercises for people reviewing their career options within the sector and personal stories of existing leaders.

Richard is founder of SES Ltd – motto “Who Cares Wins” – dedicated to supporting local leaders across the health and care sector through coaching, multi-stakeholder engagement and systems consultancy:

Session: Willson Hau - The new transformational leadership mindset

We live in a world of digital transformation, where ongoing change is disrupting organisations and business models. It is challenging and disrupting us as leaders or agents of change. It can inspire a pioneer mindset, to be excited and energized to find and build the future. It can be stressful, with too much to do, and too little time. It’s a VUCA world - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

In his talk, Willson will take a fresh look at the new leadership mindset that is required. He will talk about the need for leaders to become agents of change, to be authentic, and able to draw on new and different capabilities to work more flexibly and mindfully with the unknown, the emergent and unpredictable. He will draw on his insights from complexity theory, Theory U and transformational leadership, and integrate these with his direct experience as an OD and leadership development practitioner. The latest insights generated through his work with “smart mobs” will also be presented, to share the wisdom and knowledge of people working in digital transformation. The talk will explore key capabilities for leaders today - to be authentic, to inspire, to set ambitious goals, and to be empathic.

Willson Hau is a facilitator of change, leadership coach, and organisational development consultant, with an active interest in authentic and embodied leadership. He has 30 years’ experience of working in the technology and digital space with companies including BT, Reuters, Gartner Group, Samsung and Compaq, and brings multiple perspectives into the challenges of digital talent, leadership and digital transformation. He was educated at Cambridge University and completed his MBA at Cass Business School. He is co-founder and director of Digital Talent @Work, a change and leadership consultancy that puts people at the heart of digital transformation.

Session: Benjamin Taylor - System leadership - what does it mean to lead a system?

Benjamin will give a flying overview and critique some perspectives on 'system(s) leadership', including:
- collaborative leadership and influencing models
- living systems
- 'whole systems' and large group methods
- systems leadership theory
- Barry Oshry's power+systems approach
- adaptive leadership
- leading in complexity
- approaches based on behavioural and cognitive insights
- approaches based on the viable systems model (and Patrick Hoverstadt's forthcoming 'patterns of strategy')

He will frame his own synthesis of some of the above and facilitate a working session on 'what does it mean to lead a system?'

Session: Ray Ison - Governing in the Anthropocene: towards systemic governance

The talk will reprise themes associated with a number of international addresses given in 2016 that address the question of what does the field of cybersystemics have to offer for governing in the Anthropocene? A response to this question entails examining how the concept 'system' has gone feral and its implications as well as what a field of cybersystemics might look like, and why? Through groundings in his own research Ray will explore what ways governing might be understood and enacted into the future whether globally, nationally, organisationally or at the level of programme or project. Some of the framing considerations for a new book will be explored (Diamonds are not Forever?); this is a collaboration with Ed Straw that emerged from the SCiO meeting in London in 2015.

Ray Ison has an international reputation in, and has been a major contributor to, ‘cybersystemics’. What is this field you may well ask? Ray's rationale for using this term was explained in the presentation last year at ISSS2016 in Berlin of his Presidential Address for the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), and also in a special ‘systemic inquiry’ at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover details of which can be found at this site:

Amongst other matters raised at these events was the significant institutional complexity in the cybersystemic field and the lack of intellectual and political influence for investment in and the furtherance of cybersystemic scholarship – particularly in key policy and research funding fora associated with the UN, Brussels, Washington and the like. This is depite the growing awareness that the issues of our time, the Anthropocene, if you will, are systemic in nature and thus require systemic responses, i.e., transformations.

Ray has been Professor of Systems at The Open University (OU), UK since 1994. Following many (ongoing) mergers OU Systems academics who number about 10 are now located in the School of Engineering and Innovation in a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Faculty. Within this broader structure Systems academics are organized as the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice (ASTiP) group (see ). The group is responsible for a successful MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice (see ) which currently has just under 1500 alumni actively engaged in a LinkedIn community.

