Transduction — leading transformation — Issue #99

Benjamin P. Taylor
19 min readAug 18, 2023

This week:

  • Upcoming Events
  • Systems Thinking and Systemic Design
  • Cybernetics
  • Shifting Systems Initiative (SSI)

Upcoming events:

Two new commissioning academies: coming this winter!

Exciting News! Introducing two Commissioning Academies.

  • We will be offering a new Virtual Commissioning Academy, launching in October, facilitated entirely online
  • and an In-Person Commissioning Academy launching in January, with in-person sessions held in Nottingham.

Both offer the same great content, accredited by the PSTA and Cabinet Office.

Join our flagship development program to transform outcomes for the communities we serve!

  • Be part of a national network of commissioning practitioners.
  • Learn to initiate and lead change across complex systems.
  • Develop capabilities to drive real transformation.
  • Access expert insights and collaborative learning.
  • Apply innovative ideas and approaches to your work.

Here’s what’s in store for you at the National Commissioning Academy:

  • Foundation concepts: Working as a system, outcomes thinking, collaborative working.
  • Commissioning for outcomes as a system: Systems thinking, asset-based commissioning, trauma-informed practice, prevention and early intervention.
  • Creating conditions for change: Systems leadership, coproduction, innovation, and promoting social value.

Expect a transformative experience with masterclass workshops, action learning, expert speakers, peer challenges, practical action planning, and membership in our nationwide alumni community.

Ready to make a difference? Apply now to secure your spot at the Academy! Contact David Mason at david.mason@publicservicetransformation.org

OpEx follow up event

5 Sept, 3–5pm BST, All About the People — Five Core Leadership Practices for OpEx, https://www.linkedin.com/events/fivecorepracticesforeffectiveor7089639920121655296/comments/

PLEASE REGISTER IN ADVANCE ON THE ZOOM LINK:
https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAkdOuurDIjHdZqd-LA8ZrwfcZP5-WKcXwS

“All About the People” is a highly interactive and engaging event designed to introduce participants to the five core leadership practices for achieving Operational Excellence. This event aims to equip leaders and managers with the essential skills and knowledge required to create a culture of operational excellence within their organizations. Through a combination of expert presentations, practical workshops, and insightful panel discussions, attendees will gain valuable insights into effective leadership strategies and learn how to empower their teams to drive continuous improvement and operational success.

Event objectives:

  • Educate leaders and managers on the importance of operational excellence and its impact on organizational performance
  • Introduce participants to the five core leadership practices that foster a culture of operational excellence.
  • Provide practical tools and techniques for implementing the core leadership practices in real-world scenarios.
  • Foster networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities among industry professionals and thought leaders.
  • Inspire attendees to become catalysts for change within their organizations and champion operational excellence initiatives.

Drawing on multiple theories and over twenty-five years of practice, introducing agile transformation into a wide range of organisations.

The practices offer the potential to influence motivation, results, and evolving purpose will help beginners and battle-hardened veterans alike.
In this session, he will introduce :

  • ways to work towards productive conversations
  • ways to enhance clarity (of roles, tasks, programmes, relationships)
  • ways to build triple-loop learning
  • ways to shape passionate culture
  • and ways to shape good and clear intent.

These practices provide powerful organisational development interventions which really make a difference, and which, collectively, support lean, agile, and systems thinking in organisations of any kind.

Benjamin Taylor runs RedQuadrant, a network consultancy in the UK, that has particular expertise in the public sector. He is a business evolutionary and avid leader fascinated by systems | cybernetics | complexity and (public) service transformation.

The point is better experiences of organisations for people and employees, and better outcomes from public services for citizens and communities. He takes ethics seriously and tries to make the work of change fun — and there’s not much that’s more fun than a great insight.

Benjamin shares and teaches on his favourite topics widely, including the international small-group RedQuadrant tool shed.

www.bentaylor.com

FT management consulting survey

THe Financial times has lauched its regular survey to establish the UK’s best management consultancies. The link will remain open until August 22. The two links are:

  1. The peer survey: We are asking consultants who work in a managerial level in the UK to evaluate other consultancies in their field of expertise. Eligible consultants might register themselves by using the following link: https://survey.statista-research.com/358489?lang=en
  2. The client survey: Once again, clients have the chance to share their opinion of consultancies they have collaborated with in the past 4 years. Consultancies may share the following link with their clients to receive their evaluations: https://survey.statista-research.com/962611?lang=en

22 August, 5pm-6pm (BST) Cadenced culture: the key to high-performing teams based on trust.

Benjamin Taylor to the Agile Speakers Lab.
https://www.meetup.com/agile-speakers-lab/events/295004566/

Benjamin Taylor will be talking to the Agile Speakers Lab at an event. In high pressure organisations working in agile ways in complex contexts, how do we maintain a dynamic culture? What is the key to high-performing teams based on trust?

