Complex adaptive systems and the viable system model as complimentary frameworks

Back in 2018 I blogged about my work in public services and the complimentary nature of complex adaptive systems and the viable system model which I was bringing into my work (which was incorporated into the Creating the Conditions for Change workshop materials).

I was inspired by the writings of Angela Espinosa and Jon Walker in their book, ‘A Complexity Approach to Sustainability, theory and application’. It made me feel like I wasn’t going mad when, in my work, I believed that VSM and CAS were complimentary to each other.

Espinosa and Walker explain that complex adaptive systems are open systems whose elements interact dynamically and nonlinearly. They exhibit unpredictable behaviours, are affected by positive and negative feedback loops and co-evolve with their environment. They demonstrate ‘path dependence’ i.e. they have a history, an emergent structure, they self-organise when they are far from equilibrium, or at the edge of chaos. As a result of self-organisation, these systems exhibit emergent properties. They have learning networks, which are able to co-operate to manage their resources and develop adaptive behaviours. This co-operation emerges in the course of reciprocation strategies, rather than evolving from some sort of central control.

As I said in my blog in 2018, those versed in management cybernetics and the viable system model might say that whilst ‘cybernetics is about how systems regulate themselves, evolve and learn and its high spot is the question of how they organise themselves’ (Espinosa and Walker, 2011, p11) aren’t they closed systems? A ‘closed system’ being one which has coherent, closed networks of relationships?’ So how can the VSM be useful in a situation that has the hallmarks of, and appears to be behaving somewhat like an open system?

Espinosa and Walker explain the beautifully complimentary view of the complex adaptive system and viable system frameworks working in harmony together. Viable systems are open to energy and information and co-evolve with their environment. However, they are organisationally closed. Their organisational patterns and evolution are self-referential, self-organising and self-regulated. However, when we observe from a cybernetic perspective, we can consider the viable system model but then we can extend our understanding by considering its dynamic interaction with the environment in which it sits and therefore the viable system’s characteristics as a complex adaptive system. ‘The CAS and the VSM are complimentary frameworks that explain issues of complexity management (VSM) and complex evolving behaviours (CAS)’ (Espinosa and Walker, 2011. p15).

Think about that for a moment………. If groups like integrated teams and those working on systems change etc get this right, manipulating their reciprocation strategies (which features heavily in my Creating the Conditions for Change approach) may form a structural coupling that allows the organisations involved to induce change in a complimentary way.

Working with these insights helped me to create the workshop materials for Creating the Conditions for Change. I was already heavily working with the VSM. However, I had tipped early on from a point in my VSM work where I was considering management principles to where I was considering leadership and how the same principles apply to human beings and systems change, which was ongoing work from 2011. What is it the people need in complex situations? I started to consider the attenuation of fear and anxiety and the amplification of confidence and curiosity. I remembered the exceptional peer to peer support my work in pharmaceutical specials included. I remembered the self-organising and relationship building in my managerial roles. I remembered how, in my NHS work that when the relationships and interaction between teams was poor, everything suffered.

I believed back then, and I still believe now, that CAS and VSM are complimentary frameworks. I believe this because I got to where I am in my work via the viable system model and yet I work successfully in complex situations. Those who don’t know my work with the VSM often immediately assume I come from a world of CAS and living systems. That wasn’t where I started nor, indeed, where I start now.

What amazes me is the infighting between those who focus on VSM and those who focus on CAS. In my opinion, their quest to be seen as the best and their argument about what came first, systems thinking or complexity science misses the point. What is it that emerges when these two frameworks are used together? Something quite powerful, in my opinion.

All website materials are covered by UK copyright. Please act with integrity and reference appropriately when quoting from this website

Advertisement

Ready to adapt?

In my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach this area of focus is concerned with how you explore the interface between your system and the wider context, identify future emerging trends and bring that external information into the system and share it to help develop structures and practices that will be fit for the future.

