Creating the Conditions for Change – why monitoring, not measuring?

My approach is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. I have previously blogged about the importance I put on monitoring, or as those who know the viable system model, sub system 3*. The situations I work with are not always single organisations. More often than not, I work with situations that have input from many organisations. In these situations, my focus is on what I perceive to be ‘the system’ – a concept that I apply to the bounded situation I have identified.

From my booklet, in my Creating the Conditions for Change approach, I state that,

‘This area of focus is about monitoring your system, making it visible to itself and being able to see, understand and change the things that make the system work in a more innovative way. Traditionally, organisations use things like key performance indicators or operational targets. You might keep some element of those, or you may not be able to get rid of them completely. However, they are not the things that will tell you how healthy your system is. The trick here is to monitor the internal context for the advocated system characteristics and monitor for high quality’.

The monitoring I encourage has a specific focus. I do not only monitor to see how work activities are working. I monitor to see how healthy the work ecosystem is. Is there congruence between the system’s actual purposes and its vision? Is the system able to adapt, flex, pivot and respond to a changing environment quickly enough? Is new information being used as nourishment, rather than power? Is co-production happening as an ongoing process, rather than a one-off activity? Is the system able to reciprocate –  between people, between teams and  between organisations? Is the requirement for reciprocation written into any formal policies and is it actually happening? Are structures facilitating, rather than interfering?

I advocate for monitoring rather than measuring, initially. I take the meaning of monitoring to be that of observing. I take the meaning of measuring as assessing the importance or value of something. In my experience, it is when we jump to measuring that we do not engage fully enough in observation and, as a result, we can easily miss things. Measuring comes later for me. It comes when I gather together the information from other elements of the system also, and then consider importance and value.

A key skill that I advocate for here is that of the ‘system health check monitor’. It takes a skilled individual to be able to observe for system health.

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