26 September, Reforming Public Procurement Conference

Tuesday 26 September, 09:00–13:10, in person, Institution of Structural Engineers, London

Westminster Insight are pleased to announce this conference on public procurement, chaired by Benjamin Taylor. The proposed Procurement Act will radically change the way supplies, services and works are procured for the public sector. With the Act predicted to come into force in early 2024, Westminster Insight’s Conference will help contracting authorities prepare for the forthcoming changes to ensure effective delivery.

We recommend early booking. Secure your place today and use code EARLY4040Z for 20% off. Please email us for group bookings — info@westminsterinsight.com Pay online by credit card and receive a further 10% off

View the full agenda here. And secure your place here.

5–6 October, StretchCon: Compass Tech Summit, 5-in-1 conference

Budapest.

Benjamin Taylor will be speaking this year at StretchCon. StretchCon is an International conference dedicated to engineering leadership as part of the Compass Tech Summit. This year it will be not only organized as an individual conference but as part of something new. Compass Tech Summit will bring together under one roof several tech conferences, such as Reinforce, Crunch, Amuse and Impact with topics like engineering leadership, UX/UI, data, AI and product management. Register now: https://stretchcon.com/2023/speakers

We can also offer you a coupon code: use the SpeakerSentMe coupon code for 10% off all Compass Tickets, except Student, Workshop, Combo and Teaser tickets.

Systems Thinking Apprenticeship (2023)

https://cherithsimmons.co.uk/corporate/level-7-systems-thinking-practitioner-apprenticeship/

“We are delighted to share the news that there is now a Level 7 Systems Thinking Practitioner Apprenticeship available in England.

Systems thinking practice was developed specifically to address highly complex, adaptive, and dynamic situations. It helps you to model each situation as a system incorporating many different parts, dependencies and relationships. Systems thinking practitioners are uniquely equipped for achieving large-scale transformational change.

If you live in England, you can benefit from the scheme. The Apprenticeship is a two-and-a-half year, day release, post-graduate qualification with government funding of up to £18,000 per person. It is fully supported by expert tutors, comprehensive learning materials, and ongoing action learning.

This is a practice-based, portfolio assessed programme which draws on core systems approaches and practice skills. You’ll be supported in your job to actually put the learning to work right away, and you will be evaluated on how you incorporate your continual learning into your practice.

It’s been designed by practitioners for practitioners — the people who have not just read the books, but have written them. More importantly, these are people who have been there, done it, know about all (or at least most) of the pitfalls, and can guide you away from them.

The professional body for systems practice, SCiO, is providing world-class systems practitioner-tutors, and is supporting the curriculum development and overall approach of the programme. They are acting in collaboration with Cherith Simmons Learning and Development, who provide the apprenticeship. Further details are available here.

If you’re not in England, you can still sign up to individual modules here.

And if you are interested in developing your transformation skills, take a look at the RedQuadrant tool shed. This is a small group action learning journey with Benjamin Taylor, founder of the consultancy RedQuadrant, supported by 24 online modules covering all aspects of organisational transformation. Get a 20% discount by mentioning Enlightened Enterprise Academy. “

Link Collection:

My Weekly Blog posts:

In these challenging times, my secret sauce for positivity is embracing resilience and finding joy amid chaos. Amid a world running on empty, a surprising positive shift occurred this August. Some took well-deserved breaks, while others persisted with innovation. Despite exhaustion, we’re not done yet. We’re capable, creative, and resilient — supporting each other and pushing forward brings joy. Personally, a real holiday uplifted my spirits. Click the link to read in more detail.

We’ve all felt it.

Drawing from a thought-provoking post, differentiating terms like wicked problems, messes, VUCA, TUNA, poly-crisis, and meta-crisis is crucial to avoid blurred thinking. These concepts clarify complexity within specific contexts and purposes. Complex situations involve interplay between agents and contexts, making intent, history, and understanding vital. Such distinctions enable tailored problem-solving approaches and foster meaningful sense-making. Click the link to read in more detail.

Wicked Problems

I’ve compiled a list of thought-provoking resources that foster innovation and imagination in response to a social media inquiry. These selections range from “The Little Book of Beyond Budgeting” to “Seeing Like A State” and encompass diverse subjects. Each offers unique insights within specific contexts and encourages a deeper understanding of complexity. Explore this rich collection for inspiration. Click the link to read in more detail.

