Monday, September 29, 2014

Researching with RESILIM-O

On Wednesday I travel to South Africa for the second Governance Reference Group meeting of the year. 

AWARD's RESILIM helps with GEF5 Protected Area Effectiveness Programme preparations

The Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) is a highly regarded Non-Governmental Organization in the K2C area. AWARD is also the lead agency for USAID's RESILIM-O Programme (Building of resilience in the Limpopo Basin). The Biodiversity leg of this programme is helping to reinforce and optimize K2C protected area partner networks in preparation for the GEF 5 Protected Area Effectiveness programme, which is set to start in 2015. Currently, also in support of Maruleng Municipalities' Spatial Development Framework, the boundaries and conservation status of the protected area network are being investigated and mapped on GIS. GEF5 will help to ensure that the correct reserve proclamations or biodiversity agreements will be enabled, and that the reserves meet their management effectiveness targets. For more information, please contact Dr Marisa Coetzee: or visit AWARD's Website:

Source: Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region Quarterly Newsletter - Sept 2014 Vol 6, # 3 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Two Systems Posts Available

A three year Post-Doctoral Fellow post as part of a Systemic Futures Project with SANParks, South Africa has been readvertised.

The following post at MIT has also just been advertised.


MIT Sloan School of Management

The MIT Sloan School of Management invites applications for a tenure-track faculty position in system dynamics, to begin July 2015 (or thereafter). Candidates should have excellent knowledge of the system dynamics simulation technique and/or related modeling methodologies, such as nonlinear dynamics, control theory, computer simulation or agent-based modeling, as well as research interests relevant to the management and/or behavioral sciences. Duties will include research and teaching at the graduate and undergraduate levels. System dynamics at Sloan is closely affiliated with both the management sciences and organization studies. Applicants whose substantive research interests are interdisciplinary are particularly invited to apply, including applicants whose research involves the social and behavioral sciences. We especially want to identify qualified female and minority candidates for consideration in this position.

Applicants should possess or be close to completion of a PhD in system dynamics or a relevant field by the start date of employment. Applicants must submit: 1) an up-to-date curriculum vitae; 2) up to three representative publications; 3) a brief statement of objectives and aspirations in research and education; 4) an official graduate transcript; 5) information about teaching experience and performance evaluations; and 6) three letters of recommendation by October 31, 2014.

Submissions must be submitted via

Monday, September 22, 2014

World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics - Colombia Meeting soon

The launching and opening ceremonies  of WOSC  2014, 16th Congress of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics commence on Tuesday October 14.

The   Launching  ceremony will be held   at Universidad Nacional de Bogotá (14th October).   The  Opening ceremony at the Universidad de Ibagué,  in Ibagué Colombia where the Congress will take place.

At the launching ceremony, Dr. Humberto Maturana will deliver a conference entitled CIBERNETICA DE TIEMPO CERO (Zero-Time Cybernetics), followed by a conference by Dr. Fernando Flores: EL MANAGEMENT ES UNA PRACTICA COMUNICATIVA  (Management as a Communicative Practice). The ceremony will close with a informal conversation    held by Drs. Maturana, Flores, Dávila, and Espejo,  with attendants to the opening ceremony. 

The opening ceremony will be in Universidad de Ibagué in Ibagué where the 16th Congress of Systems and Cybernetics will take place.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Towards a post-carbon society 1.

Of course there is no such thing as a no carbon society as carbon is the basic building block of all life. But we can act to create a post-carbon society - one that does not unlock and disrupt the carbon cycle to produce adverse effects such as global warming. As I wrote in my book, 'Systems Practice: How to Act in Climate Change World' we are in a period new to human history and thus we need to critically reassess our thinking, practices, governance, institutions and investment strategies, and do it as soon as we can.

We had the first inkling of what we, as a species, could unleash upon ourselves when we invented and deployed the atomic bomb.  Many of us have lived a large part of our lives with the sense that we could engage in mutual self-destruction through a nuclear war.  The feeling of threat regarding nuclear war has passed although the dangers, with rogue states, and the potential for the incitement of war between nuclear states such as India and Pakistan, remain very present. (If you are sceptical I urge you to watch to the end this interview of Bruce Reidel by Charlie Rose). Unfortunately the big issues that confront us as a species are still framed and discussed in ways that negate the systemic threats they pose.

One can see this with nuclear energy.  Discussions are almost universally framed as if nuclear power was a technical or economic issue.  Rarely is it framed as a technology that, as with all technologies, mediates (or has the potential to mediate) our life on Earth (as well as the lives of other species).  In this sense technology couples humans (lets call it a social system) to the biophysical world (or system) from which flows benign or non-benign effects to either system, or the relationship between them. Thus with nuclear power the failure to solve the waste disposal problem, recognising that it is more a social than an engineering problem, would put us on a trajectory that I, and many others, find unacceptable. Fukushima failed not because of an earthquake but because of the failure of human thinking, institutions and practices. And as our living unfolds in a climate-changing world, so too will much of our past thinking, practices, institutions etc fail us, unless we begin to think and act differently.

I feel inclined to invent a new law to describe the phenomenon that concerns me - I shall call it Ison's Law of Perverse Trajectories. To my example of over investment in nuclear power I would add continued investment in coal mining, fracking and coal seam gas as the most perverse of contemporary trajectories.  Natural gas will join them soon.  We have an emergency of unique proportions yet we resist the intellectual, ethical and moral imperative to move to alternative trajectories, those that will realise a post-carbon society. The Natural Step, as articulated by Karl-Henrik Robert, expressed it simply in their four system conditions: 'In the sustainable society nature is not subject to systematically increasing (i) concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust (e.g. carbon, methane etc); (ii) concentrations of substances produced by society (e.g. plastics, fluorocarbons etc); (iii) degradation by physical means, and in that society (iv) human needs are met worldwide."

