The ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Systems Change – Seelos, Farley, and Rose (2021)


The ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Systems Change
Measurement & Evaluation

The ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Systems Change

Enthusiasm for systems change is not new, and a broader historical perspective will help systems change enthusiasts learn from the past what NOT to do: replicate the ineffective mindsets and engineering approaches that have defined so much of the systems change work in our sectors.

By Christian Seelos, Sara Farley & Amanda L. Rose 

Jan. 14, 2021

We are currently witnessing a new wave of systems enthusiasm among philanthropic and development organizations eager to be identified as system leaders, with a host of implementing organizations and development partners aligning around reinvigorated calls for “systems change.” But systems change is not new: since the beginning of the last century, disciplines ranging from biology to psychology adopted system perspectives to, as Magnus Ramage and Karen Shipp put in their historical reflection on systems thinkers, “make sense of the complexity of the world [by looking] at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than splitting it down into its parts and looking at each in isolation.”

In 1956, Ross Ashby wrote that the new systems science of Cybernetics “offers the hope of providing the essential methods by which to attack the ills—psychological, social, economic—which at present are defeating us by their intrinsic complexity.” Utopia seemed to be within mankind’s grasp, as Ashby and other cyberneticians expanded this discipline beyond machines, applying systems thinking to everything from organizations and medicine to the “reengineering” of entire countries. And in 1966, inspired by the new possibilities of space travel that emerged from systems science, Senator Gaylord Nelson introduced his vision of “A Space Age Trajectory To The Great Society” by asking:

“Mr. President, why can not the same [scientists and engineers] who can figure out a way to put a man in space figure out a way to keep him out of jail? Why cannot the engineers who can move a rocket to Mars figure out a way to move people through our cities and across the country without the honors of modern traffic and the concrete desert of our highway systems? Why cannot the scientists who can cleanse instruments to spend germ free years in space devise a method to end the present pollution of air and water here on earth?”

Within a few years, system analysis contracts created a multi-billion dollar industry driven, as Ida Hoos put it, by the “mythology” of Nelson’s proposal and an “aura of precision lent by a plethora of formulas, charts, and diagrams.” Hoos argued that this new mantra of engineering systems change was “exploited by a myriad of vested business and professional interests, and fostered by government officials eager to be identified with and to take advantage of advanced concepts of management science.”

But does this perspective inform effective action? After all, despite ambitious intentions and great efforts, the utopian Great Society did not emerge. Indeed, the convergence of social problems like COVID-19, systemic racism, food insecurity, and education disparities only further confound our efforts to achieve positive social outcomes. Have the supply of social problems increased and exceeded the supply of otherwise effective system solutions? Is system thinking a naïve mythology rather than a framework for bringing about effective solutions? Are we implementing the principles of systems thinking in ineffective ways?

We recently hosted a “Frank Conversation about Systems” with senior decision-makers from the philanthropic and development sectors to explore these questions. And although the conversation found no consensus on the first two, the group identified a long list of pathological behaviors upheld by numerous organizations deemed incompatible with a system perspective, what we’ve come to call the “Thou Shalt Nots” of systems thinking. For those committed to adopting system perspectives in their work and in their organizations, we offer the following account of our “frank conversation” as a reality check intended to ground decisions in a realistic assessment of the opportunities and potential stumbling blocks.

We’ve organized these stumbling blocks into four key areas: Processes, Cognition and Attitudes, Values, and Roles and Success Criteria.

Continues in source:

The ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Systems Change Enthusiasm for systems change is not new, and a broader historical perspective will help systems change enthusiasts learn from the past what NOT to do: replicate the ineffective mindsets and engineering approaches that have defined so much of the systems change work in our sectors. By Christian Seelos, Sara Farley & Amanda L. Rose Jan. 14, 2021

The ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ of Systems Change

Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers – Online event 3rd March 2021, 12.30-14.00 GMT

book at source:

Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers –

Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers

Online event 3rd March 2021, 12.30-14.00 GMT

Register here

Complexity theory took off in the 1990s and four of the key people who shaped how these ideas were developed for application to the social world will be represented in this event. In this unique retrospective, we will explore how these four thinkers approached complexity thinking over long careers.