Books that might spark innovation and imagination

Designing interagency responses to wicked problems: A viable system model board game — Sydelko, Espinosa, and Midgley (2023)

European Journal of Operational Research

In Press, Corrected ProofWhat’s this?

Decision Support

Designing interagency responses to wicked problems: A viable system model board game

https://www.sciencedirect.com/…/pii/S037722172300512X

Abstract:

Government agencies struggle to address wicked problems because they are open-ended, highly interdependent issues that cross agency, stakeholder, jurisdictional, and geopolitical boundaries. While both quantitative modelling and qualitative problem structuring methodologies have been used to support interagency decision making in the past, co-designing an effective interagency organization to collaboratively tackle wicked problems is more challenging. Few approaches have been developed to enable such efforts. This paper explains how the viable system model (VSM) was implemented through a board game, which was employed to co-design an interagency meta-organization that would be capable of more effectively collaborating to jointly address a wicked problem: international organized drug crime and its interface with local gangs in Chicago, USA. The board game was developed to make the VSM easier for the participants to learn, given that the cybernetic language and engineering-influenced diagrams in the original literature can be off-putting to leaders and managers. The board game was used as the final stage of a multi-method, systemic approach, which involved boundary critique and problem structuring as well as deployment of the VSM. The research findings indicate that the VSM board game, used as part of a larger mixed-methods systemic intervention, contributes to building trust in the value of systems thinking amongst the participants, and sets up a rich context for collaboration on multi-agency co-design. The game therefore offers significant promise as part of the co-design of interagency responses to wicked problems because it creates an embodied process for stakeholders to learn about the VSM. It also reduces the work involved in this learning. Thus, the game enables an effective appropriation of the VSM language and criteria.

Possibly unpublished papers on Cybersyn / Project Synco by Stafford Beer and associates

On Twitter, Pedro Carcamo Petridis said (translated):

(Almost) sure that these notes are not published anywhere (maybe I’m wrong, but I have not found copies on the web). They are Synco project documents. I’d like to post them somewhere so they’re available. There are 8 short documents

https://twitter.com/pedrocarcamop/status/1690728311595352064?s=46&t=PsBiwVGq1KB__T4DxrBdDw

This was spotted by Jaime Alvarez, who flagged it on the Systems Change Finland (

https://systemschange.fi/

) Slack under a discussion on the Morozov podcasts (https://stream.syscoi.com/2023/07/22/the-santiago-boys-nine-episode-podcast-season-yevgeny-morozov-on-project-cybersyn/) where Mikael Seppala pinged me.

So here we have the eight documents from Pedro, who in an email says (paraphrased):

Here are the cybersyn project documents that I have. These belonged to my grandfather Lautaro Cárcamo, a Chilean engineer who participated as a consultant on the project and forged a close friendship with Stafford Beer. Among the documents, some in Spanish and some in English, there are texts written by Stafford, as well as others by Lautaro Cárcamo and Humberto Gabella, a partner in my grandfather’s company and also a consultant on the project. I am grateful for their publication, I believe they will be of interest to researchers.

I am currently going through archives and old documents to see if I can find anything else that might be of interest. I will let you know if I find anything. I personally have also followed cybernetics studies closely (much more on the philosophy and sociology side) so I am very grateful also for the possibility to meet people who have somehow been involved in all this.

Pedro Cárcamo Petridis

I’ve put Pedro in touch with some folks who will find the papers interesting and provide further connections (and see if these really are unpublished — I’ve found that one of these papers was referenced in a Liverpool John Moores University PhD)

Overthink podcast: Standpoint Epistemology with Briana Toole

Episode Description

What does it mean to be marginalized? Does marginalization give some people more epistemic authority than others? And, if so, what should we all do with this information? In episode 84 of Overthink, Ellie and David talk about standpoint theory, its complex intellectual history, and its relationship to W. E. B. DuBois’ concept of double consciousness. They welcome an expert on the subject: Dr. Briana Toole, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College. In their conversation, they chat about how standpoint theory makes sense of electoral politics, educational policy, bizarre reality TV, and much more. They also discuss Corrupt the Youth, a philosophy outreach program founded by Dr. Toole that brings philosophy to high schools in the U.S.

Check out this episode’s extended cut here!

*How* many polycrises?