Given my concerns, and the state of governance today in Australia and the UK (the places I spend most of my time), I was heartened (not something that happens often) by an article written by Michael Green in yesterday's edition of The Age. The article "Mining morality or vilifying coal?" makes a strong case for divestment of shares and other holdings in companies that keep us on what I have just called a perverse trajectory i.e., a status quo trajectory rather than towards a post-carbon future.  For Australia in particular, pursuit of this perverse trajectory commits the nation to being on the wrong side of history. 

I commend the Uniting Church for the stand it has taken and the practical actions it is pursuing:  

"In mid-July, the peak body of the Uniting Church in Australia voted to sell its investments in fossil fuels....

"We didn’t think it was the most earth-shattering news, because it’s a pretty mainstream issue in the Uniting Church now,” explains the church’s president, Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney. Yet its resolution included a moral claim that may be confronting for most Australians, who, by way of their superannuation funds – at the very least – own a stake in coal, oil or gas projects.
“Further investment in the extraction of fossil fuels contributes to, and makes it more difficult to address climate change,” the church states. Given the harm climate change will cause, “further investment and extraction is unethical”. “A number of people have found that to be a strong statement,” Dutney says. “But it’s very hard to argue against.”

Australians have two key facts to consider, he says: we’re among the world’s highest emitters of carbon dioxide, per person; and on top of that, we have enormous reserves of coal set to be exported for electricity generation.

“If we were to extract and burn all those reserves, then global warming will be much more disastrous for the poorer nations who are our neighbours.”

Andrew Dutney articulates well the case for abandoning our current trajectory.  I hope to see the divestment movement grow in strength, the case for which ought to be strengthened by recent decisions in China about coal imports, triggered by the horrific pollution now affecting almost every Chinese city:

"According to an analysis by Macquarie Bank, consultant Wood Mackenzie has indicated the ban could affect more than half of Australia's thermal coal exports to China, although the ban is also likely to hit Indonesian coal."

In the end it may well be coal industry economics that achieves the ambitions of divestment. I cannot help but feel this 'realpolitik' was behind the recent plans to restructure by BHP Billiton.  In the meantime we should all use whatever leverage we have to facilitate further divestment - to move away from the current perverse trajectory.

At the same time there needs to be organised, critical resistance to the fight back by 'big fossil fuel' This is already happening in Australia, where years of successful environmetal legislation is being rescinded in the face of  an ideological onslaught by conservative state and federal governments and their supporters.  In this regard one must view the recent creation of the "Reef Trust" and the Reef 2050 Plan, with deep suspicion.

For some time now governance in Australia and the UK has been systemically failing its citizens - many, if not most, decisions reduce the number of choices we humans will have as circumstances unfold, primarily because most place the relational dynamics between us and our environment on a perverse trajectory. They fail Ison's Law!!   Evidence can be seen in the report today by a cross-party Environmental Audit committee in Westminster:

"The government is failing to reduce air pollution, protect biodiversity and prevent flooding, a cross-party body of MPs has said.  The Environmental Audit Committee dished out a "red card" on these three concerns after examining efforts made since 2010.

The MPs said on a further seven green issues ministers deserved a "yellow card" denoting unsatisfactory progress."

Not surprisingly, though in the absence of evidence to the contrary: 

"The government said it strongly disagreed with the findings. After coming to power in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron stated he was committed to leading the "greenest government ever"."
The most perverse of perverse trajectories are those where technologies, if they fail, destroy or severely impair the lives of future generations.  Nuclear waste, the irreversible destruction and contamination of aquifers by fracking or coal seam gas extraction, deep mining and toxic tailings (as has happened already in South Africa) are the worst of the worst!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The 'problem' with sharing!

Many children grow up with an ethos that to share is good.  And in many ways it is.  However I have come to realise that there is a problem with sharing and most folk, in my experience, do not realise what the problem is.  The roots of the problem can be found in the propensity we have to migrate words away from their etymology and to use them in contexts which begin the insidious process of conserving semantic confusion.  This is an issue I have been aware of for some time - I think courtesy of one of the many profound conversations I have had with my friend David Russell. Certainly I have warned most of my PhD students away from the deployment of 'sharing' in their writing. However I have not written about it till now, prompted by an invitation to look over an abstract developed by a colleague in which he deployed 'sharing' in ways that fueled my long-standing concerns.

Sharing is of course a verb meaning to cut into parts, to make a division, a section, a part, a piece (as in pie) or portion (as in land) or to divide up labour (from which troop derives).  Etymologically share can be traced back to the old English word for shear, associated with parting the land, as happens when using a ploughshare; then followed harvest and cutting time from which one received one's share.  From this can be seen how the idea of share- receiving or share-holding (as in companies, businesses etc arise). In the early Middle Ages a share was a portion of a levy imposed on fishing boats. What these different roots have in common is the idea that a share arises from a whole - in other words sharing is to do with a part-whole relationship. The other important aspect of this etymology is that sharing is grounded in materiality - there is usually something tangible, or physical to be shared, even if it is denoted by a share certificate.  It is in the movement away from these etymological roots that my problem with sharing arises!