Invited Speakers

  • Peter Allen  – Embracing Complexity
  • David Byrne – Complexity and the Social Sciences
  • Chris Mowles in the legacy of Ralph Stacey –  Complex Responsive Processes
  • Rika Preiser in the legacy of Paul Cilliers –  Complexity and Postmodernism

The discussion will be hosted by Jean Boulton

Each speaker will address two questions: what do you feel is the key contribution made by you and/or the tradition that informs your work? What is needed in this field in the future?

The speakers will each present and then discuss these issues with each other, before answering questions from the audience.


David Byrne is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Durham. His first book on complexity, was ‘Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences’ (1998), built on in ‘Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: the state of the art’ (Byrne and Callaghan, 2013). His new book ‘Inequality in a Context of Climate Crisis: A Complex Realist Approach’ will be published soon. His research interests include researching large scale complex interventions, case-based methods, inequality and social exclusion.

Peter Allen is Emeritus Professor at Cranfield University. He has a PhD in theoretical physics and from 1972-87 worked with Nobel Laureate, Ilya Prigogine at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He then ran two Research Centres, focused on complexity, at Cranfield University. He has written and edited several books in the field of complexity and socio-economic modelling and published well over 200 articles. In 2011 he co-edited the Sage Handbook on Complexity and Management and in 2015 co-authored Embracing Complexity (OUP) with Jean Boulton and Cliff Bowman.

Friedrich Paul Cilliers (1956 – 2011) was a South-African philosopher, complexity theorist, and Professor in Complexity and Philosophy at Stellenbosch University. His original background was in Electronic Engineering. His research focused on the ethical implications of complexity theory and the philosophy of science. His book ‘Complexity and Postmodernism’(1998) integrates insights from complexity with the thinking of Derrida, Lyotard and others. Together with Rika Preiser, he co-edited ‘Complexity, Difference and Identity’ (2010) and his collected essays ‘Critical Complexity’ (2016) was edited by Rika Preiser after his death.

Ralph Douglas Stacey, Emeritus Professor of Management at the University of Hertfordshire, was Director of the Complexity and Management Centre, established in 1995, until 2011, when he was succeeded by Professor Chris Mowles. He was born in 1942 in Johannesburg. Initially trained in law, his PhD focused on the construction of econometric models of industrial development. He pioneered an inquiry into the implications complexity theory for understanding human organisations and their management. He is best known for his writings on the theory of organisations as complex responsive processes of relating (2001) and this work was influenced through his training as a Group psychotherapist.

Professor Chris Mowles is Director of the Managing Complex Change Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire. He also teaches and consults internationally. Chris is interested in research methods, strategy and change in organisations, and ethics. He has a particular focus on the functioning of groups.  ‘Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the paradoxes of everyday organizational life’ was published in 2015.

Dr Rika Preiser is a Senior Researcher with the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at the University of Stellenbosch. In 2012 she completed her PhD in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, entitled ‘The Problem of Complexity: Rediscovering the role of Critique’. Rika was supervised by Paul Cilliers and worked closely with him, taking the lead in editing his papers posthumously. Her current research explores the conceptual development of complexity, and she has a particular interest in social-ecological transformations and works closely with the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Dr Jean Boulton is a Visiting Fellow with Cranfield School of Management and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow with the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Bath and a recent (2019) Research Fellow with Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies. She has a PhD in theoretical physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. She teaches and consults around the theme of complexity and its implications for the social and natural world at a range of institutions. She is lead author of ‘Embracing Complexity’ (2015). Her current interests centre on the development of ‘process complexity’ and on articulating the implications of complexity for theories of change and transformation.


Complexity and the Social World: building on the legacy of Allen, Byrne, Stacey and Cilliers –

‘Architectural systems thinking’ from Graham Berrisford

[I will say that I haven’t ‘got on’ with Graham’s work. I might even go so far as to say that some of it seems in the ‘not even wrong’ category for me, or at least that field where it seems so tangential to my understanding – with some arguments I feel I deeply disagree with, but coming from perspectives that seem really odd – that I can’t really engage. This means, of course, that there could be something deep in there which I am just failing to understand! And, of course, there are some things I feel I really agree with.