From 2008-15 Ray was also Professor at the Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia where he developed and led the Systemic Governance Research Program, an interdisciplinary, systems-based research program focusing on water governance, climate change adaptation and social learning. At the Open University he has through various commissioned projects and initiatives, usually entailing collaborative research, demonstrated how social learning, including systemic inquiry, can be employed as an alternative governance mechanism for managing in complex situations such as water governance, program and project governance, climate change adaptation, food security research, social learning and the purposeful creation of communities of practice. He is the author of the book (2010): Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-change World (Springer & OU). Most of his major research publications can be seen or accessed here:

Open meeting - winter 2015/16

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: Patrick Hoverstadt and Peter Miles - Cybernetics and Complexity Science

Patrick Hoverstadt is Chair of SCiO and has written extensively about systems thinking and in particular about the Viable Systems Model in his book, The Fractal Organisation. Peter Miles was a director of the Complexity Society and is also a member of SCiO, and has observed that there are strong common themes (although sometimes using different language). SCiO has an outreach programme, and has previously explored this situation with complexity practitioners such as George Rzevski. There have also been a number of online spats between more vocal members of each community along the lines of 'my thinking is better than yours'. The objective of this brief session is to examine what we think is common and what might be different, to set the scene for subsequent presentations.

Session: Jean Boulton - Strategy and Adaptive Management in a Complex World

We live in a VUCA world - volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Meanwhile, the impact of climate change, conflict, globalisation, economic and social shifts means that change can come fast, be hard to predict and lead to emerging and unexpected outcomes to markets and contexts.

Meanwhile, due to concerns about budgets, and demonstrating efficacy, the desire to predict, control and measure has never been higher - particularly for the public and not-for-profit sectors. We want the world to operate like clockwork - with clear outcomes from clear inputs, allowing for detailed planning, rolling out of 'best practice' , a focus on process and on evidence.

The issue is that we have conflated our desire for the world to work like a machine, into a belief  that it works like a machine, and a belief that emanates from a view of what is scientific and professional.

In this talk, Jean will explain that the science of complexity gives us a new understanding of 'the way the world works' and what that means for practice. She will explain what complexity science has to say, and what it implies for strategy and adaptive management.

Jean Boulton has spent much of her career combining roles as director, non-exec director, trustee, strategy and change consultant. She is also a Visiting Fellow with Cranfield School of Management and with the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath and lectures on complexity with several institutions. She will draw on the recent book, Embracing Complexity, published by OUP of which she is a lead author. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

Session: Lou Martingale - Applying VSM within the Defence Enterprise

In 2010, the Secretary of State for Defence tasked Lord Levene of Portsoken to carry out an independent root and branch review of how the Ministry of Defence was structured and managed, to address the legacy of overspend and maximise the use of people and resources.  The subsequent 2011 publication of Lord Levene’s ‘Defence Reform’ report, setting a new operating model for the MOD, hailed an unprecedented level of organisational transformation. 

Lou will share how Dstl has developed and applied a VSM-based approach to support the MOD in assessing and maturing the organisational and functional health of key systems within the Defence Enterprise, and will discuss the challenge of effective engagement and communication between systems practitioner, system participants and senior decision makers.

Lou is a Consulting Fellow within the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence.  Since gaining a PhD in chemistry, she has taken a wiggly career path within the MOD, meandering through chemical and biological arms control, research into development of system skills, programme management, and leading organisational change programmes.  For the past three years, she has been a systems consultant, supporting Government in understanding and addressing some of its trickiest problems. 

Session: Stephen Brewis and Scot Nelson - From Human Capital to Social Equity

Businesses have become very efficient at managing individuals in the form of human capital - defined as the skills, knowledge and experience of individual employees within the company. In the past, with relatively stable markets, this was adequate, but the current competitiveness in our markets have put pressures upon our margins as well as the need to respond quicker to our customers. It is therefore no longer sufficient to manage the individual assets within the business. In the knowledge economy of the 21st century businesses must manage the inter-connected assets of their business moving it away from the individual and its associated cost paradigm to the network and its new value paradigm. This new network is what we term Social capital ad is what connects various forms of human capital. It is how we organise this human capital which will determine our future competitiveness. This talk will give you insights in how BT has taken on this challenge by the transformative fusion of sensing, computing, cybernetics and biological Stigmergy.