We live in a world now, where those who use English believe it is possible to share knowledge. meaning, experiences, information - in fact all sorts of abstract concepts - as if there was a part-whole relationship and as if there were some hidden materiality behind what is being shared! We have begun the process of conserving semantic inaccuracy, one that does not serve us well, because it distorts all sorts of understandings and practices in fields ranging from politics to computing. We humans live in language and it is our evolutionary past that we have in common as our living unfolds, day by day.  Our cultural histories expose us to many common phenomena (i.e., we cannot escape our social embeddedness) but our experiential history is always unique - all we have at our disposal is our ability to use language (in its broadest sense) to communicate (talk, converse, dance etc) about our experiences.  Thus whenever a claim is made that we share understanding, or knowledge or meaning, then we are making a claim about the status of our social relations in our conversations with others, not a state of our being.

Can we alter our trajectory - or has 'sharing' gone feral?  Unfortunately there are few opportunities in contemporary education to generate the reflexivity that we need to explore, and where needed, change our manners of living in language.  Perhaps we need an etymology ap that fosters the reflexivity that is needed?

Friday, August 22, 2014

New posts being advertised require systems understandings

Research Fellow (Monash Sustainability Institute)

Job No. 526947
Faculty / Portfolio: Provost and Senior Vice-President
Monash Sustainability Institute
Location: Clayton campus
Employment Type: Full-time
Duration: 12 month fixed-term appointment
Remuneration: $64,272 - $87,228 pa Level A
(includes 9.5% employer superannuation)
  • Make your mark
  • Where brilliant minds are embraced
  • Clayton campus
If you're after a brilliant career, Monash University can help make it happen.  With leading academics and world-class resources, combined with a ranking in the top 100 universities worldwide, we offer all you need to build a brighter future.

The Opportunity

The Systemic Governance Research Program at the Monash Sustainability Institute brings a systems thinking approach to 'wicked' or 'messy' situations in order to identify and create the conditions for more effective governance performances. The program primarily deals with the governance of water, climate change adaptation, food security, research for development and organisational learning. Researchers in the program engage in transdisciplinary and collaborative action research with a range of organisations to enhance systemic awareness and performance in these fields. The program was established by Professor Ray Ison in 2008 to explore the practical and theoretical robustness of current water and climate change governance regimes, and to develop new models and strategies to make future governance fit for purpose in a climate-changing world. To learn more about our program, please visit our website. 

In this role, you will contribute to the development of a new 'learning laboratory' initiative and contribute to research inquiries into water governance in Australia. You will also contribute generally to the research activities of the Systemic Governance Research Program, including participating in inter and transdisciplinary research, preparing written publications, and seeking research funding.

If you believe you have the background to undertake this research role, we encourage you to apply.
This role is a full-time position; however, flexible working arrangements may be negotiated.

Your application must address the selection criteria. Please refer toDownload File "How to apply for Monash Jobs"


Phil Wallis, +61 3 9905 8709

Position Description

Download File PD - Research Fellow

Closing Date

Monday 22 September 2014, 11:55pm Aus. Eastern Standard Time


South African Section 21 NPO. Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa.

Available position: Landscape Mobiliser / Project Manager

Senior and/or Apprentice Position
Living Lands invites applicants to fulfil the role of Landscape Mobiliser / Project Manager for Living  Lands  at  our  offices  in  Muizenberg  for  an  initial  period  of  12  months,  with the possibility of extending the contract to a permanent position.

Living Lands – The Organization

The vision of Living Lands is ‘collaborations working on living landscapes*’, which represents the connection amongst stakeholders and the undertaking of learning processes. These ultimately raise social awareness and lead to collective action towards more sustainable practices. Research and innovations act as an integrated part of the knowledge created for supporting stakeholders’ decision making.

*A ‘living landscape’ comprises a variety of healthy ecosystems and land uses and is home to ecological, agricultural and social systems which are managed so as to function sustainably.

Role Description

We are looking for a highly motivated and professional Landscape Mobiliser. The role of the mobiliser is to: work together with stakeholders, take a leading role in social learning/change processes on landscapes to build collective understanding of the current challenges and aspirations, and to create collective strategies and actions. The stakeholders usually include: landowners, communities, farmers, municipalities, universities, private and government agencies.

The  Landscape  Mobilizor  is  responsible  for  the  bottom  based  stakeholder  engagement process that forms the foundation of Living Lands’ approach. This approach is an integration of social learning, Theory U, ecosystem thinking and transdisciplinary knowledge production.

    Engage with local stakeholders to create understanding and build trust;
     Mobilize and connect divergent groups of stakeholders at the landscape level: land- users, communities, NGOs and government;
    Form and maintain mutually beneficial partnerships;
    Organise learning events and workshops;
    Implement and manage different projects on the landscape, incl. admin budgets, planning, logistics and reporting;
    Represent Living Lands at meetings and workshops;
    Proposal writing;
    Pick up and elaborate on new ideas;
    Embrace and align with Living Lands’ vision and strategy;

Experience, Knowledge and Skills
The  successful  candidate  will  need  to  be  able  to  multitask,  be  flexible  and  be  able to empathise and communicate effectively and responsibly with stakeholders. They will also need to be able to work effectively in teams.

In  general,  the  candidate  should  have  interest  in  social  change  processes  and  natue conservation/ restoration. The following criteria apply:
    At least an honours degree, master degree is preferred  ;
    Experience in (or interested in learning) managing stakeholder processes;
    Excellent communication and network skills, on all levels;
    Good project management skills - team player;
    Ability to listen and have empathy with stakeholder stories;
    Driver’s license;
    Previous experience is an advantage;
    IT proficiency to a self-supporting standard in Microsoft Office applications;
    Fluency in English is essential and Afrikaans is a plus;
    South African citizen or permanent resident.

