Abstracts Dublin Metaphorum, May 5th-6th 2005, Geary Institute, University College Dublin

Paul StokesDesigning GovernanceHuman or social cybernetics (as in the work of Beer or Bateson) represents a formal attempt to identify the elements and practices of the art and science of good governance. The meeting will be seeking to learn for their work in the design of institutions of governance that are both realistic and effective as well as liberatory. Recently a number of real-life initiatives around the globe have been identified as so-called 'real utopias'. It is with a view to extending our formal and practical knowledge of such possibilities that this Metaphorum is being convened. And so reflective practitioners of all kinds are invited to attend so that we may all learn to become more effective practitioners. We are asking participants how cybernetics may be used to assist in the construction of effective and liberatory social orders. Specifically, what interfaces or forms of transduction will be necessary to enable cyberneticists and practitioners alike to share knowledge, insights and experience?
Angela EspinozaDesigning self governed communities with the VSMThe VSM has been widely used for designing organisations and has shown an alternative paradigm for designing self regulated and still cohesive networks. Different applications in particular in underdeveloped countries, showed the differences it makes in terms of, both, developing new practices and communication patterns for involved communities, and adjusting existing government institutions to cope properly with the complexity of evolving self regulated communities. This paper will make clearer the sort of problems that the design of institutions may have when using the VSM for promoting more effective but also emancipatory communities, linked to governmental institutions that are able to deal with their complexity. It does it by first providing a conceptual framework for understanding autonomy of individuals in structural coupling with different organisations they belong to like communities and businesses. Then it reviews Beer's ideas on self regulatory systems and illustrates how these systems, in practice, will require deep changes in governmental institutions, to support self governed communities.
Luc HoebekeRepresentative democracy vs particpation: system 3 and system 5 characteristicsThe insights of Stafford Beer about the characteristics of System 3, System 4 and System 5 are used to clarify a confusion in the ideas about the essence of democratical governance of institutions and organizations. Democratic participation is situated in the activities of System 3 on each recursion level and representative democracy are situated in System 5. Actual democratic institutional forms are evaluated using these insights and suggestions for improvement of those are proposed as material to discuss. The background of this session is available in the article about the identity function which will appear in the fall in Kybernetes. The pre-print of this article will be available to the participants of the Metaphorum Session.
Andrey SergeyevUsing the VSM to Understand an Emergent Post-Soviet Economy (??)
Leonid OtotskyStafford Beer's work in Russia and beyond
Margeret HeathCybernetics and Utopia: The Role of Imagination (??)
Ern ReynoldsPolitical Physics: or, How Westerners Think"How Westerners Think" was comprehensively revealed to the world by 1832. That was when Carl von Clausewitz' masterwork "On War" was published (posthumously, in German). This vast subject (how Westerners think) is not just opaque to outlanders, but gauzy to Westerners ourselves. The key to unlock this understanding is supplied by the rarely recognized field of political physics. The one-word descriptor for the universal laws of political physics is cybernetics. Principles of political physics are expressed in universal laws, in the sense that the Law of Gravity is universal. Political physics (a Ross Ashby coinage) is defined as the nonlinear science of communication and control, as found simultaneously in biological creatures, machines and social organizations. An army is all these swirled together -- biological creatures, machines and social organizations -- united by purpose and design. "On War" is as little about organized violence as "Moby Dick" is only superficially about whaling. Larger more powerful themes are revealed through the cybernetic insights of political physics. Your presenter will conclude by proposing that Clausewitz be considered the world's first extensively-published and explained cybernetician.