Anyway, Graham recently popped up on a LinkedIn stream and posted some really thought-provoking quotes and summaries, so I thought I would finally share this here. Benjamin]

What Ashby Says…

W. Ross Ashby collected together a series of his own quotes, loosely based in Cybernetics themes, some of which he distributed to his students. This is the complete set taken from his card indexes in the Ashby Archive. 

What Ashby Says…

How can we change the world? Exactly – join us and we’ll see!

‘to understand is to know what to do’ Wittgenstein

‘I can only know what I should do if I can first answer the question: of what story, or stories, do I find myself a part?’ MacIntyre

If you follow me, you might have heard this thing called ‘systems thinking’ or ‘complexity’ or ‘cybernetics’. It’s about:

-> knowing that to do anything, we create a frame and make sense of the picture inside – how the patterns form and connect. And knowing that redrawing that frame will allow us to see differently

-> a set of core, often counterintuitive ‘laws’ which seem to illuminate aspects of *how the world really is*

This is *humbling* stuff – because it makes you realise that the world is infinitely complex and that everyone has their own unique perspective.

And it’s powerful, practical knowledge of how to work to achieve shared outcomes in complexity.

**An invitation**

If you’d like to hang out with me and explore this, there are loads of opportunities over the next few weeks – details in the reply.

‘A cybernetician is a man who thinks about what could have happened, but did not’ Ashby

–>> what is one insight that changed the way *you* saw the world?

#complexity #systemsthinking #cybernetics #sensemaking

ross ashby thinking cap

FIVE chances to hang out with me cybernetically in the next few weeks – I’d be honoured if you’d join!

NEXT WEEK – The systemic leadership summit 2021 is a pretty amazing opportunity to hear a fantastic group of speakers (and me). Attendance is FREE on the day and you can listen back for 48 hours.
SIGN UP HERE: (affiliate link if you decide to get the upgraded package) hashtag#sls2021

For more background, see:

MONDAY – I’m presenting at the SCiO open meeting (free) on the ‘four quadrants of thinking threats’ you face if you enter into a powerful field link this:

For more background on the four quadrants, see

Monday 25 January – our informal online systems networking, hosted by me

The SERVANT LEADERSHIP SUMMIT in May – not me – but other amazing speakers – quote AntlerBoy10 to get 5% discount to you, and 5% donation to Medecins sans Frontieres.

Monday 1 February – Systems Practice development day (£20 annual membership required)

And look out for me chatting to @Dov Tsal in February too!

The world is not a theorem

“affordances elude a formalization in mathematical terms: we argue that it is not possible to apply set theory to affordances, therefore we cannot devise a mathematical theory of affordances and the evolution of the biosphere.”

Complexity Digest

Stuart A. Kauffman, Andrea Roli
The evolution of the biosphere unfolds as a luxuriant generative process of new living forms and functions. Organisms adapt to their environment, and exploit novel opportunities that are created in this continuous blooming dynamics. Affordances play a fundamental role in the evolution of the biosphere, as they represent the opportunities organisms may choose for achieving their goals, thus actualizing what is in potentia. In this paper we maintain that affordances elude a formalization in mathematical terms: we argue that it is not possible to apply set theory to affordances, therefore we cannot devise a mathematical theory of affordances and the evolution of the biosphere.

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Webinar: Thoughts on System Leadership – Wednesday 17 March at 10am UK time – HPMA


Webinar: Thoughts on System Leadership – Wednesday 17th March at 10am – HPMA

Webinar: Thoughts on System Leadership – Wednesday 17th March at 10am

Presented by Gill Phazey, OD and Leadership Development Associate at Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership

Register Now

This session will explore the rise of System Leadership and examine current models and tools to support system leadership development against the current backdrop of integrated working across the public sector system.  We will examine current thinking, models and frameworks available to help us understand what system leadership is and how we might utilise these for both our own, and others’ development. 

This event will be held on Wednesday 17th March, starting at 10 and will last for approximately 60 minutes with   Delegates can submit questions in advance or add them during the webinar.  If you would like to submit a question in advance, please email it to 

Joining instructions will be sent out 24 hours prior to the event.

Priority will be given to members of the North West HPMA branch.