Personal Attributes
    Passionate, results-orientated, keen eye for problem solving, responsible and a positive attitude.
    Flexible and enthusiastic attitude, able to get things done in a diplomatic way.
    Strong leadership ability and know how to handle problems quickly and efficiently.
    Appreciation for nature.
    Outstanding social interaction and inter-personal skills with the ability to motivate and inspire stakeholders, particularly project managers and staff.
    Excellent organisation and time management skills with the ability to work under pressure with changing priorities.
    Effective networker.
    Desire to continually develop and work outside of one’s comfort zone.
    Entrepreneurial spirit and ‘can do’ mentality.
    Independent working and proactive. Pioneer.


A salary will be based on the relevant skills and qualifications of the candidate.

To apply for the job please send your CV (including at least three references and their relevant direct contact details) and a motivational letter describing why you would be the ideal candidate for the position to Marijn Zwinkels,, by 5pm on Friday 5 September 2014. Please note that only emailed applications will be considered.

Relating Systems Thinking and Design 3

The following invitation has just been circulated.  It sounds like an interesting conference. 

"Join us in accelerating the convergence of design, social, and technology fields toward co-creating humanized systems. We invite participants, presenters and students from across disciplines and design fields to register for the RSD3  Symposium, Oslo, Norway, October 15 – 17 2014.
Hosted again this year by AHO, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, we are reaching for a wider audience, while maintaining the lightweight mood of a small symposium. We reviewed responses from over 70 paper proposals, and the selected presentations and workshops are now posted. As last year, we hold a single day of workshops offered by leading members of the design and systems thinking fields to share their unique methods and practices. We encourage participants to register for both the symposium and workshops, to extend your learning and exploration into new areas of practice. We have 6 extraordinary keynote speakers over the two-day event:

  • Hugh Dubberly
  • Ranulph Glanville
  • Harold Nelson
  • Ann Pendleton-Jullian
  • Daniela Sangiorgi
  • John Thackara
 Costs are kept low and (as we have found with previous years) the highest value is in learning from one another in a relaxed, exploratory approach to convening. However, you will need to book lodging and travel to Oslo, which is better done sooner. We have a few tips to help travelers on the symposium site.
The RSD series  are convinced that integrated, more effective systems thinking and methods are required for addressing complex societal concerns – and our observation is that educational programs and design agencies are not providing the skills and knowledge necessary to deal with systemic design issues. We believe a stronger integration with design and design thinking is a promising way forward.
Please forward this message to you connections.
Register at  
The RSD3 Organizing Committee
Birger, Peter, Alex, Harold, Manuela, Linda and our growing team of support."

Monday, August 18, 2014

Remember the National Programme for IT in the NHS?

Some may remember earlier postings I made about the systemic failings of the NPfIT?  Ross Anderson, one of the group of Systems professors who wrote publically to the government about the inadequacies of NPfIT has recently "taught a systems course to students on the university’s Masters of Public Policy course (this is like an MBA but for civil servants). For their project work, [Ross] divided them into teams of three or four and got them to write a case history of a public-sector IT project that went wrong."

The winners were a team who wrote about NPfIT - the report can be seen here.  Ross concludes that "despite the huge losses the government doesn’t seem to have learned much at all."

UKSS Meeting 2014 - details

Practice of Systems Ideas in a Knowledge Society
This year’s UKSS conference has different format and venue, with the great keynote speakers you expect.
  We are pleased to be hosted by the Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull, starting with a conference dinner on Thursday 11 September, followed by a day of interesting activities including keynote speakers, papers and workshops. Then on Saturday our friends at SCiO are holding an open day with eight fantastic speakers.
On Friday the speakers are Keynotes by Professor Simon Bell, Open University, Professor Gerald Midgley, University of Hull and Patrick Hoverstadt, SCiO. There will also be an opportunity to present papers are contributions are encouraged by submitting to by 31 August 2014
The SCiO day features the following speakers and subjects
  • SYSBOK - reviewing the developing SCiO systems body of knowledge, with Tony Korycki and Patrick Hoverstadt
  • Benjamin Taylor - the practice of systems leadership: application of systems concepts to leadership
  • Patrick Hoverstadt - subject to be confirmed
  • Arthur Battram - Navigating Complexity
  • Ivo Velitchkov - Requisite Inefficiency
  • Jane Searles - case study: applying systems thinking with British Waterways
  • Christoph Giagounidis - Beer at work (how work can make us sick, and Beer can make us better)
  • Alfredo del Valle, Ph.D. - Managing high-complexity problems through methodical participation: experiences with the Participatory Innovation Model (speaker to be confirmed)
Full details follow:
Practice of Systems Ideas in a Knowledge Society
11 – 13 September 2014
The Venue: Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull,Cottingham Rd, Hull, East Yorkshire HU6 7RX
This year’s conference will be hosted by the Centre for Systems Studies at the Hull University Business School, which is a leading UK business school dedicated to the development of responsible leadership for a complex world.
This is great news at it takes the UKSS back to where the first Conference was held nearly forty years ago, although if you were there you will find things have changed as in 2005, the School moved in to their new home, described by Sir Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI, as a ‘world class learning and teaching facility'.  Designed by esteemed architects Farrell and Clark, the school is a mix of new build and redevelopment.  Contemporary links connect four Grade II listed buildings to create an inspirational yet practical space, equipped with the latest technology.
            The Programme
Once again we are bringing together thinkers and practitioners in the fields of systems and complexity as it seems to us that there has been a significant international resurgence in these areas in recent years.  Delegates will benefit from cutting edge research and a lively forum for discussion and debate will be provided for a wide range of academics and practitioners in the fields of systems thinking. Our aim is to bring together as many people as possible who are engaging with the Practice of Systems Ideas in a Knowledge Society, with the intention of promoting an intense and lively debate with real world implications.
Thursday 11th September 2014
Conference Dinner.
Friday 12th  September 2014
Keynotes by Professor Simon Bell, Open University,Professor Gerald Midgley, University of Hull and Patrick Hoverstadt, SCiO
Challenges of Knowledge Societies
  • Selected Papers.
  • Practical Workshop Case Study (subject to alteration) using and comparing:
    • Ketso.
    • Soft Systems Methodology (SSM).
    • Viable Systems Model (VSM)
        Saturday 13th September 2014
      Jointly Sponsored with SCiO; a day devoted to practitioner contributions, and workshops.
      What Are Knowledge Societies?
      Knowledge Societies are identified as societies based on the creation, dissemination and utilization of information and knowledge, i.e. societies with an economy in which knowledge is acquired, created, disseminated and applied to enhance economic and social development.
      People living in a knowledge society can expect that their work, leisure, social and political lives will be dominated by creation, acquisition and utilisation of ‘knowledge’.  However, at the heart of this concept is the idea of ‘knowledge’ itself.  Great resources have been expended by businesses wishing to know how to manage their knowledge, since it has been acknowledged that the only sustainable source of competitive advantage that an organisation has is the know-how of the people it employs.  Yet knowledge remains problematic.  It is contained within people and created by them through interactions in groups, using physical and financial resources.  People may or may not know that they have it.  Efforts to make human knowledge explicit, and capture it for the benefit of others may be more or less successful.  It is perhaps more accurate to refer to human knowing, since it is dynamic rather than static.
      Call for Contributions
      We invite contributions from systems thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds both academics and practitioners engaging in the form of papers, models, reports from practice, posters or workshop proposals that relate to the conference theme in its broadest sense. Your paper(s) can focus on theory, practice or a combination of the two.  This conference will provide a great opportunity to meet others with similar interests and to communicate with a wider audience, so we really want to encourage you to participate.
      Submit papers to    by 31 August 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Insightful interviews