In a Facebook post, Phoebe Tickell asked

Polycrisis / metacrisis is a rediscovery of Wicked Problems (1973) and VUCA (1987). What else are these terms adding?

Phoebe Tickell https://www.facebook.com/phoebetickell/posts/pfbid02VRBbiVQPWS7bvbik6Qvjx8xhTa5Vn6ApbZQFuVF7zfAmyfcdbth9UZxypJ6K97Uyl

My answer is below

My answer:

These are all just words therefore subject to over-familiarisation, co-option by the existing paradigm and by chancers and the innocent, and general misuse and abuse.

But… it would IMO be perfectly reasonable to say:

– Wicked Problems were a way of defining specific criteria of *problems* (and problems in *planning*, originally), which involved people, politics, and which from the perspective of planning appeared irresoluble and met a clustered set of criteria, and called for a specific type of approach to them. (Not a million miles from Ackoff’s ‘messes’, of course).

– VUCA relations to *conditions* — initially on a battlefield, if I understand correctly, then in the competitive and general environment of a business. It embeds its own specific criteria and is context specific.

(There’s also TUNA from Rafael Ramirez relating specifically to scenario planning and futures — Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel, and Ambiguous — I prefer this to VUCA for a number of reasons)

– Then the ‘poly crisis’ relates to a usually non-specific set of globally interacting crises which do inter-relate in truly complex ways, with the main implication being that it seeps into all contexts and is in a sense inescapable.

There’s some implication in the polycrisis (and explicitly in the problematised ‘meta-crisis’, which I think is potentially an argument for that term being useful and making a meaningful distinction) that it brings in ‘sensemaking’ in terms of our own way of understanding and responding to all the elements of the polycrisis and to them as a whole. There’s a sensible multi-layer point to make that if *not only* are we unable to cope with the polycrisis, we’re also unable to orientate ourselves to it in any meaningful way, and our very orientation to the problem becomes a problem. That seems to me to be a meaningful distinction.

– you’ve left out ‘the World Problematique’ https://www.oxfordreference.com/display/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803124817999;jsessionid=9367733DD4AF0A3EBCF74C658ABC0522from the Club of Rome which is a set of (fairly comprehensive) specific interlocking wicked problems which interact to form a polycrisis… though again, it might be reasonable to say that the Club of Rome occasionally veered into a mechanistic worldview or over-simplifying to try to achieve change (hence, for example, removing water cycles from the modelling of the climate crisis, leaving us with the fixation on carbon). So this seems to definitely have been an early version of the ‘polycrisis’ though it was more focused and less implying infinite ramification into all spheres including the social and mental — just total world collapse 🙂

So in my mind if we want to make a useful differentiation, we can go:

  • Wicked problems a special class of problem in planning (planning in the broadest sense of making plans, but also specifically in land use and social planning)
  • Messes a special class of problem in primarily business-related categories
  • VUCA a context in a contested space (battlefield or business)
  • TUNA a context we encounter in our attempts to meet with the future
  • World Problematique — specific problems (that might be defined as Wicked) interrelating in a way inescapable to our living of our lives (all-encompassing context)
  • Poly-crisis — non-specific problems, many of them wicked, interrelating in a way that intimately impacts the living of all our lives
  • Meta-crisis — the poly-crisis problematising the way we make sense of the poly-crisis

I could quibble with all of these — e.g. wicked problems do contain elements of sense-making being problematised, at the least from multiple social perspectives — but I do think these are helpful and defensible differentiations. That’s because all these definitions come with some meaningful definition of:

  • A *context* in which they can be meaningfully defined (planning, business, contested space etc)
  • A *purpose* or intent which we have which is interlocked with the context (successful planning, winning, etc)

We are too often guilty, IMO, of using these terms and talking in general about the experience of confronting ‘complexity’ etc without explaining the factors which generate complexity, which are all due to interaction and contextualisation agent and context:

Intent, framing, perspective, interpretation, ability, learning, history, understanding etc etc.

(Which in practice usually means we have one context in mind but accidentally or intentionally are not disclosing it to others, because it’s obvious to us).

The problems with leaving these parts out are:

  1. We falsely give the impression that the ‘problem’ is inherent in the world (the problem is never inherent in the world), cutting off most of the sense-making potential
  2. We prevent people from making the useful distinctions to tailor their approach in different contexts of engagement
  3. We allow people to simply describe their understanding of the problem then receive back a version of that purporting to confirm that this is ontologically true

I once had a split with a collaborator because they insisted that, in the era of the climate crisis, *everything* just *was* a Wicked Problem. I was perfectly happy to concede that that was a valid way of looking and everything you did (in business, the unspoken, assumed context) could and probably should be related to the climate crisis, but that wasn’t enough for them… but in my opinion approaching *everything* as a wicked problem (what does that even mean?) would be a huge mistake.

