Transactions and Transduction modelling in the Redesign of Institutions
When we draw systems diagrams, we usually draw boxes with labels in them and lines between the boxes which detail the communication between different functions or services. Software development is then a process of turning these labels and boxes into interfaces, functions, user privileges and so on. When the software is implemented, inevitably it has a subtle effect in changing the human organisation of whatever process it is designed for. One of the problems with the design process is that it exercises a kind of tyranny by programmers and systems designers over the existing practices of individuals in an organisation: putting it crudely, it is the geeks who determine what everyone else’s job should be.
Individual job functions are distinctions which emerge naturally in the pattern of transactions those people have with other people in the organisation. Often the nature of these transactions is hard to codify – particularly in a work environment already full of technology, where each individual can see themselves doing many different kinds of things and switching from one thing to another all the time.
Transactions of this sort are usually communications or conversations. Extending the logic of Coase’s theory of the firm, each job function exists by virtue of the transactions which others have with them.
Transduction is a technical term for a process which maintains a distinction between two different forms of representation: for example, between the environment of light and the images in the eye, or between the vibrations in the air and the perception of a melody. All distinctions – including the distinctions which are made in systems modelling diagrams – are the product of transduction processes. More importantly, transactions are the outward sign of transductions: we can look at the words of a conversation, or the accounts ledger of a business and know that these signs of communication indicate a deeper process of coordination going on.
I’m increasingly convinced that our software design processes start from the wrong end: inevitably, software design models the transduction processes of the software designer and then impose those transduction processes on everyone else. What it we were to model the actual transductions within an organisation? What if we were to look at the way distinctions are actually maintained within a business?
All transduction processes can create organisational problems. Every transduction maintains a distinction, and in so doing determines the inside and outside of that distinction. Sometimes, what is excluded in a distinction is the source for more distinctions to be made, and quite often we see that there is a conflict between different organisational functions at different levels. To be able to analyse the transductions in an organisation is to have a map for possible interventions which might look to change the configurations of transductions in the organisation.
A simple example is self-publishing. I’m self-publishing my book, and have decided to do so because the transductions created by publishers are pathological (retaining copyright, setting outrageous prices, doing very little in terms of editorial control, etc). To understand the pattern of these transductions in the publishing system is to identify the intervention point where problems that arise from those transductions might be addressed. Equally, I am interested in the transductions of assessment in education. I’m interested in things like Adaptive Comparative Judgement precisely because it is a way of reconfiguring the transductions of assessment which then affect other transductions in education (for example, educational quality). Or we might look at the transductions of the curriculum. My interventions in Vladivostok are precisely about overcoming the transduction between different subjects in the curriculum, and targeting the primary transduction on the relationship between the individual and the phenomena of the world, rather than the individual and specific ‘subjects’.
The key to being able to specify existing tranductions is to consider each distinction as a means of managing uncertainty. If the distinction concerns somebody’s job (e.g. academic quality, teaching) then the transduction will perform the function of managing the uncertainty of that person maintaining their job. The key question in redesigning the transduction is whether there is a better way of managing uncertainty in the organisation. Obviously, designing a system which removes a person’s job (which is what software designers often do) only increases uncertainty in the organisation; the trick is to reorganise things so that everyone is able to manage their uncertainty better. The pathology of current approaches to technology are that it ramps up uncertainty, and as a consequence, it creates the conditions for increasingly complex technology which tries to fix the uncertainties generated by the previous technology.
It is a set of ideas about how to build and manage an Enterprise based on a common, rigorous STREAMS Philosophy. It leads to methodologies, methods and techniques for building, managing, evolving and innovating Enterprises that can be applied in practice but, like an Engineering approach, its methods are grounded in rigorous research and understanding.
Common to the three main strands, or tributaries, of STREAMS is the Use of Models: conceptual models of a variety of descriptions and characteristics ranging from highly complex mathematical models informed by volumes of quantitative data grounded in empirical observation and measurement to simple qualitative models expressing some simple truth. The purpose of the models is to guide Decision Making.
STREAMS is a set of ideas that are both transdisciplinary and integrative of theory and practice. It is “Trans-disciplinary” in the sense that it eclectically draws on ideas, theories, principles and methods from a range of academic disciplines – deliberately paying no heed to the traditional divisions in universities – or similar academic institutions. It is “Integrative” in the sense that is seeks to blend these ideas into a coherent, well-founded theoretical framework – but also incorporate emrpically grounded and proven ideas and practices from Practice, not just academic theory. STREAMS is not intended to be an academic exercise in the social science but theoretically-sound ideas and methods for practitioners in engineering enterprises.
The meeting is an ‘ideas creation’ and brainstorming event between System Thinkers of different backgrounds.
To discuss how a complex approach to science is needed in order to overcome some of today’s bottlenecks
To explore transdisciplinary synergies between experts, and establish a common position statement
To look for EU funding and/or consider a Start-up
To set up a Think Tank and discuss how to implement our thinking in practice
Information flowing in our modern complex social system (between human brains, brains to computer and computer to computer) creates new realities which have an immense impact on our society, biology and evolution as humans. A formal thematisation of systems thinking needs to be developed in order to avoid negative outcomes such as degenerative disease, conflict, lack of cooperation and bad communication.
The meeting will bring together expert system thinkers in areas such as language, communication, ageing, cognition, complex systems, resilience and mathematics.