Stephen J Brewis CEng is Chief Research Scientist at BT Innovate and Design. Scot Nelson is General Manager, Organisational Transformation at BT.

Open Meeting - Autumn 2015

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 for these meetings, and booking is required via eventbrite -
Session: Peter Miles - multi-criteria decision analysis and decision conferencing

Peter will give an introduction to Multi Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) and Decision Conferencing: what these techniques are used for; where they came from; and how they are used in combination to support collaborative decision-making. Case studies will be used to illustrate real-world applications, including options appraisal, strategic portfolio optimisation and systems engineering. Underlying core principles and methods such as scoring and weighting will be introduced and explained, with typical outcomes illustrated by visualisations. Finally there will be space for reflection on how MCDA fits within the broader domains of collaborative sense-making, complexity and systems thinking.

Peter is a consultant and facilitator at Catalyze, using software models to help groups with collective sense-making and participatory decision-making. He trained in electronics; worked as engineer, project manager and marketer; and managed a division of a global business. He is interested in complexity science, human behaviour, and tools to assist collaboration and collective action. Peter is a non-exec director of SCiO.

Session: Mike Haber - systems flashcards development

Mike has had a recent introduction to formal systems thinking, backed up by a history of being an systemic-ish internal change agent in educational IT organisations. Having recently completed a year of study with the Open University he's still aware of the journey that people starting learning about systems face, and hopes to use this understanding to help provide some signposts.

The systems cards have many purposes, from providing a quick reminder of key ideas before important meetings, helping learn the landscape of new areas of systems to being shared to help bring ideas to group discussions. The cards will be a free/Creative Commons resource, customisable for practitioners.
This will be an interactive session to discuss the potential uses, scope and content of a set of cards. Mike is SCiO's onlie director, and has been working on the cards with Dr Niki Jobson, a non-exec director of SCiO.
Session: Paul Hollingworth – The Enneagram of Enquiry

 Paul is an independent consultant in strategic organisational development. He is also author of a series of iBooks entitled Leadership for Transformation, and holds an MSc (distinction) in Systems, Learning and Leadership.

The interacting forces between the elements of Authentic Enquiry (AE) are not exposed for consideration by the usual linear 8 or 9 stage process.  Paul's experience is that enquiry is non-linear process, involving several loops and iterations before progressing. He proposes that the elements of AE should form a system from which emerges knowledge generation. 

Might the nine-fold enneagram device provide inspiration for a more dynamic enquiry methodology? 

The Armenian polymath George Gurdjieff introduced the enneagram to the Western world over 100 years ago. Since then, this evocative symbol has influenced the minds of many great thinkers including; Ouspensky, Bennett, Huxley, Priestley, Foster and Beer. It was Stafford Beer who personally introduced Paul to the Enneagram in 1994.

In this presentation, Paul will expose the structure of the enneagram and how the AE process may be deployed across what Beer called the ‘fascinating internal reverberations’ of this model to bring a systemic coherence to Authentic Enquiry.


Session: Elizabeth Donnelly - a case study in VSM as a system tool for managing change

Elizabeth Donnelly was first introduced to systems thinking in 2006 as part of her undergraduate degree with the Open University. Following successful study she was able to introduce elements of systems thinking to her work as the Head of Skills for the aerospace trade association, including an examination of personnel reduction at the Ministry of Defence. In 2013 Elizabeth began an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice with the OU, which she is due to complete in 2016.

This presentation is based on a systemic inquiry into a declining charitable Society that she conducted as part of her first module: Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change.

The Society was struggling with conflict at Trustee level despite the recent introduction of professional staff. Management of the Society was identified as a system of interest.

Interviews with four Society Members were conducted using Critical Systems Heuristics to determine boundary judgments and to uncover their visions of an ideal Society. A shared metaphor describing the Society as a bus was also used to further discuss the interviewees’ perspectives. A Viable System Model was then built from the ground up, revealing systemic problems and a critical need to improve governance to prevent failure.


Joint event with the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants

Book via email to
Seminar (academic voices), joint event with the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants:
'Systems thinking and the organisation of organisations: why are consultants behind the curve?'
Patrick Hoverstadt, chair, SCiO
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