Speaker Biography:

Gill Phazey, OD and Leadership Development Associate, Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership

Gill is an experienced learning and development professional who has worked within the health and care sector for all of her post-academic career, undertaking a variety of roles within the learning and organisational development arena.  Gill has a passion for leadership and people development and has honed her skills in these areas in a range of roles; from Learning and Organisational Development Manager and Senior Leadership Development Manager at the NHS NWLA, to her current role within the Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership.  As well as her NHS roles, Gill has been working independently as a learning and organisational development consultant for several years, and as an associate to a range of organisations such as NHS R&D North West, Collaborate out Loud Community Interest Company and the Innovation Agency.  These roles have offered Gill the opportunity to design, deliver, commission and evaluate a wide variety of learning and organisational development interventions in multiple topic areas (to include; leadership development at organisation and system level, quality improvement for innovation, team development interventions, and personal effectiveness topics such as understanding personality, exploring resilience, assertiveness, influencing skills and managing change).  Gill works with a range of colleagues across the system from clinical staff within the NHS to Registered Managers in the care setting, as well as corporate system colleagues and public sector leaders.  She continues to expand her portfolio to work right across the health and care system and more recently, the private sector.  She has an MSc in Organisational Psychology from Manchester Business School and certificates in psychometric testing, utilising this knowledge to inform her approach to development activity.  Gill holds a Certificate in Coaching, is a mentor with the NHS NWLA’s Mentoring scheme as well as a Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) facilitator.    Gill has a keen interest in research and evaluation and has undertaken several independent evaluations across a range of educational and developmental projects.  She has undertaken research exploring the professional development needs of experienced doctors and evaluated the impact of coaching and leadership development interventions as well as educational fellowships. When17th, March 2021 10:00 AM through 11:00 AMLocationWebinar

Webinar: Thoughts on System Leadership – Wednesday 17th March at 10am Presented by Gill Phazey, OD and Leadership Development Associate at Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership

Webinar: Thoughts on System Leadership – Wednesday 17th March at 10am – HPMA

Enterprise fractals & hierarchical branching—CybSights: President’s Series from the Cybernetics Society – free. Wed 10 Feb 2021 at 17:00 UK time – Patrick Hoverstadt and David Dewhurst


Enterprise fractals & hierarchical branching—CybSights: President’s Series Tickets, Wed 10 Feb 2021 at 17:00 | Eventbrite

FEB 10

Enterprise fractals & hierarchical branching—CybSights: President’s Series

by Cybernetics Society — President’s SeriesFollow£0 – £20

Event Information

Explores the relevance of cybernetics in organisations and the practical implications of nature’s branching structures with two leaders

About this Event

Hosted by our President, Dr. John Beckford FCybS, the CybSights President’s Series is a new programme that will bring interesting people together to explore the relevance and contribution of cybernetics to addressing important challenges.

Each event will consist of contributions by two different speakers. Each will be followed by individual Q&A. These are then brought together by the President in a lively and engaging plenary discussion. Each will seek areas of convergence and divergence between the ideas explored.

Events will be held via Zoom on the 2nd Wednesday of each month from 1700 to 1900.

Meetings are open to members of the Cybernetics Society and also the general public. Non-members are invited to join or give a donation. Booking is required.

The Cybernetics Society has been hosting conversations and lectures since the late 1960s.

#PS5 : February 10 2021: Fractal and branching designs & their relevance to business, society, and ecology

This event continues the exploration of the relevance of cybernetics to the contemporary world with contributions both theoretically practical and practically theoretical. The purpose of this series is not just to provide answers but to test whether the right questions are being asked.

FIRST SPEAKER: Patrick Hoverstadt

Cybernetics in Systems: A practitioner’s perspective

Patrick Hoverstadt will talk about how much easier it has become to use systemic cybernetic approaches with clients over the last 25 years. He’ll talk about some of the tricks and pitfalls of communicating and working with clients who don’t have a background in systems, where to use systems and cybernetics and why it matters now more than ever to make these approaches more accessible. The talk will cover some of the classical stances practitioners take, and the effects our positioning choices have.

Patrick Hoverstadt

Patrick Hoverstadt has been a consultant using systems and cybernetics for 26 years working with around 100 client organisations on over 250 systems projects. Clients range from micro businesses to multi-nationals and projects at whole sector and national levels. He is the chair of SCiO the professional body for systems practitioners and has developed a number of systemic approaches including a systemic/cybernetic approach to strategy development and execution.

