A Summary of the Metaphorum Conference “Action Research and

A Summary of the Metaphorum Conference
“Action Research and Organizational Cybernetics”
– June 30th - July 1st, July 2nd 2008 By A. Leonard and A. Espinosa
Thirty-three people gathered in the Hull University Business School under
the auspices of its Centre for Systems Studies. The aim of the Conference,
following the first Cwarel Isaf Institute Conference sponsored by the Malik
Management Centre in St. Gallen last March, was to provide an opportunity
for the UK community to gather – especially those who were interested in
action research or engaged in post-graduate research using Organisational
Cybernetics. A further purpose was determined to be to offer graduate
students a chance to present and to interact with senior practitioners.
Twenty people were involved in making presentations or facilitating
workshops over the two days. Five presentations and one workshop were
from the world of business. Luc Hoebeke opened the first session with a
reflection about the need to learn Beer’s work from practicing it in
businesses rather than mostly from the theory. Steve Morlidge presented an
update of his PhD (at Hull Business School), where he is developing an
innovative framework for financial performance control based on
cybernetics to be tested in different businesses in Europe. Stefan Wasilewski
also presented his proposed PhD project (Hull Business School) using
Complexity Economics and the VSM to explain and model financial and
insurance businesses. Arthur Dijkstra and Steve Brewis offered a small
group workshop on the case of an airline related to Arthur’s PhD work on
designing airline safety systems using the VSM.
The afternoon session was about research on complexity management and
sustainability. Russell Clemens described an action research project he did in
Australia, in a corporate planning environmental scanning process, where he
used insights from the VSM and complexity sciences, suggesting possible
future research directions. Angela Espinosa presented an overview of her
current EPSRC funded projects on complexity and sustainability, where she
is exploring methods and tools that will support self organisation and
complexity management in evolutionary learning communities. Other two of
her PhD students summarized their research on related topics: Pedro Paulo
Cardoso summarized his research on self
-organization aiming to the
design and test a methodological approach to community’s regeneration
based in cybernetic principles. Kathryn Knowles described an action
research project on Scarborough Campus (Hull University) where she is
designing and testing a holistic framework for Environmental Management
Systems (EMS), which focuses upon enabling informal networks of
environmental activists to develop a bottom-up built environmental strategy.
The closing session on day one was of a CD to introduce the world to
cybernetics developed by Javier Livas. He summarized and presented his
latest film on the history of Cybernetics, its connection to Chaos Theory and
with the newest developments in the Digital Era, as well as the philosophical
paradigm that it has developed.
The second day started with a session on global, regional and national
governance. Michelle Watts presented her PhD project work on cultural
tourism and regeneration in Scarborough, aiming to further the
understanding of control and communication mechanisms and collaboration
in policy implementation networks in complex policy environments. Leonie
Solomons gave a presentation on her doctoral thesis where she addressed
governance issues facing Sri Lanka and focused an a few research topics
related to countries facing heightened secession threats, and aiming to
maintain ‘operational viability’ in the international arena. Jon Walker
presented the case for global meta-systems to match the variety of the
international businesses and organizations spanning many national
jurisdictions and supported the need to design such meta-systemic
mechanisms to deal with urgent issues of peak oil and climate change.
Mark Johnson on Monday had described the learning from an ongoing
project using the VSM as a mechanism of 'personal viability' in the SPLICE
project where actions with learners were specifically designed to enhance
self-efficacy through the establishment of more effective 'habits' of
communication. On Tuesday, Robin Asby and Penny Marrington described
their work in the education sector to help students become more selforganizing and reliant in an environment where much is done on-line and
where autonomy can be difficult to promote despite statements to the
Gabrielle Harrer and Mari Runardotter gave presentations of general
significance. Gabrielle gave a preview of her Wednesday workshop on
Frederick Vester’s Sensitivity Model and Ecopolitics game. Mari discussed
her Ph.D. research on the challenge that preservation of material stored in
digital form is posing to everyone from archivists to people who want to
avoid losing pictures from their digital cameras. She indicated the main
questions she has so far to use the VSM in the European project of
digitalization involving several institutions and technologies.
Dennis Finlayson gave a short workshop on methodologies he employed and
wrote about for peace and conflict resolution in developing countries and
The closing session on day two was a workshop on the organization of
Metaphorum itself, led by Allenna Leonard and Angela Espinosa.
About fourteen of us were able to stay for Wednesday’s workshop, given by
Gabrielle Harrer on Vester’s Sensitivity Model. We were taken through the
steps of the model using the model’s software with its existing case studies
in the morning and, after lunch were able to try to apply it to the
Metaphorum organization.
A further report will be made of the
recommendations of that effort.