Monday, February 17, 2014

Daughters as activists

It is one of life's great gifts if it comes your way - to be proud of one's offspring in doing what they choose to do.

Here I share some links to daughters who care about the world's they live and help to create.  One of a colleague, in the field of youth unemployment:

AltGen supports 18-25 year old's to set up workers cooperatives as an empowering and collaborative solution to youth unemployment. To get involved and find out more, visit their website, facebook page, or tweet @AltGen101.

See also these Blogs by Rhiannon: Diary of a young co-operative startup and The importance of collaboration published in the Guardian Social Network section. 

And the others are Nicky and Jarra who co-established the Comunity Power Agency and are busy preparing for Australia's first National "Community Energy Congress" concerned with  community-based renewable energy. 

News from Systems Thinking in Action

  • For those of you not aware of it there is a LinkedIn group called Systems Thinking in Action organised by Gene Bellinger. It is worth joining in if you have time and enthusiasm.  Here is a copy of Gene's latest missive.

Aren't the conversations about the broader adoption of systems thinking and the multitude of models and methods therein pretty much legion?

If systems thinkers are unable to effect the broader adoption of systems thinking what does that imply about systems thinking and systems thinkers?

Are systems thinkers the primary impediment to the broader adoption of systems thinking?

Are statements like, "Only 5% of people are capable of systems thinking," helpful?

Are the most knowledgeable on the subject functioning in a context which ensures they are off-putting to almost anyone not in the same context?

Simon Sinek indicated it was essential to begin with Why? Have we followed this guidance?

Isn't a commonly offered definition of insanity doing the same things and expecting different results?

Are systems thinkers the poster children for Pogo's "We have met the enemy and he is us?"

If tomorrow is to be better than today then isn't it’s up to me, and you, for if not us, then who?

The Kumu Manifesto seems well worth the read...


Your thoughts?

P.S. FYI...
* Systems Thinking in Action Conference April 16th to 18th in Seattle…
* European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research April 22nd to 25th in Vienna…
* System Dynamics Society Conference July 20th to 24th in Delft…

Cyber-Systemic events in 2014

For those who may not be hooked into the various cybernetic and systems societies there is much that is on this year to distract, enthuse, activise or sustain friendships:

1. First Call for Papers: UK Systems Society International Conference 2014
9-11 September 2014  - St Anne’s College, Oxford University, UK

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. Much has been written about knowledge in its various forms – propositional knowledge (information) or tacit ‘know-how’. 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.

Challenges of knowledge societies
With increased focus on the economic and social aspect of knowledge, its potential as a force of social cohesion and increased welfare, or conversely as a source of increased division and exclusion requires our urgent attention as citizens. UNESCO, in a 2005 World Report on Knowledge Society, has expressed concern over the potential disassociation of society as those on the wrong side of the digital divide become increasingly isolated. Further concern is expressed over excessive commoditization of knowledge, so that ownership of previously social assets become concentrated in the hands of the powerful.

The UNESCO World Report establishes four principles that are essential for development of an equitable knowledge society:
  • Cultural diversity;
  • Equal access to education;
  • Universal access to information (in the public domain);
  • Freedom of expression.
The role of technology
“Knowledge has been at the heart of economic growth and development for some time. Despite the shift in recent years from the Information Society to an emerging global knowledge society, where emphasis is more on people’s utilisation of knowledge rather than technology, it still remains a fact that information technology remains a central element of the knowledge society, combined with continuous learning particularly in Science & Technology and innovation … The ability to generate new knowledge and new ideas that are then embodied in products and organisations has always served to fuel development … The foremost use of knowledge should be to empower and develop all sectors of society to understand and use knowledge to increase the quality of people’s lives and promote social development. A socially inclusive knowledge society empowers all members of the society to create, receive, share and use information and knowledge for their economic, social, cultural and political development. In recent times, disparities in the productivity and growth of different countries have far less to do with the abundance or lack of natural resources than with the capacity to improve the quality of human capital and factors of production i.e. to create new knowledge and ideas and incorporate them into equipment and people’s skills.”
(Extract from a GESCI report, funded by the UN ICT Task Force, 2010)

Systems and the knowledge society – Call for Contributions
What is clear from this discourse is that knowledge society is characterised by its complexity. Not only is knowledge an ephemeral phenomenon, resistant to attempts to harness and control it, but it is a controversial asset that gives access to economic and political power. One thing that is clear is that the four principles set out by UNESCO cannot be achieved through linear thinking. 

We invite contributions from systems thinkers in the form of papers, models, reports from practice, posters or workshop proposals that relate to the conference theme in its broadest sense. The Conference programme will include a day devoted to practitioner contributions, and a workshop on writing for publication as well as plenary presentations and speakers (to be confirmed).
Papers should be clearly marked ‘conference submission’, and submitted by 31 May 2014, via the on-line submission system of IGI Global.  For other types of contribution, please email an abstract to the conference organisers at:

2. ISSS 2014 Conference - ISSS, and ASC in the following week

Learning Across Boundaries: Exploring the Variety of Systemic Theory and Practice

ISSS President 2013-14 Professor Gerald Midgley, University of Hull, UK

The 58th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences will be held at George Washington University, Washington DC, July 27 through August 1, 2014. The conference will be held at the downtown campus in the Georgetown area of Washington DC at Funger Hall, GWU School of Business.

Further details are located on the ISSS2014 Conference pages.