Followed by brief Q & A

SECOND SPEAKER: David Dewhurst, FCybS, Vice-President of the Cybernetics Society

Strategies for being a tree and related branching systems (0th order cybernetics?) as more conservative!

David tackles some important questions on the notion of hierarchy, teasing us with these challenges:

  • If each reader first ponders why trees are tree shaped for perhaps a day before reading further, we will generate more insights.
  • How far will the simplest fractal + randomness get you?
  • Why are branching structures ubiquitous – family trees, information processing and so on?
  • As trees do not occupy the whole universe what are their downsides?

A concrete outcome of this discussion might be a greater respect and contempt for hierarchies.

David Dewhurst, FCybS

David has worked as a jobbing gardener and advocates his neoliberal gardening system in order to save the planet, and time. His (nuanced) support for Hayek when writing about Occupy’s economic policies in the FT was described by George Osborne as ‘surreal’. His 29 other occupations include teaching from University to Nursery, Headship, Ofsted Inspector, Management Consultant, Cleaner @ Tesco, Management Traineeship, Trainee Clinical Psychologist ten years on the Governing Body of Brunel University and doorstep salesman. In the film ’24 Davids’ released on line last year he comes in at number 13 (56 to 64 minutes) where he is characterised even less accurately than in this summary. He hopes to remain Vice President of the Cybernetics Society until 2022.

Plenary Discussion

The aim of this session, moderated by John Beckford, is to draw out the complementary and competing ideas emerging from the two sessions.

Dr. John Beckford, FCybS, President of the Cybernetics Society

John Beckford is a board member of WOSC, a partner in Beckford Consulting, Non-Executive Chair of the Board of Rise Mutual CIC, a Non-Executive Director of both Fusion21 and CoreHaus (social enterprises) and Visiting Professor in both the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at University College London and the Centre for Information Management, School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University. John holds a PhD in cybernetics from the University of Hull, is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and of the Royal Society for the Arts and a Member of the Institute of Management Services.

Cybernetics Society – a learned society

The Cybernetics Society promotes and offers education and research opportunities in the rich field of cybernetics. In the CybSights series, including the President’s Series, we offer isghts conversations, lectures, case studies, analysis, education, and thoughtful entertainment.,

The Cybernetics Society – – is a specially authorised learned society regulated by the FSA and established by a 1974 Act of Parliament. To join visit our membership system or pick the Join ticket.

Cybernetics plays into and strongly influences many scientific and practice fields including design, epistemology, ecology, biology, psychology and living behaviour, technology and engineering, social policy, and business practice. Many feature in the wonderfully aware and successful designers and thinkers of this series.

Cybernetics offers a distinct “go” — techniques — to address local and global challenges of the 21st century.

FEB 10 Enterprise fractals & hierarchical branching—CybSights: President’s Series by Cybernetics Society — President’s Series Follow

Enterprise fractals & hierarchical branching—CybSights: President’s Series Tickets, Wed 10 Feb 2021 at 17:00 | Eventbrite

Cascading Conflict: What is the Science of Violence? February 02, 2021 – 11:00-12:15 MST free on Zoom – santa fe institute


Cascading Conflict: What is the Science of Violence?
SFI Community EventCascading Conflict: What is the Science of Violence?
David Krakauer, Jessica Flack, Eddie Lee, and Rachel Kleinfeld

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021 
11 am – 12:15 pm
Virtual Webinar via Zoom
Image: Detail of “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre.” Engraving by Paul Revere after Henry Pelham.Battles, revolutions, and other fights in history might seem violent in their own ways — consequences of specific social and cultural dynamics. But with the right lens, one can identify unifying principles.

In an online event on February 2, moderator Rachel Kleinfeld will explore the “science of violence” with researchers from the Santa Fe Institute. Through historical examples and data from real-world armed conflicts, they will discuss how an initial event spreads and ignites conflicts in other regions, resulting in a “conflict cascade” or avalanche that spreads over time and space.

Rachel Kleinfeld is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of the 2018 book A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security. She advises governments and philanthropists in making major social change in democracies, with a focus on violence, polarization, and poor governance.