An excerpt from my 2019 booklet tells us,

‘If you have decided that some change is necessary, in line with future trends and external requirements then work with operational managers to discuss those requirements. Plan together how the future of your system might work. Implement change in a way that does not disrupt the ability of the system to function now. This is where small scale prototyping can come into play, as you learn your way forward together.

At the same time, you might want to consider something called ‘structural couplings’- what is it in your environment that you interact with in such a way that you change it and it changes you? How are you co-evolving together? Are you? Do you need to? Do you need to stop co-evolving together? Think about the relationships, not the things and how might you work with that relationship to bring about positive change?

Form the relationships you need to with external agencies and make sure relationships, influence and partnerships are explicitly considered and are considered as important as any other element in the system. This is another place where you can build your reciprocation strategies, with outside organisations or other systems.

What skills or roles support this category: Be the trend spotter, the opportunity seeker, the strategist, the contextualiser, the risk taker and the enabler. Know your external environment, as much as you can, and do not get stuck in yesterday (unless that is potentially beneficial for you).’

Please note that the ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach is covered by UK copyright. Please act with integrity and reference extracts if you build on them or paraphrase them.

For further information about Creating the Conditions for Change, please contact: pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Using insights from the viable system model when designing your service or organisation

Back in 2018/2019 I ran a number of workshops on using insights from the viable system model when designing services and organisations. I also ran a number of meetup groups to share the insights with a wide range of people. These insights are the other side of the coin of my Creating the Conditions for Change work. There is the side that helps you to design your service/ organisation etc and the side that helps you to create the right conditions for it to adapt and survive over time (if that is your intention, of course).

The two sets of information and guidance have successfully formed my consultancy approach since 2016 and were part of my approach as an internal agent in employed roles prior to 2016. When I work with organisations I seek to pass on as much insight as I can to them, so that they too can apply insights from these approaches for themselves.

This week I have been talking to clients about designing services. Some of the insights I shared are below. They are by no means comprehensive, and they need to be coupled with my Creating the Conditions for Change actions, which give insights about the ‘how to’ when seeking an adaptable service with learning and humanity at its core. However, they are a useful guide when considering designing a service or organisation from scratch.

Considering needs

Things to consider:

  • Who are the stakeholders in the situation and what are their needs?
  • Which of their needs do you want to respond to?
  • Can you respond to all of their needs? If not, why not? Do you want to be able to?
  • Make a purposeful decision about what needs you can meet and make your boundary explicit to all involved.

Considering demand

Things to consider:

  • Is everything true demand? Very often, demand is created by failure elsewhere in the system and not by justified needs. This kind of demand can be created by lack of capacity in another service, poor information, lack of appropriate pathways for other kinds of care and support, delays elsewhere in the system etc.
  • Do an analysis of the type of demand you are seeing.
  • Is there any demand you can influence or change?
  • Make a purposeful decision about which of the types of demand you will respond to (for example, are you going to pick up things that another service cannot provide?)

Considering your purpose(s)

Now, consider what your intended purpose will be:

  • Do your exploration with other stakeholders, if required.
  • Make a conscious decision about your intended purpose(s).
  • Make the boundaries of your decision explicit and make sure you communicate the boundary to others. It is important that you make meaning of this choice with others so that the decision is properly understood.

Your operations (pink)

Communication exchange and value exchange

  • How will you identify and get access to the people you want to support? How do you know you will find out about their needs in a timely way?
  • What will your value exchange be? It can be useful to explicitly consider your value exchange with those your service is intended for. What is your offer and what do you expect to happen as a result? What do you expect from them? Remember that the process is two-way.
  • How will the communication between yourselves and the people you want to support happen? How will a feedback loop of communication work? Remember the process is two-way.
  • Consider the speed of this exchange. How quickly do you want this to happen?
  • How will you know that the communication exchange and the value exchange are continuing to work effectively over time?

