Stafford's Work

Designing Freedom Together

May 25, 2022


This webinar will present a recent paper from the authors, which tells the story of developing, collaboratively, a visionary whole system transition architecture within a UK regional transport context in 2021. It is writ- ten, in the first person, by the two authors whose focus of interest is in complex living systems, characterised by emergence, abundant creativity and surprise. They view design as an inherent aspect of ongoing change, which can be built intrinsically into the living system, not as a stage in a sequential procedure. They view themselves as participants in the system as well as providers of the under- pinning methods.

The objective of the work was to enable evolutionary systemic change, which holds the potential for transformation. The overall approach was rooted in collaborative visioning. The authors see vision as an aspirational and yet responsIble sense of the future which is shared by multiple people, and acts as a reference point for developing agreement and coordinating action. The architecture was developed iteratively in an outside-in approach starting from the systemic con- text and aims to enable everyone to be both choreographers and dancers, find- ing and optimising their contribution based on their unique capabilities and characteristics.

The approach reframes boundaries as opportunities for mutual learning, in contrast to barriers to be overcome or connections to be engineered, and it raises questions of where boundaries could be designed, including the boundaries around organisations themselves. It enables collaborative activities to be identified which cannot be handled by transactional interaction alone.

The authors welcome dialogue to feed a process of mutual learning with others.

Roger Duck and Jane Searles

Roger Duck works mostly as a consultant through his own business, drawing on systemic ideas to help people learn together to take effective action. In recent years his work has focused on processes of change and transition in organisations, and the wider systems in which they operate. He is motivated to humanise the way we organise, and he has been particularly influenced by Stafford Beer’s thinking. He has consulted to a wide range of public and private sector organisations, especially in relation to transport, energy and telecommunications, working as a facilitator, researcher and innovator to support processes of change. He has been Director of Professional Development for SCiO (Systems and Complexity in Organisation). He served on the steering group of Great Britain’s Future Power System Architecture (FPSA) project (phase 2). He also has experience in local community development through his association with the International Futures Forum (IFF) which led him to co-found an experiment in relationship-building for community wellbeing. He is certified by the International Bateson Institute (IBI) as a warm data host. He and Jane Searles published an article called Designing Freedom Together in 2021, describing a case study of enabling collaborative exploration of transformational systemic change. He can be reached at roger.duck@mapsar.co.uk.

Jane Searles has been continuously developing a systemic modelling approach based on co-design workshops over the last 30 years, in the role of systemic architect. The basic method was developed originally within International Computers Ltd which was an amalgamation of UK Computer Companies in the 1960s, and later in Fujitsu which took over ICL. The modelling approach was originated by Graham Pratten as a business process oriented approach to software architecture design. Jane adapted this approach in the early 1990s to address whole systems, which had customers / citizens at their heart and focussed on people and effective teamwork (and enabling technology where useful). Having been introduced to the Viable System Model in the early 1990s, Jane found that both approaches could usefully be combined to address transformative change towards a visionary future where citizens are central, using the systemic modelling approach to question deeply help assumptions about the way things were done, before proceeding to a systemic transition architecture, comprising multiple VSMs playing roles in an overall system. The approach uses the VSM, in design mode, to structure models of coherent systems which span organisational boundaries and deliver on customer needs. She used this approach, for example, in modelling the overall Criminal Justice System, and the contribution of Magistrates Courts and of Probation to this system as a coherent whole. Jane was the Membership secretary and Board secretary for SCiO for many years, where she first met Roger, and they have been collaborating using and developing this approach over the last 10 years. They have worked together on a community project, ‘Thriving in Fife’ with International Futures Forum (IFF) and have previously used the approach outlined to model an aspirational UK power system which addresses the issues facing communities, industry and commerce and our planet. They have recently published ‘designing freedom together’ which focusses on systemic modelling work done prior to developing systemic designs based on VSM principles. Jane can be reached on: jane.searles@btinternet.com.

Recent Webinars

Sapient paradox - screenshot


The Sapient Paradox as the consequence of a cybernetical bifurcation in the evolution.

Dr. Peter Robertson

Why did humankind create such a moral and ecological mess of this world, and why have we done that for only about 10,000 years? This question might be related to the Sapient Paradox, which emerged after decades of archeological and neurophysiological research.

Metaphorum Webinar 03.04.2024 Pickering


Cybernetics and the Environmental Crisis

Professor Andrew Pickering

Foreshadowing the disasters of the Anthropocene, in the late 1960s Gregory Bateson developed a cybernetic analysis of the environmental crisis which was then starting to be recognised. He argued that its roots lay in dualist fantasies of control of nat …

Language as an enabling constraint


Language as an Enabling Constraint for Viability

Pille Bunnell

We are usually unaware that language imposes constraints on how we perceive, think and act, even as it is central to all that we do. What language enables is clearly apparent: all the cultures, technologies and designs we humans have created are ground …