Not all TV was bad during my stay in Washington.  In the early part of my stay, suffering from jetlag, I managed to see a few excellent  interviews on PBS TV during my wakeful hours around 2am!  

The station I found most informative was WHUT-TV which  is "a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) member Public television station in the Washington, D.C. area. The station is owned and operated by Howard University, a historically black college. The studios are on the Howard University campus."

Two interviews in particular I found revealing.  The first was an interview by Charlie Rose with Bruce Riedel, whose new book 'What we won. America's secret war in Afghanistan 1979- 1989'  has just been published by the Brookings Insitution Press:

"On sale July 28, Bruce Riedel's new book examines the most successful intelligence operation in US history - the CIA's covert war in Afghanistan."

“We are at the moment of truth in the future of Afghanistan,” said Bruce Riedel, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, on The Charlie Rose Show. Learn more about his appearance on the show and what he said about the future. See 'The Moment of Truth in the Future of Afghanistan'. 
I recommend viewing the interview to the end where some observations are made that left me very concerned.

The second interview was on 'Democracy Now' with Henry Siegman, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, spaeking on Gaza: "A Slaughter of Innocents". In this interview Siegman's description of how he arrived at his current position was particularly powerful, namely he asked the question: 'what would I do if I were in their [the Gaza Palestinians] shoes'?  His conclusion is that he would do what they are doing.  He goes on to reflect how Israelis acted when they were trying to create a homeland, and sees little difference in the nature of the actions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Washington DC Postcard

I have just returned from two weeks in Washington DC, my first visit since a brief stay in 1990.  Memories of my first visit are almost non-existent - all I remember is the anxiety and the admonitions to not walk alone on the streets. There are vague memories of staying in an elegant B&B in Georgetown and of sampling Ethiopian cuisine for the first time.  My business and conversations remain opaque.

Clearly Washington has changed. It is accessible and a get-out-and-about city;  this article from the BBC outlines the transformation: "Washington DC from murder capital to boomtown".

The occasion of my visit was to attend the ISSS (International Society for Systems Sciences) annual conference where I was installed as President for the coming year.  ISSS was followed by the ASC (American Society of Cybernetics) 50th Anniversary conference.  By design and through cooperation the conferences were organised in consecutive weeks and held at George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, just off Washington Circle.  My hotel was close to the conference and in walking distance of Georgetown and the main Washington monuments. I was told Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF had an apartment across the street - clearly a 'good' neighbourhood!

It was an intense but rewarding two weeks - I delivered three presentations and contributed to another plenary.  In a later post I will say more about the substance of the conferences; here I want to post some vignettes, reflections, in no particular order, triggered by my two week stay.

1. Washingtonians consume a lot of coffee but it is not a cafe society the sense of Melbourne, Rome or, increasingly, London.  I came to this conclusion on a Saturday morning when with a friend we set off prior to breakfast for the Lincoln Memorial and a walk towards the Capitol.  When hunger and need for coffee exerted its pull at about the Smithsonian there was not a coffee shop to be seen - despite lots of little booths...that did not open till 9.30am! We turned towards the city and its cavernous boulevards.  Eventually a Starbucks appeared which we rejected in favour of something more interesting - but in the end all that could be found were other Starbucks!!   Breakfast at Starbucks = not my idea of a cafe society!  Unlike many other cities the sidewalks are underutilised for outdoor coffee and dining.

2. Arrival at Dulles Airport - how to get to Washington?  Gave up the idea of public transport in favour of a shuttle which would deliver me straight to my hotel (a metro card for DC can't be purchased at the airport!). I was the last of nine passengers dropped off.  At least I had begun to get my bearings; the driver, a recent arrival from Ghana, knew little more than me about Washington and would have been lost without his sat nav. But after a flight from Melbourne via LA it was not really what I wanted. The return was much easier, though finding out how to do it required persistence - the hotel staff did not know, and seemed unable to find out, how public transport operated with the newly opened metro line (the silver line).  The combination of metro to Wiehle-Reston East station then Dulles International Silver Line Express bus (for only 7 miles) was efficient and not expensive.