Your operations – this is where you transform the needs into something else

  • Once you know what needs you want to respond to, think about what operational processes are required to meet those needs. Design against the demand you intend to deal with.
  • Now consider the activities that people will do within those operational processes. Make sure that the activities bring value to the process and are not just, ‘how we always do things’.

Closing the feedback loop

  • How do you know your activities and operations are providing the right result? This is an essential part of the process that feeds back into your service to allow adaptability of both your processes and the offer you make to those you are providing a service to.
  • How will you close this feedback loop? How will you know that what you did provided the right result for the person you are helping?
  • How will you gather this information?
  • Where will you feed it back into?
  • Will the people involved in the operations of your service have the permission and skills to make any changes, if required? If not, how do they access permission or pass the request to someone else? Will it be actioned or ignored? Ignoring when you need to make a change means you might not have adaptability and it could damage your viability.

Co-ordinating what you do (purple)

  • Consider how you are going to make the operations run smoothly.
  • It is important to make sure that staff have the right support in place to help them do their job in the best way possible. This support can be things like: quick communication, IT systems, HR processes, schedules, guidelines….anything that helps to co-ordinate what they do.
  • It is important that operational teams work in a way that supports rather than hinders each other. Collaboration, not competition is important.
  • Design how the information exchanges between teams inside the service will work and the information exchanges between the service and other teams outside of the service.
  • Consider how you will ensure that any corporate instructions are given to teams in a timely manner. Will they have the time, capacity etc to respond to them? How will you check?

Delivery – day to day management of your service (blue)

  • Decide who will manage the operations and what kind of autonomy they will have.
  • Purposefully consider how decisions will be made.
  • Decide who will allocate resources to the operations. How will that work?
  • Who will do the performance management? How? How often?
  • How will you check that you have appropriate resources to enable the required performance? Make sure there is a joint decision about resource allocation and performance management and they are not done in isolation.
  • Decide what things you will measure and why. Are you intending to measure the right things, not just the things you can easily get data for?
  • Consider how you will know if the service is working as intended?

Monitoring how effective you are (turquoise)

  • Consider how you will check if things on the ground are really working. This is not the same as looking at performance indicators. Performance indicators can tell you anything you want them to tell you. What is it really like, for the people you are trying to help and the people working in your service? This should not be a senior manager having a look, as this can come across as micro-managing and can damage trust with the teams. What other ways can this be done?
  • Think about how you will really know what it is like to experience your service from the inside and the outside.
  • How will you check that what you aim to do is really happening?

Intelligence and adapting for the future (green)

  • Purposefully consider how you will monitor what is going on in your external environment. For example, how will you know about new ways of working that would be useful to you? How will you find out about new legislation and guidance etc? How will you know if something is happening that will significantly increase or decrease the needs of your population?
  • If something in the environment is happening that you might need to respond to, make sure you have a way of checking that your internal operations are set up to respond. If they are not, then make sure there are ways that you can discuss the new requirements with your teams and decide together any changes that might be required.
  • Consider who will be responsible for developing your strategy for moving forward. Make sure it is a workable strategy, based on adaptability.
  • Could you adapt quickly if you needed to? Consider what might prevent you from adapting and what you might be able to do about it.

Governance and identity (orange)

  • Consider what your ethos, values and goals are.
  • What will the identity of your service be?
  • Consider how you will consciously devolve power and control to the relevant parts of your service, so that they can be adaptable and respond to any ‘shocks’ from the environment.

The external environment

  • Make sure you understand the diversity of your environment.
  • How do you find out about new rules, regulations, laws etc?
  • Are there any services out there for whom you are creating some kind of chaos? Are you duplicating with anyone? Are you confusing any pathways that are already in existence?
  • Who will you work closely with? In partnerships with?
  • What strategies of reciprocation do you need to make with people and organisations outside of your immediate service or organisation?