An example where our thinking may be applied is neuro-resilience: “The inherent characteristics of the brain as a complex system, the long term and short-term adaptation strategies of the individuals, and finally the quality of management strategies of the collective and the embedded environment in steering individuals away from undesired brain’s health related outcomes such as depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases” (Shima Beigi).
The multiple, complex and overlapping network transactions in a virtual or a real environment need to be studied. Another example in this respect is PolySocial Reality (PoSR) which is a “conceptual model for the global interaction context within which people experience social interactions whether immediate or mediated by technology. PoSR defines relations across the aggregate of all the experienced ‘locations’ and ‘communications’ of and between all individual people, people/machines and machines/machines in multiple networks and/or locales at the same or different times. PoSR is based upon the core concept that dynamic relational structures emerge from the aggregate of multiplexed asynchronous or synchronous data creations of all individuals within the domain of networked, non-networked, and/or local experiences” (Fisher and Applin).
How can systems theory and research create significant differences in real systems and everybody’s daily life? How can a transdisciplinary systemic discourse become of value to people, politics, economy, ecology, global solutions and integrate direct feedback from real systems and people into the discussion? Questions like these culminate in the ongoing task of a systemic language and should lead to building an exchange platform for researchers to evolve with their research and the systems they analyze, and for laymen and normal people to be systemically integrated into the discussion thus being enabled to use research and systemic concepts to keep up with the complexity of globalization and to participate actively in scientific progress.
“Systemic thinking can change the world, but how? Through people who learn how to think systemically, who learn how to interact with each other systemically and through those people who learn to act as a system in the environment of other systems.” Gitta and Ralf Peyn, FORMWELT developer
The discussion and exchange of ideas will continue over the course of the day. It is hoped that this meeting will become a trend-setting, yearly event.
Until fairly recently, artificial intelligence didn’t learn. To create a machine that learns to think more efficiently was a big challenge. In the same sense, one of the things that I wonder about is how we’ll be able to teach a machine to know what it doesn’t know that it might need to know in order to address a particular issue productively and insightfully. This is a huge problem for human beings. It takes a while for us to learn to solve problems, and then it takes even longer for us to realize what we don’t know that we would need to know to solve a particular problem
How do you deal with ignorance? I don’t mean how do you shut ignorance out. Rather, how do you deal with an awareness of what you don’t know, and you don’t know how to know, in dealing with a particular problem? When Gregory Bateson was arguing about human purposes, that was where he got involved in environmentalism. We were doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without even asking what the side effects would be and the interactions, although, at that point we were thinking more about side effects than about interactions between multiple processes. Once you begin to understand the nature of side effects, you ask a different set of questions before you make decisions and projections and analyze what’s going to happen.
MARY CATHERINE BATESON is a writer and cultural anthropologist. In 2004 she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, and is now Professor Emerita. Mary Catherine Bateson’s Edge Bio
HOW TO BE A SYSTEMS THINKER
At the moment, I’m asking myself how people think about complex wholes like the ecology of the planet, or the climate, or large populations of human beings that have evolved for many years in separate locations and are now re-integrating. To think about these things, I find that you need something like systems theory. So, I went back to thinking about systems theory two or three years ago, which I hadn’t for quite a long time.
…continues in source, and concludes rather wonderfully with:
The tragedy of the cybernetic revolution, which had two phases, the computer science side and the systems theory side, has been the neglect of the systems theory side of it. We chose marketable gadgets in preference to a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
The Systems Sanctuary, our peer-learning program for systems leaders is well underway, and we are already hearing stories of the patience it takes to stick with systems change and just how alone people feel whether they’re in Nova Scotia, Auckland or London.
IFAC’s Committee meeting explored how technology is disrupting the accountancy profession and how this is shaping who gets hired. Accountants with coding skills are becoming hugely valuable commodities.
Tatiana and I continue to design The Systems Sisterhood, a program of support for women of systems change who are in transition. We’ve had huge interest in this. We will let you know when applications are open.
Finally I am on the Advisory Committee for a very exciting gathering of systems change field builders, taking place at Wasan Island, Canada in June. We are hoping to apply our own tools to ourselves, to raise up the field of systems change globally.
The Systems Studio exists to accelerate the evolution systems that allow humans and nature to flourish.
Our clients are trying to change professions, institutions and industries in service of people and planet.We do this by creating experiences where people can truly connect andstrategize about the things they really care about. Working with us always feels focused and fun.
We do three things:
Create community for systems leaders.
Craft and facilitate gatherings that change everything.
Teach strategy and leadership for systems change.
Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, making them one of a number of species with a mind that isn’t fully confined within the head.
Millions of years ago, a few spiders abandoned the kind of round webs that the word “spiderweb” calls to mind and started to focus on a new strategy. Before, they would wait for prey to become ensnared in their webs and then walk out to retrieve it. Then they began building horizontal nets to use as a fishing platform. Now their modern descendants, the cobweb spiders, dangle sticky threads below, wait until insects walk by and get snagged, and reel their unlucky victims in.
In 2008, the researcher Hilton Japyassúprompted 12 species of orb spiders collected from all over Brazil to go through this transition again. He waited until the spiders wove an ordinary web. Then he snipped its threads so that the silk drooped to where crickets wandered below. When a cricket got hooked, not all the orb spiders could fully pull it up, as a cobweb spider does. But some could, and all at least began to reel it in with their two front legs.