3. Lights and airconditioners left on all day - if I switched them off those who did my room would switch them on again.

4. Breakfast at my hotel was a bizarre ritual - a small space, no flow for the items I needed or wanted to consume. It took days to work out how to sequence the events that were needed to get my breakfast! There were two TVs in the room (one on CNN) blasting out hyped up, pathetic reporting mainly about the Israeli-Gaza conflict and Ebola!

5. A colleague kindly took us to Mt Vernon, the home of George Washington for a day trip.  It is only a few hours drive from Washington in the state of Virginia. It was an informative day out - one I would recommend, though it does have its perversities if one is open to seeing them.  The view from the front verandah of Mt Vernon across the Potomac River is delightful and all the more so as the view is little disturbed from that which Washington and his family, employees and...... slaves would have enjoyed. As the land opposite is in the state of Maryland my thoughts immediately went to governance issues - what happened that the view was conserved given two different states were involved and given that by todays standards it is prime real estate?  The answer is Piscataway Park, run by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior (National Capital Parks-East

"Situated along the Potomac River in Maryland, Piscataway Park was created to preserve the historic views from Mount Vernon, home to President George Washington, to Fort Washington. Piscataway Park is a natural area and is home to bald eagles,beavers, fox, osprey, and many other species." 

But the park is only the outcome - the motivation came from Henry and Alice Ferguson who with friends puchased land, prevented development and eventually donated the land to the Park Service, a process not completed till the 1960s. Similarly the conservation of Mt Vernon was due to the action of private individuals who became the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 1853 and who continue to run the 500 acre site that has had over 80 million visitors since 1860.

To an Australian Mt Vernon is familiar - in the sense that it has the features of a colonial homestead that aspired to cater for European sensibilities. But by European standards it is a modest home, though the entire complex is convincingly retained and restored and enables the visitor an informative, interpretative experience...with one notable exception. Upon arrival at Mt Vernon a 25 minute video is shown in the new Ford auditorium - sponsored also by the Ford motor company it is very professional - a sort of biopic around aspects of the life of Washington. The jarring note for me concerned the segment referring to Washington's role fighting with the British as a colonial officer in the French and Indian war of 1754-63.  In what is essentially a 'creation myth' for the USA the role of the indigenous Indians was written out.  Thankfuly this would no longer be possible in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.  Having viewed this video I also wondered how many Americans would make the connection between their struggle for independence and the Palestinian struggle for a land of their own. 

6. The bookshops I found in DC were, by international standards, disappointing. I was sorry to miss the World Bank Bookshop - not open on weekends.

7. Colleagues and I had a great evening at Blues Alley in Georgetown.  Akua Allrich and her three band members presented a delightful set.

8. A highlight for me was a half day spent in the National Museum of the American Indian. For anyone with systemic and cybernetic sensibilities there was much on offer, including an architecture based on a spiraling circularity. It is not often one finds a discussion of the place of duality in a people's life.  The restaurant served indigenous dishes from all the major regions of the Americas - it was a great selection and hard to make a choice because of the diversity.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Systemic governance approaches employed

Australia's first ever Community Energy Congress was held recently in Canberra (16-17th June). As the web site indicates their ambitious, but appropriate aim was to 'to create a new approach to energy in Australia – to decarbonise, decentralise and democratise our energy system!'.   With this in mind they set out to design what I would call a governance experiment that combines systemic practices and institutional innovations: 

"The Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE) is a purpose-built governance system designed to enable collaboration for the purpose of creating a vibrant community energy sector and movement right across Australia.

It is the membership of C4CE ~ community energy projects, groups, support organisations and stakeholders in the wider renewable and mainstream energy system ~ who make this vision possible. C4CE initiatives are created and led by one of more members. The overall coordination of C4CE is led by the Steering Group with the support of a Secretariat.

C4CE believes collaboration creates greater impact than the simple sum of individual member efforts. Together, we can make the difference.

C4CE’s objectives are to:
  • Guide and support development of the community energy sector
  • Create a coordinated voice to better advocate for the needs of the sector
  • Grow the sector’s profile, influence and membership (beyond the ‘usual suspects’)
  • Facilitate the alignment of efforts by Members with support, systems, tools and training which enable collaboration for collective impact
  • Identify and create strategic opportunities and attract investment for the sector
  • Coordinate strategic initiatives which build the knowledge, know-how and capacity of Members and the sector
As an unincorporated governance system, C4CE is legally auspiced by Starfish Initiatives*."

There have been a number of follow up media reports ranging from the community-based to national from what was a sellout event of 350.  Presentations were made from all sides of the political spectrum.

If only systemic sense could prevail

Further to my earlier post, colleagues concerned like me, at the continuing systemic failure of governance and public policy have alerted me to intelligent and insightful arguments that point to other ways of understanding and governing. If  only these understandings and associated practices could prevail!

Continuing with the complex, contested issue of Palestine - Israel, an article in the New Yorker on'Israel’s Other War' by draws attention to the longer term systemic consequences of Israeli policy.   

"It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives.  It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. The only thing that actually changes is Israeli society’s tolerance for criticism. It’s become clear during this operation that the right wing has lost its patience in all matters regarding that elusive term, “freedom of speech.” In the past two weeks, we’ve seen right wingers beating left wingers with clubs, Facebook messages promising to send left-wing activists to the gas chambers, and denunciations of anyone whose opinion delays the military on its way to victory. It turns out that this bloody road we walk from operation to operation is not as cyclical as we may have once thought. This road is not a circle, it’s a downward spiral, leading to new lows, which, I’m sad to say, we’ll be unlucky enough to experience."