NB: colours represent corresponding areas of the Systems Thinking Change Wheel and Creating the Conditions for Change actions

For further information about consultancy and training, contact: pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Observation as a Critical Element in Creating the Conditions for Change

My Creating the Conditions for Change work started in 2011 when I used the viable system model for my own professional development in an Open University course. It was then that I realised the versatility of the principles and ideas of the model. You don’t have to use it as a model to be followed to give you a ‘perfect’ system. In fact, I don’t believe that works. Situations are too nuanced for that. It takes for you to consider and use multiple approaches, models, methods and concepts to engage with complex situations. I use the ideas and principles more like a framework for understanding. I believe it is important to understand what you might be seeing around you, so that you know what moves you can make next when making change. This is how I use the insights that the model gives me. To observe, to understand and to learn.

In 2019 I launched materials to supplement my Creating the Conditions for Change approach which were specifically to help in the facilitation of my workshops. Both my approach and my ways of working have continued to evolve over the years.

In 2021, I updated my materials to give greater emphasis to ‘observation’. Observational skills are critical in my work. When we become distracted by that which is around around us, it can be easy to lose our observational skills. Real-time observation has been a key element of my workshops and interactions, particularly when supporting those focussing on system change. Skilful observation opens up our insights, our creativity and our opportunities for innovation. It can help us to effectively influence and develop relationships. The relationships that are so very critical to our work.

Observing and being able to decode our observations is a critical (and yet often overlooked) skill. So much so that it is central to my approach. Now supplementing my initial kit are additional materials aimed at ‘spotting patterns’. So far, they are bringing a valuable addition to the way I support those engaging with complex situations. Not only have my materials been complimented widely but also my approach and engagement with those I work alongside.

‘Thank you for doing what you do so well and helping to make my job easier’

‘There was so much praise for your workshops. Not just what you did but for your whole approach and delivery’

If you are a group of around 12-15 people and are interested in finding out more, please get in touch: pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Watch out for my new course being advertised soon.

Please note that all website contents and materials are covered by UK Copyright. Please act with integrity by referencing appropriately when using them.

Insights from the viable system model for developing my own system and ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’

I recently mentioned to a group of students that I used the viable system model to develop my own personal system, incorporating my own personal development. They asked me to show them what I did and this is the session that I ran for them. It is not a refined session but more of a talk through of what I did, why and what insights it gave me. I also describe how the insights from my work of 15+ years with the viable system model, and particularly the work on developing my own personal system, turned into the building blocks for my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach to making change and supporting systems change.

You can watch the video of the session on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXobE_5x9r8&t=10s

Delivery – it’s just about ‘getting it done’, isnt it?

No, I don’t think so. It can be so much more than that.

My approach is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. The way I work with it is to focus on what human beings actually do and I harness the potential of every person. The focus of this blog is delivery, or what those who know the viable system model call System 3.

Here is an extract from my booklet (this is a booklet that is given to attendees of my workshop, as part of the workshop kit):

‘This area of focus is about supporting the internal system to work effectively. We don’t just talk about resources and expected performance, though. We also aim to bring the humanity back into the work. One of the things we consider here is ensuring as many people as feasibly possible have been involved in decisions about how things will work and in setting goals, to prevent them feeling coerced. Remember that many people will also want their own professional values reflected in the work that they do. It is also important that once decisions have been made, you gain commitment to them.

Do not overload staff, though. They will never work at their best if they are in a state of frantic panic all day, every day. Aim for meaningful work for people. Make them feel good about themselves and make sure you consider their wellbeing. Trust your teams. Do not micro-manage. Remain hands off. Allow people to have their own peer to peer performance meetings. Let peers hold each other to account. Encourage them to share ideas to help the teams that are falling behind. Have a rolling host for the meetings, so no-one assumes ultimate power and/ or control. Give the teams the structure within which they can collaborate to enhance performance. Lead by example by demonstrating different behaviours and think about the language you use. Use language of encouragement that pushes people out of their comfort zone in a supportive way. Allow them to fail (within reason) and learn without embarrassment and punishment. Promote joint decision making throughout the system, so that effective prioritisation can occur. If you do have conflicts – and you are bound to have them – do not avoid them. Help people to use conflict creatively to listen to others’ points of view. Hold exploratory conversations, facilitate participation and listening.