As soon as you ask ‘what does that even mean?’ with regard to ‘*everything* is a wicked problem’, you get into the more useful conversation: ‘is brushing your teeth a wicked problem?’ opens up a proper conversation about relationships to contexts etc. But killing off that conversation before it even starts is, to me… a problem.

This Machine Kills podcast — 269. The Mythology of Cybersyn (ft. Evgeny Morozov)

We are excited to be joined again by Evgeny Morozov, host of The Santiago Boys, a new narrative podcast series about the history of Cybersyn, the geopolitics of its creation in Cold War Latin America, and the legacy of Salvador Allende, Fernando Flores, and the man who looms largest of all: Stafford Beer. This podcast series is not like any story of Cybersyn you might have read before. Morozov has take a mountain of research — over 200 hundred original interviews, deep archival investigations, all compiled into an online resource accessible via the link below — and turned it into a thrilling narrative about a radical system that almost was, a world that could have been, and the people who fought to the end for those dreams.

••• The Santiago Boys: the-santiago-boys.com
••• Outro song: Fela Kuti — International Thief Thief (I.T.T.)

Subscribe to hear more analysis and commentary in our premium episodes every week! http://www.patreon.com/thismachinekills

Hosted by Jathan Sadowski (http://www.twitter.com/jathansadowski) and Edward Ongweso Jr. (http://www.twitter.com/bigblackjacobin). Production / Music by Jereme Brown (http://www.twitter.com/braunestahl)

The Cybernetics Society hosts The Cybernetics Conversation 2023: 23–25 October

The purpose of the event is to stimulate exploration and learning about the breadth and depth of cybernetics in theory and practice

By Cybernetics Society and Centre for Info Mgm

The Cybernetics Conversation 2023

The purpose of the event is to stimulate conversation, exploration and learning about the breadth and depth of cybernetics in theory and practice. This is not a conventional academic ‘conference’ but an event where attendees are encouraged to directly engage with each other and our hosts to explore how cybernetic ideas inform practice and how practice informs cybernetic ideas.

On Monday 23rd October we will be hosted by University College London Hospital and we will be considering challenges of social infrastructure in particular health and social care, education, civil administration, policing and security.

On Tuesday 24th October we will be hosted by ARUP and will be considering matters of fundamental infrastructure (energy, transport, waste, water, information technology)and engineering in particular through cross-cutting themes of Decarbonisation, Resilience and Adaptation, Digital Transitions, AI and other challenges.

We will be joined by guests from the host organizations who will join us in exploring the themes with the aim that they will share their specialist knowledge and we will contribute insights from cybernetics. The essential design for each day will be ‘World Café’ — starting with a provocation from a key speaker, followed by a series of linked discussions with participants able to contribute to each theme and coming back together towards the end of the day to share accumulated findings and, if appropriate, develop actions to be taken forward.

On Wednesday 25th, venue yet to be finalized but also in Central London, we will take more of a look at ourselves and the meta-discipline of cybernetics and picking up threads and themes unsuited to the first two days. Ideas already in train but to which we need to add include building on the great work already in course on our education and professional development as cyberneticians, our new journal, ways of developing the Society itself and hearing about the research work being undertaken by Doctoral and other students. There are at least 6 students working on doctorates rooted in cybernetics across personal health and social care, criminal justice, conflict management and transport systems embracing topics of artificial intelligence, data security, data integrity, domestic abuse and military action and governance.

A detailed programme is in development and will be published as soon as available.

New Report: Evaluation of the Shifting Systems Initiative (2023)

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) is pleased to announce the release of the evaluation report for its groundbreaking Shifting Systems Initiative (SSI). This work, conducted over the past seven months, aims to inform strategic discussions for the next phase of the initiative while sharing its findings to inform the broader philanthropic community working on systems change.

The evaluation report pursued five central strands of inquiry, examining the impact and effectiveness of the Shifting Systems Initiative and the sector more broadly. The primary objectives were to assess the extent to which the philanthropy sector has embraced the concept of systems change; explore the influence of the initiative on discourse and practices within philanthropy; analyze critical successes and challenges encountered by the initiative; understand effective strategies to influence philanthropic behavior; and identify opportunities for operational and governance improvements.

link https://www.rockpa.org/new-report-evaluation-of-the-shifting-systems-initiative/

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