Writing in the Toronto Star, Gabor Maté (published on Tue Jul 22 2014) captures the disillusionment for many now in their 60s and 70s, like me, who grew up supportive of the ideal of a democratic Israeli state - an ideal that no longer survives in a defensible form.  He writes: 

"As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?"

There is, unfortunately, no shortage of contemporary contexts in which ideologues drive us collectively in the wrong direction. Profound systemic consequences are already evident in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia as these links testify.

On a rare positive note the British government is to be commended for sticking to its carbon reduction targets, as indicated by this announcement from the Secretary of State, who said:

"Above all, maintaining the Fourth Carbon Budget at its current level demonstrates the UK’s commitment to its climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. The UK has the world’s most transparent system of binding emission reduction targets, which are used as a model throughout the world. Today’s decision cements the UK’s place as a global leader in combating climate change, which will allow us to play a central role in delivering a global deal to combat climate change at the end of 2015."    

As I have written elsewhere the UK's 'Committee on Climate Change' is an important institutional innovation - so it is good to see that its role in governance is working.  Importantly this case exemplifies how, when there is political commitment to what is ethically and scientificaly justifiable, it is possible to stand up to Treasury idealogues, as this article by Simon Inglethorpe indicates:

"The decision amounts to a personal victory for [Secretary of State] Davey as it means Treasury calls to weaken the budget – and leave the door open for more gas-fired electricity generation in future – have not prevailed.

“Ed Davey deserves praise for standing up to the Treasury’s wrecking efforts, and the prime minister credit for holding firm on this crucial commitment,” said Greenpeace’s political director, Ruth Davis. “George Osborne has done everything in his power to water down the UK’s keystone climate change policy, putting at risk vital investment in our energy system and our credibility in global climate negotiations.”

I imagine it is too much to hope that a moratorium on all fracking will emerge as a systemically desirable national strategy - in the UK and elsewhere. Technologies which perpetuate 'carbon pollution' and attract investment away from renewables have no place in the world we now have to create.   

Cutting the Gordian Knot of Complex Problems: Cybernetics & Policy

This event will be held in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the American Society of Cybernetics which commences in Washington DC on Monday 4th August.

What can a cybernetic perspective bring to the issues of the day?  With examples from Iraq, HealthCare, Transportation, and Finance.
"Monday August 4, 4-6 pm
George Washington Business School, DUQUES HALL, 2201 G Street NW, Room 258

The decision maker of today is faced with a complex world composed of many open, value-laden, multi-level, multi-component systems, situated in turbulent, unstable, and changing environments. When a plane crash in eastern Ukraine with 298 people aboard will affect the European gas supply, health care for AIDS patients, the decisions of the UN Security Council, and international sanctions -- which will then alter trading on the NYSE, world trading partnerships, British real estate prices and the American economy -- that complexity seems both obvious and paralyzing.

Complexity is the source of very difficult scientific challenges for observing, understanding, reconstructing and predicting the multi-dimensional dynamics of present-day systems. Cybernetics is the science of reflexive constraints in systems consisting of many participants -- all of whom observe, decide, act, observe, etc. It examines the role of context and assumptions which together help shape the understanding of both problems and their potential solutions.

When what is happening in your world doesn't make sense, when it doesn't conform to your beliefs about how things work, it's time to ask hard questions. Cybernetics is the science of developing those questions by examining both the situation and the people and institutions charged with achieving adequate management, regulation or control.

While the hard sciences may suggest that decision makers consider all the information they can about both the current situation and the past, and then with a sense of desired outcomes, lay plans of action to get to those outcomes, cybernetics exposes the “wishful thinking” this entails. Cybernetics questions our ability to rely on "predictive" models by noting the blinders built into the models themselves.

We bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with our view of the world and the outcome we want. We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear that which fails to match our prior expectations.

Cybernetics helps you develop the very questions you should ask of both yourself and of the situation you are examining. It highlights the pitfalls when one attempts to understand the whole as a "black box." The view of that crash from Donetsk differs greatly from the view in Iowa City.

Cybernetics highlights the constraints as you map and parameterize inputs and outputs, and as you observe systemic behaviors. Most importantly, it demands reflective questioning when you decompose the system into its constituent subsystems, recursively, until you think you have reached a natural stopping place for decision-making. Such questioning may, for example, help guide British policy toward Russian banking sanctions.

In order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face. Cybernetics should be part of your repertoire."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Avaatz's narrative about the Palestine-Israel situation makes systemic sense

I am posting a recent communication from Avaatz because I could not elucidate the systemic issues any better.

"As a new round of violence kicks off in Israel-Palestine and more children are killed, it's not enough just to call for another ceasefire. It's time to take definitive non-violent action to end this decades long nightmare.

Our governments have failed -- while they have talked peace and passed UN resolutions, they and our companies have continued to aid, trade and invest in the violence. The only way to stop this hellish cycle of Israel confiscating Palestinian lands, daily collective punishment of innocent Palestinian families, Hamas firing rockets, and Israel bombing Gaza is to make the economic cost of this conflict too high to bear.

We know it works -- when EU countries issued guidelines not to fund the illegal Israeli settlements it caused an earthquake in the cabinet, and when citizens successfully persuaded a Dutch pension fund, PGGM, to withdraw, it created a political storm.