Identify where there is confusion, conflict, disruption or chaos. These are not bad things but powerful indicators of places where you can intervene to make positive changes. They are opportunities. Do not complain about them, monopolise on them’.

The action cards

There are a number of action cards relating to this section. These are things we can do to enact this area of focus in reality. Here is an example of a few of them:

The skills required

My approach also outlines skills that are useful in enacting this section of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel. These are skills we could and should be advocating for and supporting in our organisations. Here is a taster of a few:

  • Coach
  • Supporter
  • Recruiter
  • Motivator
  • Prototyper
  • Trainer

Each section of my wheel goes through a similar format to the above. I outline important areas of focus and the questions we can ask ourselves about those areas. I go on, in the booklet, to talk about these key points, giving rationale for why they are important. My suggestions, which have been part of my copyrighted workshop kit for a number of years, have come from over 10 years of working with the viable system model in practice and the learning I have gained along the way. The key focus is on the development and support of each individual and harnessing their skills and talents to the full, encouraging them to work authentically and without fear.

The action cards tell us the things we can actually do, at each systemic level of our system (person, team, service, department, organisation, place) to enact the points mentioned.

Putting all six areas together gives a very powerful way of Creating the Conditions for Change in our working ecosystems. The focus is on what we can actually do to make a difference.

All materials are copyrighted and part of my consultancy and training kit. If you build on any of my ideas, please act with integrity and reference them appropriately.

Are you co-ordinating to bring about a paradigm shift?

My approach is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model. The way I work with it is to focus on what human beings actually do and I aim to harness the potential of every person. The focus of this blog is co-ordination, or what those who know the viable system model call System 2.

Here is an extract from my booklet (this is a booklet that is given to attendees of my workshop, as part of the workshop kit)

‘Co-ordination is the vitally important, yet often-overlooked element of systems. It needs to be considered explicitly and not just expected to happen. I like to call it the ‘invisible glue’ – the things that hold everything together in a coherent way. This area of focus is about enabling feedback and information exchanges and effectively supporting interdependencies and interconnections. Ignore it at your peril! Get it right and it can significantly enhance your capacity and capability, often at very little or no cost. Do not under-estimate the value that getting this element right can bring.

One thing I have found to be extremely important in my work is something I have called ‘relationship-enablers’. These are the things you can put in place and/ or the mindset you can adopt that supports the dynamic connectedness in the system. The other extremely important thing here is what I call ‘interaction channels’ to enable collaboration. So, what are these things?

Relationship enablers are exactly how they sound. They are things that enable relationships. This can be as simple as a clause in a joint protocol that considers something from more than one point of view to something more elaborate, like a process for discussing and agreeing difficult decisions between a number of stakeholders. They are the things that give permission for the collaboration to occur. They can help to enable proactive dialogue, negotiation and agreements and enable relationships in the longer term.

Interaction channels might be mechanisms created to enable reflective conversations – do you ever have a joint meeting with another team/ department/ organisation specifically to reflect and learn from the work you do? Do you discuss problems and issues and seek to implement improvements together? Do you have a culture of positive challenge and learning? You can develop your internal structures so that people have enough freedom to enable collaborative working. Shadowing another team, for example, should not be seen as wasting time, but a valuable interaction channel and relationship enabler that can open up the support for ongoing collaboration and learning’.

