One response would be to claim that 2015 was saturated with events and issues where more systemic insight and action was warranted yet obviously lacking! That is, 'the demand' was overwhelming! How to evidence such a claim? Not easy if even a sensible thing to do!
Another response would be to claim that my lack of musings were a response to the emotional and work roller-coaster that unfolded in my life from April onwards. My own experiential evidence gives some credance to this claim!
Musings are a form of practice; the etymological roots (*) of the word encompass several meanings including 'to have one's mind roused'; 'to both love and to be mad'; to ponder, think, remember, show, foretell, warn'. Musing, as a practice, could be understood as ranging from 'an animal sniffing around' (knowing its environment, or context), to the purposeful engagement in reflexive praxis (i.e. reflection on reflection through theory-informed practical action). In resuming my blogging it is this praxis understanding of 'musing' that I seek to exemplify, whilst recognising that a praxis in which the acts of thinking and writing are central has its limitations in terms of effecting the sorts of transformative change that contemporary circumstances warrant.
My last posting was over Easter 2015 - a sort of 'calm before the storm' period that unfolded as the commitments made as President of ISSS (International Society for the Systems Sciences) took hold whilst at the same time I juggled my other academic commitments e.g. the CADWAGO project; the STiP MSc; the Systemic Governance Research (SGR) Program and my commitments to the RESILIM-O project.
For a range of reasons which I will outline in a later Blog, the activities of my ISSS Presidency were focused in Germany over the summer of 2015 (July-August). Whilst demanding they were very successful as I hope the following report makes clear:
- A collaborative activity between WINS (Berlin Workshop in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems) Humboldt University of Berlin and Prof. Ray Ison (ISSS/Open University) funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The collaboration with WINs was consolidated during a period of sabbatical leave at Humboldt University (Program Umwelt Governance led by Prof. Andreas Thiel) by Prof. Ison (April-May2014). It built on earlier collaboration that has led to the production of a Special Issue of Environmental Science & Policy.
- Participants came from 32 countries (Brasil, Colombia, Germany, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Mexico, USA, Canada, Sweden, UK, Ireland, Italy, France, Japan, Chile, Ecuador, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, South Africa, Ghana, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Cyprus, India, China, the Netherlands, Vietnam, Thailand) and comprised 27 PhD students studying in nine different countries (Germany, Australia, Austria, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Colombia, USA, Norway). Participants represented 35 professional and academic organisations concerned with Systems and Cybernetics scholarship.
- To our knowledge the event was the first ever joint meeting of scholars from cybersystemic and institutional economics backgrounds. There were at least 26 of the latter participating mainly from Germany or with backgrounds in German academia.
- It was also the first purpose-designed event to bring together scholars from such a wide range of organisations concerned with ‘cybersystemics’.
- The event was co-designed by Kevin Collins and Ray Ison, facilitated by Kevin Collins and built on research/design carried out in Australia as part of the ‘transitioning to water sensitive cities’ events held around Australia in 2009.
- A final program can be seen here; in all there were 22 presenters from 13 countries – six were from the German-speaking world.
- A blogsite with all presentations and other outputs has been developed; a report has been prepared and sent to the funders. A more substantial report is being drafted and a follow-up evaluation is planned (already conducted with PhD students). As noted in the report to the VW Foundation other follow-up initiatives are planned.
- A number of links to sites concerned with the Inquiry theme - 'Governing in the Anthropocene' can be accessed via the Blog.
- According to feedback this was the most successful ISSS conference in the last decade with 240 participants and very strong contingent of young scholars (over 60) including the 27 PhD student program participants; feedback to me has been overwhelmingly positive.
- The final program can be seen here: http://www.isss2015berlin.com/ ; also here https://plus.google.com/112203406557197052160/posts and here: http://isss.org/world/Programme
- ·The conference contained novel design elements which were greeted positively. These were:
- A coherent narrative explicating the conference theme and program structure which was shared widely before the start of the conference
- An embedded ASC (American Society of Cybernetics) day-conference, including an evening session with premier presentations of a play (based on Gregory Bateson’s metalogues) and the launch of a “new concept” by Nora Bateson;
- The first Ranulph Glanville Memorial Lecture was delivered by Prof. Michael Lissack, President of the American Society of Cybernetics.
- A mixture of keynotes, panels and short presentations (including a Pecha Kucha Discussion) to provide greater variety in the morning sessions and to allow a greater range of voices/perspectives to be heard;
- A strong and mutually supportive conference organising team with vital ISSS executive input (Jennifer Wilby) and local knowledge and capacity (Louis Klein and his Berlin-based Systemic Excellence Group);
- The addition of a several social media platforms to promote and support the overall event led by VP Delia MacNamara and our Platinum Sponsor (College of Exploration);
- Delivery of 12 morning keynotes (two co-delivered) and one evening keynote; 14 people participated in panel presentations. 152 papers and workshops were delivered in 47 separate afternoon sessions.
- A wrap-around PhD program with 27 students conducting their own systemic inquiry (see below) and feeding back on their learning/insights to the conference as a whole;
- Liaison and collaboration with affiliated organisations and partners – ASC, INCOSE, Systems Dynamics Society, IFSR, IASCYS and Bs-Lab.
- 27 PhD students participated and completed (i.e. were awarded 5ECTS);
- Students were diverse in background, nationality, areas of study (from engineering to systemic family therapy) and age;
- The PhD course focused on the use of systems thinking in research practice - all students conducted their own systemic inquiries in sub-groups based on stage of PhD study;
- The course was lively as well as intensive, generated strong group cohesion and enthusiasm for the subject matter and was evaluated very positively by all participants;
- It comprised participation in 1 and 2 above plus 2.5 days of dedicated workshop on 1-2nd August and the afternoon of 7th August.
- The PhD program design and development built on two previous version conducted at the University of Aarhus, Denmark in 2012 and at Humbolt University in 2014. The initiative has been pioneered and facilitated by Dr Chris Blackmore (OU), Prof, Sri Skandarajah (SLU, Sweden), Prof Ray Ison (OU/Monash) with assistance from Dr Thomas Aenis (Humbolt University) and the European Branch of the International Farming Systems Research association.
Over this period a number of very successful learning events were run as part of the CADWAGO project and in relation to the 'Learning Lab' initiative at Monash. I will post more about these in due course. The rest of the year started well with a successful visit to China (more later) but then ended badly for reasons I shall explicate in future posts.
In 2015 perhaps the most positive event was that of CoP21 in Paris. Much has been written about the process and outcomes and the imperatives that now confront us collectively. Responding positively will require as much systems thinking in practice as can be mustered and actioned. The materials generated from the events held in Germany over the European summer are worthy of consideration by anyone wishing to contribute to the next phase of concerted action to transform how we live in a climate-change world.
* My etymological musings are always aided by reference to Joseph T Shipley's (1984) 'The Origins of English Words. A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.