This may not feel like a direct way to stop the current killing, but history tells us that raising the financial cost of oppression can pave a path to peace. Click to call on 6 key banks, pension funds and businesses to pull out -- If we all take smart action now and turn up the heat, they could withdraw, the Israeli economy will take a hit, and we can turn the calculation of the extremists politically profiting from this hell upside down:

In the last six weeks three Israeli teenagers were murdered in the West Bank, a Palestinian boy was burnt alive, an American kid was brutally beaten up by Israeli police, and now almost 100 Gazan kids have died in Israeli air strikes. This is not the "Middle East conflict", it's becoming a war on children. And we are becoming numb to this global shame. 

The media makes out like this is an intractable conflict between two equal warring parties, but it is not. Palestinian extremists' attacks on innocent civilians are never justified and Hamas’ anti-semitism is disgusting. But these extremists claim legitimacy by fighting the grotesque, decades-long oppression by the Israeli state. Israel currently occupies, colonises, bombs, raids, and controls the water, trade and the borders of a legally free nation that has been recognised by the United Nations. In Gaza, Israel has created the largest open-air prison in the world, and then blockaded it. Now as bombs fall, the families literally have no way to get out.

These are war crimes and we wouldn't accept that anywhere else: why accept it in Palestine? Half a century ago Israel and its Arab neighbours went to war and Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Occupying territory after war happens all the time. But no military occupation should turn into a decades-long tyranny which only fuels and benefits extremists who use terror to target the innocent. And who suffers? The majority of loving families on both sides that just want freedom and peace.

To many, particularly in Europe and North America, calling for companies to withdraw investments from financing or taking part in Israel's occupation of Palestine sounds completely biased. But this campaign is not anti-Israel -- this is the most potent non-violent strategy to end the ritual violence, ensure Israelis' security and achieve Palestinian freedom. Although Hamas deserves much pressure too, it is already under crippling sanctions and facing every kind of pressure. Israel's power and wealth dwarfs Palestine, and if it refuses to end its illegal occupation, the world must act to make the cost unbearable.

Dutch pension fund ABP invests in Israeli banks that help fund the colonisation of Palestine. Massive banks like Barclays invest in suppliers of Israeli arms and other occupation businesses. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard supplies sophisticated surveillance to control the movement of Palestinians. And Caterpillar provides bulldozers that are used to demolish Palestinian homes and farms. If we can create the biggest global call ever to get these companies to pull out, we will show clearly that the world will no longer be complicit in this bloodshed. The Palestinian people are calling on the world to support this path and progressive Israelis support it too. Let's join them:

Our community has worked to bring peace, hope, and change to some of the world's toughest conflicts, and often that means taking difficult positions to address the root cause. For years our community has looked for a political solution to this nightmare, but with this new round of horror unfolding in Gaza, the time has come to turn to sanctions and disinvestment to finally help end the horror for Israelis and Palestinians.

With hope and determination,

Alice, Fadi, Ben, Laila, Anna, Ricken, Jo, Nell, Mais and the entire Avaaz team

PS: For further questions check out the Q&A page, and some sources below.


UN independent expert calls for boycott of businesses profiting from Israeli settlements (UN)

12 more EU countries warn against trade with Israeli settlements (Haaretz)

Israelis, Palestinians Pro Peace Process, but Not Hopeful (Gallup)

Under pressure, a strong EU-Israel relationship faces uncertain future (Middle East Monitor)

Israel-Gaza conflict: 80 per cent of Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes are civilians, UN report says (The Independent)

Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes (ICRC)

Palestinians: Most Gaza dead are children, women, elderly (Haaretz)

Caught on Tape: US Teen Allegedly Beaten by Israeli Police (ABC News)

A policy of displacement (Visualizing Palestine)

Exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry

Additional sources for this campaign:  "

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Privatisation - a pathway to systemic failure

When Margaret Thatcher was PM of Britain one of the many acts of privatisation her government enacted was that of the water utilities. All are now in private hands and most owned by non-UK multinationals - although it is often hard to know who owns what.  In an insightful article in the Guardian on Monday Aditya Chakrabortty reveals how privatisation is failing English citizens:

"Few businesses are more basic than the supply of water. But Thames now doesn't look anything like a water company; it more closely resembles a Russian doll. Holding company sits within holding company sits within holding company: in all, there are five intermediate firms between the business that supplies the water and sorts the sewage and the eventual shareholders. That's before you reach the two subsidiary firms that go out to the markets to raise cash, one of which is naturally based in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

Who gains from such a corporate Byzantium? Not regulators and politicians, nor journalists and analysts, because such a layout is the opposite of transparent. But the beneficiaries are identified by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, who pored over Thames's accounts from 2007 (the first full year after the Macquarie consortium took over) up to 2012. In three of those five years, investors took more dividends out of the business than it raised in profits after tax. Bung in interim payments, and there was only one year in which the consortium of shareholders took less out of the company than it had in post-tax profits. What replaced the profits? In a word: debt, which more than doubled to £7.8bn in that period.

The academics conclude: "A mound of leveraged debt appears to have been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills." Not just investors, mind: those at the top of the business have obviously been cashing in. All the middlemen – lawyers, tax consultants and financiers – associated with the intermediary firms would also have been taking a hefty cut. And in last week's report, Thames chief executive Martin Baggs was revealed to be on a pay package of £1.29m. No wonder staff call him "Moneybaggs"."

From an Australian persective what is significant is that Macquarie Bank is the effective owner of Thames Water despite the Russian Doll-like company structure.  Current Australian Ministers such as Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey are former investment bankers so Australians can probably look forward to the same pressures to privatise despite the growing evidence that privatised utilities systemically fail the societies that they were originally formed to assist.  The history of Margaret Thatcher's actions tends to suggest that privatisation serves another purpose - making your mates richer!