The action cards

There are a number of action cards relating to this section. These are things we can do to enact this area of focus in reality. Here is an example of a few of them:

The skills required

My approach also outlines skills that are useful in enacting this section of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel. These are skills we could and should be advocating for and supporting in our organisations. Here is a taster of a few:

  • Storyteller
  • Information sharer
  • Facilitator
  • Relationship builder
  • Innovator
  • Networker
  • Enabler

Each section of my wheel goes through a similar format to the above. I outline important areas of focus and the questions we can ask ourselves about those areas. I go on, in the booklet, to talk about these key points, giving rationale for why they are important. My suggestions, which have been part of my copyrighted workshop kit for a number of years, have come from over 10 years of working with the viable system model in practice and the learning I have gained along the way. The key focus is on development and support of each individual and harnessing their skills and talents to the full, encouraging them to work authentically and without fear.

The action cards tell us the things we can actually do, at each systemic level of our system (person, team, service, department, organisation, place) to enact the points mentioned.

Putting all six areas together gives a very powerful way of Creating the Conditions for Change in our working ecosystems. The focus is on what we can actually do to make a difference.

All materials are copyrighted and part of my consultancy and training kit. If you build on any of my ideas, please act with integrity and reference them appropriately.

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.

Please note that materials are covered by copyright. Please act with integrity if you build on them and reference them appropriately.

The systemic levels of my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ approach

As you will have gathered by now, the approach I use, which has been the staple of my systems thinking and my business for a number of years is ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’. It is a creative interpretation of Stafford Beer’s viable system model, focussed on people and supporting the skills, talents and potential of every human being to flourish. The central strategy of my approach is learning and adaptability. Like the viable system model, I scale by repeating my approach at every systemic level (a person, a team, a service, an organisation, across organisations). I do not focus on ‘making a change’ but on creating a more supportive ecosystem from which change can emerge.

The 2 over overarching diagrams representing my approach are as follows:

Here are some more insights from my Creating the Conditions for Change action cards, which are heavily used in my workshops.

If you are interested in my materials, do contact me directly.

At the level of the individual

  • Informal reciprocation arrangements between individuals
  • Building personal relationships with those outside of your immediate area of work
  • Learning how to self-reference and supporting each other’s abilities to self-reference
  • Let others know how you like to work and how you might work best with others
  • Peer support each other and engage in reflective conversations and learning together, rather than competing with each other
  • Be the system health check monitor
  • Consider your identity – is it aligned with the purpose of your role and your organisation?
  • Consider how the insights you bring can enhance the working environment

At the level of the team/ service/ organisation

  • Purposefully creating reciprocation arrangements between teams
  • Purposefully building relationships with teams with whom you could work in a complimentary way
  • Supporting teams to self-reference or, where appropriate, self-organise
  • Have an appropriate balance of specialist and generalist roles that give flexibility so that the team or service can be adaptable to change
  • Purposefully build into your daily routines ways to engage in reflective conversations, positive challenge and learning
  • Ensure appraisals of staff praise for flexibility, sharing, helping others, forming relationships and reflective practices
  • Instigate monitoring practices that monitor for effective system characteristics
  • Develop rotas/ work plans etc that bring humanity back into working practices
  • Check your protocols do not disempower but support people if they want to empower themselves to take action
  • Devolve decision making to the appropriate people

At the multi-organisation level

  • Purposefully creating strategic reciprocation strategies across organisational boundaries
  • Purposefully building mutually beneficial relationships with other organisations
  • Developing structures that support departments, teams, cross organisational groups to self-reference and/ or self-organise
  • Support those who understand and implement systemic leadership practices
  • Monitor across organisational boundaries for system health
  • Bring a level of humanity back into expected performance levels
  • Ensure your policies do not hinder those who want to empower themselves to take action
  • Devolve decision making to the appropriate service/ department/ team

Skills for some of the above are that of coach, learner, supporter, activist, prototyper, contextualiser and  innovator.

The more we create the conditions for change at each systemic level, the more adaptability we might have when we do identify a change we want to make.

This is a small snapshot from only 10 of my 120 action cards that cover my approach. It took over 10 years of learning from using the viable system model in my work to convert elements of the model into ‘what people actually do when they enact this’. It is detailed, specific and my style is highly recognisable and appreciated by those with whom I use this approach.