Allenna LeonardAccountability, Risk and the Systems ApproachCorporate and government bodies are under increasing pressure to take measures to address transparency and accountability issues. Some of these measures, such as the certifications stemming from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States and their Canadian equivalents, put more responsibility on individuals in upper management and on boards of directors. These measures are being taken seriously enough for some individuals to decline or limit board memberships and organizations have been spending a great deal of money to make sure they are in compliance. Unfortunately, these certifications, and sub-certifications, are implemented according to reductionist and tick and check models of accountability. This approach is doomed to failure on two counts. First, they do not have requisite variety to accommodate the complexity of any organization large enough to be listed on a stock exchange, and second, they are of little use if someone is engaging in deliberate deception. A systems approach is required to address complexity, and its pattern recognition capabilities are likely to pick up any results that come in too far from expectations. Its models and capabilities to assess management control are robust and could be very useful. But, there is another approach that is effective that is enhanced by an understanding and application of systems thinking. It begins with the culture of the organization. Although 'the tone at the top' is frequently cited as crucial, few concrete suggestions are offered. It is common knowledge that organizations that are transparent, operate according to a high reliability culture, are self-reflective and constitute themselves to learn and adapt have more success and fewer ethical problems. Recent scandals aside, notions of organizational control and risk avoidance are not just about curbing illegal and unethical activities. They are about achieving objectives in an efficient and effective manner. It is interesting to note that the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants pamphlet Learning About Risk puts forward seven risk models. Only one of these, operational and control risk , deals with the nuts and bolts controls that are often the limit of risk assessments and protocols. The other six have to do with cultural and behavioural elements. Strategic thinking, leadership, resilience, crisis choices, decisions to become aware and intuition are not necessarily the first aspects to be associated with risk avoidance. If they are in place, the likelihood of other factors causing problems is a great deal lower, as is the probability that operational errors will balloon into major threats to the organization's reputation. A systems approach is needed to do the best job of implementing and integrating all seven of these models and providing for the level of transparency and accountability needed to proceed with confidence.
Leonie Solomons & Alfredo MoscardiniReflecting Sri Lanka's peace quest in VSM iconographic languageTo aid a cybernetic diagnosis of the SL peace talks a language is required which is capable of distinguishing the relationships between various stakeholders and the components that each stakeholder represents. To meet this purpose, a narrative of Sri Lanka is provided which in then translated to a contextualised VSM. For example, how does the VSM capture a merger negotiation where an entity's identity appears in multiple domains, albeit with different nuances? How does the VSM capture a merger negotiation given there is minimally at least four phases:
  1. gaining agreement of (warring) parties to enter into negotiation,
  2. being in the negotiation phase, where once dormant stakeholders get affected by the negotiations taking place and thus need to participate and negotiate the nature of the evolving relationships,
  3. after negotiation when the merger is taking place since it does not happen in an instant, and
  4. After merger.
The objective of this paper and ensuring conference presentation is to discuss the art and science of the way the VSM operation itself is applied and in particular to:
  • to gauge the appropriateness of the way the VSM is applied in this instance given the rigour and coherence of what the VSM enables,
  • to consider the traps and quandaries encountered, and
  • to canvass improvements, etc.
Such is the variety that S4 has to model if serious attention is to be given to the design of the negotiation phases, especially given the lag times involved in creating the channels that reach across to connect the parties to dialogue and the capacities entailed. The value of this Sri Lankan case study is that wedged in the negotiation is the prospect to consider options for how Sri Lanka wants to govern itself which accords with theme of the conference.
Stefan M. WasilewskiRationalising Communication & Decision-Making as an Enterprise Risk MetricWe would like to present a new metric, derived from an enterprise's communication and decisions making ability, to be used to augment existing Risk and Investment measures. The aim is to better enable management and investors access the performance of staff in achieving their goals; provide a proxy for the market context; and reintroduce the data lost using statistical analysis. During the 80's and 90's portfolio management tools began to rely heavily on the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) and Black & Schole's (at the heart of which is the Normal Distribution) to estimate the Portfolio Risk. Individual investment analysis was dependent upon the 'firm' in which training begun but seldom included more on 'context analysis' beyond the normal Market Analysis section. Common to all practice of statistical analysis is ranking which loses vital information on the enterprises timeliness of performance; the context in which the business operates and how production is conducted. In order to reintroduce this aspect of relative performance without resistance from established management a method was needed that identified the Functional Activity of each employee and aggregated it with relationship not only to the business context but also to the decision-making ability of the enterprise. The method selected was to treat each employee as a Cellular Automata with a 4-Function rule base and a simple meta-system for decision-making. Observing performance had to be 'near real-time' to be useful and transparent to reduce feedback loops that would eventually destroy the objective. The latter was achieved in a rather innovative way that also opened up metrics normally used in telecommunications. As the whole system avoids the problems of 'silo-management' and resistance from entrenched managers the resultant metric provides practical assistance to managers and investors. However the implementation of the whole must be considered within the context of a Meta-system that includes Behavioural Strategies implemented in good faith but which practically acts against the System, by which we refer to Bonus Schemes or Management Remuneration Packages whose metrics are ill conceived. We call this Moral Hazard. The design of the approach was specifically crafted to act as a pathway by which existing businesses could move to a more comprehensive methodology being created by Chris Cullen & Joe Truss (Canada). Our design starts with a Tetrahedron and two-degrees of freedom to the board of Directors.
