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.

Why I believe sub-system 3* monitoring, from the viable system model, should get more emphasis

System 3* monitoring

We tend to hear about system 3* as a monitoring system in viable systems. Done effectively by ad hoc audit and not part of the performance management process or communication. We rarely hear about its true power.

When developing my materials for my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ suite a number of years ago, system 3* was an essential element of the work. My booklet urges people to monitor for effective system characteristics and also for congruence between how the system is truly working and how it says it is working.

Creating the conditions for change – Monitoring

Making the system work in a more innovative way, means we have to monitor different things. We are likely never to get rid of performance management and reporting and might always have to submit things like KPIs but system 3* is different. I encourage people to enact it by looking at how healthy the system is, monitoring the internal context for the advocated system characteristics and for the presence of happy and fulfilled people.

My booklet encourages people to check if internal structures are supporting or hindering the work, rather than interfering with it. I also encourage people to check if information is being used as a power tool, rather than nourishment.  To look to see if reciprocation is happening and that co-creation is happening across traditional boundaries.

I monitor to see how flexible processes and people are, whether they can adapt, pivot and make change in appropriate timescales. I monitor for the ability to ‘deep dive’ quickly if required. My accompanying action cards give options for all levels of the system from the individual to the multi organisation/ systems change levels.

My booklet also outlines skills that are useful to have in this kind of function. In particular, being a system health check monitor. It was examination of what system 3* monitoring could look like, over the course of 10+ years of using the viable system model in my work that prompted me to develop it quite far in my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ suite of materials and in my own systems thinking approach.

Creating the Conditions for Change – action cards with actions for monitoring functions

I am now heavily using system 3* monitoring in a piece of evaluation work, which has been ongoing for the last year and looking promising.

If you are interested in my ‘Creating the Conditions for Change’ materials, consultancy and training, please contact pauline@systemspractitioner.com

Please note that this text is from my copyrighted consultancy suite of materials and must be referenced appropriately if replicated. Please act with integrity if using any of my work.