I work both on site with groups to help them apply this approach to their own situation and I run workshops using a case study scenario to show how to apply the approach in detail.

This work is covered by UK copyright. Please act with integrity and do not copy my materials without permission

Creating the Conditions for Change – the action cards

There are around 120 actions that go with my Creating the Conditions for Change approach. A note to those in the world of complexity, these actions are not ‘things you should do that will definitely make your system work better’. They are areas for consideration that can help you create the conditions for change that may support you in taking your identified next steps effectively.

The action cards are part of a copyrighted kit that I have used both for consultancy and in my Creating the Conditions for Change workshops for a number of years now.  They cover all sections of my Systems Thinking Change Wheel

Here are some examples from the kit:

Co-creating, considering self-organising/ self-referencing teams, peer to peer accountability and investigating and implementing change within the span of your autonomy

  • Explore, experiment, fail and learn using small-scale prototyping to enable a learning process
  • Make sure people know how to innovate if they want to
  • Consider purposes and how the world can be different because of you and your role
  • Align personal purposes with purposes of the wider system (where appropriate)
  • Connect through vulnerability and bring the humanity back into the work
  • Actively engage in reflective conversations to learn
  • Purposefully create reciprocation strategies with others

Co-ordinating, collaborating and supporting. Building communities, networks and collaborative relationships. Create internal system coherence.

  • Have open access to information (where relevant) and make sure information is nurturing, not being used for power
  • Understand and actively work with feedback loops
  • Ensure structures enable the ability to work collaboratively
  • Build in mechanisms to enable reflective conversations, positive challenge and learning
  • Implement relationship enablers and interaction channels
  • Use stories as benchmarks about how your system is working

Deliver – bargaining for resources and managing performance. Bringing humanity and balance back into working relationships. Making joint decisions and goal setting around resources, performance and goals

  • Instigate different models of power and control so that operational staff feel empowered to act
  • Support others to enable themselves
  • Aim for meaningful work and wellbeing for all
  • Help people to push outside of their comfort zone
  • Allow autonomy, within relevant boundaries
  • Do not fight power imbalances. Turn them into something else
  • Change the nature of relationships
  • Purposefully build strategies of reciprocation
  • Form a culture of honesty and trust
  • Instigate positively orientated peer to peer performance management  and share ideas with anyone falling behind
  • Appraise for sharing, collaboration, supporting others and forming relationships

Monitoring – conducting system health check. Monitoring for signs of effective system characteristics. Monitoring for congruence between the systems and its vision.

  • If the system is suffering, look too see if it is lacking information about itself
  • Monitor the system’s ability to reciprocate. Build reciprocation strategies into protocols and strategies
  • Monitor the ability to flex, change, pivot and adapt over time
  • Monitor for congruence between the actual purposes of the system and its proposed vision

Adapt – trend spotting and fitting with a changing environment. Enabling pivoting. Building external relationships and gathering intelligence about the environment

  • Understand and purposefully use structural couplings
  • Scan the environment for new models of doing and bring the relevant elements back into your system
  • Make explicit external relationships and strategies of reciprocation

Shifting power, creating new structures and identifying identity. Identifying elements of joint vision, meaning, identity, purposes and goals. Devolving accountability and allowing autonomy. Seeking to ensure the old paradigm does not hinder the new

  • Ensure a sense of curiosity and innovation is fostered throughout the system
  • Check if the system is achieving intended purposes
  • Ensuring sharing of knowledge is inherent in the system
  • Critique system boundaries
  • Ensure a strong and appropriate identity
  • Actively critique your structure to make sure it is designed to create the conditions for change
  • Ensure there are policies to allow people to empower themselves, collaborate and build relationships and learn from each other
  • Instigate different power structures
  • Ensure no selfish goals predominate

These and many others are part of the Creating the Conditions for Change suite of materials and my own personal approach.

All materials are covered by UK copyright. They should not be replicated in commercial approaches. If you use them, please act with integrity and reference appropriately.