This year, the ASC meeting "Living in Cybernetics" will also be held at GWU in the week following the ISSS (3-9th August). There will be a discount for those attending both conferences, please see each conference's registration pages. The discount will be halved from the registration cost of each conference.

Additional details will be added as available, please email the ISSS office with any queries in the meantime at

3. 50th Anniversary conference of the American Society for Cybernetics 

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the American Society for Cybernetics, which was incorporated in Washington DC on the 6th of August 1964.

Our conference this year will be our major celebration. The theme is “Living in Cybernetics”. The main event (4 to 8 August inclusive) will celebrate ASC cybernetics in the present through paper presentations themed using Stuart Umpleby’s “Several Traditions of cybernetics” (4 and 5 August), ASC cybernetics in the past through addresses from many past presidents and other long term members (August 6) developing our timeline, and ASC cybernetics in the future through workshops developing views of how cybernetics and education may come together to hep make a better world (August 7 and 8).

In addition, as has been our recent practice, we will hold a pre-conference meeting on 3 August; and a post-conference meeting (9 August). Conferees may attend these events without charge.

4. EMCSR 2014 

“Dear Colleagues,

We are happy to invite you to participate in the European Meetings on Cybernetics and Systems Research in Vienna, 22nd to 25th of April 2014.

At EMCSR, scientists, organizations, researchers and practitioners share their experiences working with systems theory and practice.

This year's meeting is a co-production of the most distinguished systems organizations and communities in the world and in addition will connect members of the International Federation for Systems Research and EMCSR with the intent to create a hub that showcases the advance of systems approaches to contribute to solutions of today’s complex problems.

The Symposia Call for Papers timeline is 28th February, 2014

The EMCSR 2014: “Civilisation at the Crossroads: Response and Responsibility of the Systems Sciences” will be guided by three story lines, each comprised by the perspectives of concepts, applications and bridges between academia and practice:

I. Sustainability and Development
II. Emergence and Design
III. Complexity and Strategy

There are specific topics under each theme. (Read more)

The PhD Day call for papers timeline is 14th February

The EMCSR 2014 PhD Colloquium & Award is a special topic of the EMCSR 2014 with paper presentations from scientists in pre-doctoral or early post-doctoral phases of work.
One of the highlights of the EMCSR Colloquium & Award is the special “Ludwig von Bertalanffy Young Scientist Award”, which consists of a diploma and a monetary prize. (Read more)

Please find the information pertaining to this event at the following URL  and share it with all friends and colleagues you know whom you think might be interested in this event, and distribute it to other academic institutions and organizations far and wide.

Connect yourself with the EMCSR community in Social Media Facebook  Twitter

Sign up to our EMCSR newsletter for updates and information like community and background stories and project features! Newsletter

Hiding the systemic failures of products and processes

This New Yorker piece entitled "A Valuable Reputation" by Rachel Aviv is insightful at many levels. 

"In 2001, seven years after joining the biology faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, Tyrone Hayes stopped talking about his research with people he didn’t trust. He instructed the students in his lab, where he was raising three thousand frogs, to hang up the phone if they heard a click, a signal that a third party might be on the line. Other scientists seemed to remember events differently, he noticed, so he started carrying an audio recorder to meetings. “The secret to a happy, successful life of paranoia,” he liked to say, “is to keep careful track of your persecutors.” 

Three years earlier, Syngenta, one of the largest agribusinesses in the world, had asked Hayes to conduct experiments on the herbicide atrazine, which is applied to more than half the corn in the United States. Hayes was thirty-one, and he had already published twenty papers on the endocrinology of amphibians....." Read on.

My thanks to David W-T for alerting me to this article. It seems classic multinational behaviour - seeking to hide the systemic failure of products and processes.  The systemic failings reported are all avoidable; above all else so is the thinking that creates and sustains these circumstances. I cannot help but feel we are collectively suffering a self-induced myopia, given that this atrazine story is only one of many that creates a pattern that afflicts us.  Consider also these recent examples:

1. Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?

"The bad news is that we are running out of groundwater.  In particular, this is happening in the places that we need it most — the dry parts of the planet where we love to live, precisely because it does not rain.  Out of necessity, our reliance on groundwater in these parts of the world is much greater than elsewhere."

"One of the key numbers to emerge from the report is that the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013.

To put that number in perspective, it is roughly the amount of water used by the entire population of California, for household, municipal, and industrial use (that is, for nearly everything else besides agriculture and environment).  It is also the steepest decline in total water availability that our team has witnessed in the 12 years that we have been monitoring California water resources with the GRACE mission."

2. The UK floods - see this article by George Monbiot to begin to appreciate some of the systemic issues.  Talk about a crisis of governance!

3. Nutrient cycle distortions with massive systemic effects

"A new report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights how humans have massively altered the natural flows of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. While this has had huge benefits for world food and energy production, it has caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health, causing toxic algal blooms, killing fish, threatening sensitive ecosystems and contributing to climate change. 

Our Nutrient World is launched at this week's UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, which runs until 22 February 2013. The study was carried out by almost 50 experts from 14 countries."

On the positive side...but way to late really, a significant member of the Obama administration in the person of John Kerry has had the courage to call climate change

[a]  'weapon of mass destruction'  ....."... that climate change could threaten [our] "entire way of life" as he called for all nations to do more to stop global warming." 

It is time for climate change denier regimes such as those of David Cameron and Tony Abbot, and to be fair, Barack Obama, to take responsibility for the futures of the citizens they seek to govern.