Rod Thomas Plans for reform versus utopian blueprints: On the difference between diagnosis and designStafford Beer's books on the managerial cybernetics of organization often carried paradoxical or oxymoronic titles. Is there any argument that is "Beyond Dispute"? How can "Designing Freedom" be a sensible pursuit? What has a business manager to learn from being asked "How Many Grapes Went Into the Wine"? No doubt these titles were intended to challenge the would-be reader into finding out more but they also provide a subtle hint towards the dilemma that faces management cybernetics itself: a science of communication and control must be deployed with great sensitivity if it is not to be used to deny human freedom. In this paper I briefly examine the sensitivities of managerial cybernetics as a tool for governance. To his credit I argue that Stafford Beer employed an 'open' philosophy that liberates thought in the face of problem situations. I also propose that this open philosophy enabled Beer to address the relation of constraint to freedom in a rationalist way. The principles that he deduced provide a means to diagnose the situational logic of a problem situation and thereby plan for its reform. However, like a genie uncorked from a captive bottle, the possibilities thereby opened include the use of managerial cybernetics as a tool for organizational design. This raises the important question as to whether it is at all desirable to attempt to construct a social utopia on earth - for some would say that such ventures are best left to heaven. In this regard, the inherent dangers of utopian blueprints loom large and the criticisms that they attract warrant attention. The paper examines these issues by reference to the work of perhaps the most able and brilliant critic: Karl Popper.
Maurice YollesKnowledge CyberneticsKnowledge cybernetics is principally concerned with the development of agents like autonomous social collectives that survive through knowledge and knowledge processes. Deriving from epistemological antecedents laid down by Stafford Beer and explored through notions of ontology by Eric Schwarz, a new form of knowledge management arises that is connected with the notions of Marshall and her new radical classifications for knowledge. These ideas can be closely associated with concepts of lifeworld and the ideas of communicative action by Habermas, and leads to a useful knowledge cybernetic framework. This has the capacity to relate to and develop a variety of what might be thought of as otherwise disparate theories that can ultimately be expressed in terms of knowledge.
Stephanie HeuerSomebodies and Nobodies, overcoming the abuse of rankSomebodies are the relatively powerful and successful, nobodies the relatively weak and vulnerable. Somebodies with higher rank and more power in any given context can maintain an environment that is hostile and demeaning to nobodies with lower rank and less power in that context, much as whites used to be at liberty to mistreat blacks and males were not obliged to treat females equitably. Taken together, those of low rank vastly outnumber those of high rank. They constitute a latent progressive majority. Political realignment follows the success of any movement that overcomes the exploitation of one social group by another. The previously subordinated group shifts its support to the party that has championed its cause, whereas the previously dominant group takes refuge in the party that has defended the status quo. As rankism is challenged and overcome, the beneficiaries will support the party that has fought on their behalf. In a dignitarian society, rank and file voters will not easily be persuaded to vote against their own economic interests in the name of defending the existing order. This presentation will cover the work of Robert Fuller in his ground breaking book, "Somebodies and Nobodies, Overcoming Abuse of Rank", and how it inspired the creation of the children's version, "I Feel like Nobody When... I Feel Like Somebody When..." (to be released later this year, preliminary copies will be distributed ).
Raul EspejoTowards Inclusive GovernanceThis contribution deals with the relationship between the global and the local in society. Historically this relationship has produced rigid social systems, where those in power positions have forced unfair constraints over the majorities at the local level, and often excluded them. Today we are experiencing the move towards flexible, fair, social systems, inclusive in character. This transformation requires an increasing appreciation of communication problems in society and the embodiment of effective social systems. This transformation is presented as a paradigm for governance, which requires social systems with capacity to create and produce their own meanings, with capacity to manage necessary operational couplings among existing social systems and structural couplings among interacting institutions. A key construct used in this paper to handle practically the problem of governance is the Viable System Model, as developed by Stafford Beer.
Steve WrightLooming struggles over border controlThis second paper is about the prospect of countering the techno-politics of exclusion during a time of terror. We are not operating under ideal circumstances and its fairly likely that future climate change will yield scores of millions of refugees which will be blocked rather than aided. The paper looks at the high tech area denial systems in preparation and how political and technological jiu jitsu might be used to obviate their effects. The proposal fits well with Beers concerns about protecting the people from harm and uses Gean Sharp's tactics of non-violence to undermine the legitimacy of state power.
Betty ScheperState - NGO relations in Asia and their organisational integrity
Ralf-Eckhard TürkeRET_eGovernance-Balancing Interactions