Jessica Flack, David Krakauer, and Eddie Lee are researchers in the C4 Collective Computation Group at SFI who look for patterns in complex social systems. Their recently published paper, “Scaling theory of armed-conflict avalanches” (Physical Review E, 2020), will form the basis for the discussion.

This event is co-hosted by the Santa Fe Council for International Relations and the Santa Fe Institute. 

Founded in 1965, the Santa Fe Council on International Relations connects New Mexico and the world by engaging and inspiring global citizens through dialogue, education, and cross-cultural exchange.

Click here to reserve your free tickets to this virtual panel through the CIR website.


Cascading Conflict: What is the Science of Violence? February 02, 2021 – 11:00 AM to 12:15 PM MST Via Livestream on Zoom

Cascading Conflict: What is the Science of Violence?

Spring Courses in Collaborative Systems Change from CoCreative

Commercial courses, but CoCreative are great on leading systems change collaborations. 

Overview and links (in the words of CoCreative’s Russ Gaskin):

Introduction to Collaborative Innovation February, 2021

This course is designed for changemakers, leaders, facilitators, collective impact backbone staff, and consultants who are working on systemic challenges that can only be addressed using a collaborative approach. Build your capacity to lead multi-stakeholder collaboration to help groups Connect, Align, Learn, and Make what they need to effect systemic change. One recent participant noted: “It was so joyful to connect with people from around the world, tackling similar challenges. I loved the practical approaches to working through complex issues with diverse groups!”

Facilitating Collaborative Innovation March, 2021

This is our highly experiential workshop covering an integrative and powerful approach to leading collaboration. This course focuses on the nuts-and-bolts planning, facilitation, and leadership practices to help diverse groups move from goal setting to advancing real work together, building engagement and momentum over time. One recent participant noted: “The meeting cycle and the detailed practices for each part of collaboration are super useful.”

Championing Systems Change April, 2021

Specially designed for funders and sponsors of systems change, this course will support you in developing your unique role as a champion of systems change initiatives. It focuses on the unique pressures that funders of systems change work have to their internal stakeholders and to the change system they are helping to catalyze and support. One recent participant noted: “This was a game-changer in that it provided an overall structure as well as the details. So, so, so helpful!”

We’re also hosting a 3-hour workshop, Leveraging Creative Tensions, at times friendly to a range of time zones. In this highly-interactive workshop, you’ll experience and learn methods for seeing, mapping, and leveraging the fundamental interdependencies among stakeholders’ values in order to convert conflict and polarization into authentic alignment and productive collaboration. For more information:

Stafford Beer – the Chronicles of Wizard Prang

Ecological resilience and Holling



Obituary overviews:


Ecological resilience

Ecological resilience – Wikipedia

Ecological resilience

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  (Redirected from Resilience (ecology))Jump to navigationJump to searchFor other uses, see Resilience (disambiguation).Lake and Mulga ecosystems with alternative stable states[1]

In ecologyresilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. Such perturbations and disturbances can include stochastic events such as firesfloodingwindstorms, insect population explosions, and human activities such as deforestation, fracking of the ground for oil extraction, pesticide sprayed in soil, and the introduction of exotic plant or animal species. Disturbances of sufficient magnitude or duration can profoundly affect an ecosystem and may force an ecosystem to reach a threshold beyond which a different regime of processes and structures predominates.[2]When such thresholds are associated with a critical or bifurcation point, these regime shifts may also be referred to as critical transitions.[3]

Human activities that adversely affect ecological resilience such as reduction of biodiversityexploitation of natural resourcespollutionland use, and anthropogenic climate change are increasingly causing regime shifts in ecosystems, often to less desirable and degraded conditions.[2][4] Interdisciplinary discourse on resilience now includes consideration of the interactions of humans and ecosystems via socio-ecological systems, and the need for shift from the maximum sustainable yieldparadigm to environmental resource management which aims to build ecological resilience through “resilience analysis, adaptive resource management, and adaptive governance”.[5]



The concept of resilience in ecological systems was first introduced by the Canadian ecologist C.S. Holling [6] in order to describe the persistence of natural systems in the face of changes in ecosystem variables due to natural or anthropogenic causes. Resilience has been defined in two ways in ecological literature:

  1. as the time required for an ecosystem to return to an equilibrium or steady-state following a perturbation (which is also defined as stability by some authors). This definition of resilience is used in other fields such as physics and engineering, and hence has been termed ‘engineering resilience’ by Holling.[6][7]
  2. as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks”.[5]

The second definition has been termed ‘ecological resilience’, and it presumes the existence of multiple stable states or regimes.[7]

Some shallow temperate lakes can exist within either clear water regime, which provides many ecosystem services, or a turbid water regime, which provides reduced ecosystem services and can produce toxic algae blooms. The regime or state is dependent upon lake phosphorus cycles, and either regime can be resilient dependent upon the lake’s ecology and management.[1][2]

Mulga woodlands of Australia can exist in a grass-rich regime that supports sheep herding, or a shrub-dominated regime of no value for sheep grazing. Regime shifts are driven by the interaction of fireherbivory, and variable rainfall. Either state can be resilient dependent upon management.[1][2]


Ecologists Brian WalkerC S Holling and others describe four critical aspects of resilience: latituderesistanceprecariousness, and panarchy.

The first three can apply both to a whole system or the sub-systems that make it up.

  1. Latitude: the maximum amount a system can be changed before losing its ability to recover (before crossing a threshold which, if breached, makes recovery difficult or impossible).
  2. Resistance: the ease or difficulty of changing the system; how “resistant” it is to being changed.
  3. Precariousness: how close the current state of the system is to a limit or “threshold.”.[5]
  4. Panarchy: the degree to which a certain hierarchical level of an ecosystem is influenced by other levels. For example, organisms living in communities that are in isolation from one another may be organized differently from the same type of organism living in a large continuous population, thus the community-level structure is influenced by population-level interactions.

Closely linked to resilience is adaptive capacity, which is the property of an ecosystem that describes change in stability landscapes and resilience.[7] Adaptive capacity in socio-ecological systems refers to the ability of humans to deal with change in their environment by observation, learning and altering their interactions.[2]

Continues in source: Ecological resilience – Wikipedia

Ilya Prigogine – Wikipedia

Just to give him his due!

Nobel prize lecture:

A methodology for supporting strategy implementation based on the VSM: A case study in a Latin-American multi-national | Angela Espinosa, Andrea C Martinez, and Ana Guzmán (2014)


(PDF) A methodology for supporting strategy implementation based on the VSM: A case study in a Latin-American multi-national | Angela Espinosa, Andrea C Martinez, and Ana Guzmán –

Innovative Applications of O.R.A methodology for supporting strategy implementation basedon the VSM: A case study in a Latin-American multi-nationalAngela Espinosaa,b,, Ezequiel Reficcob,1, Andrea Martínezb,1, David Guzmánb,1aHull Business School, Hull University, Cottingham Rd., Hull HU6 7RX, United KingdombLos Andes School of Management, Calle 21 # 1-20, Bogota, Colombiaa r t i c l e i n f o Article history:Received 16 July 2013Accepted 17 June 2014Available online 26 June 2014Keywords:(I) OR in developing countries(S) Complexity theoryProblem structuring (P)Viability theoryOrganizational redesigna b s t r a c tSoft OR tools have increasingly been used to support the strategic development of companies atoperational and managerial levels. However, we still lack OR applications that can be useful in dealingwiththe‘‘implementationgap’’,understoodasthescarcityofresourcesavailabletoorganizationsseekingto align their existing processes and structures with a new strategy. In this paper we contribute tofilling that gap, describing an action research case study where we supported strategy implementationin a Latin American multinational corporation through a soft OR methodology. We enhanced the‘Methodology to support organizational self-transformation’, inspired by the Viable System Model, withsubstantive improvements in data collection and analyses. Those adjustments became necessary tofacilitate second order learning and agreements on required structural changes among a large numberof participants. This case study contributes to the soft OR and strategy literature with insights aboutthe promise and constraints of this soft OR methodology to collectively structure complex decisions thatsupport organizational redesign and strategy implementation.

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(PDF) A methodology for supporting strategy implementation based on the VSM: A case study in a Latin-American multi-national | Angela Espinosa, Andrea C Martinez, and Ana Guzmán –

A question of systems and complexity: do cycle helmets make things better, or worse?


The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’ | Cycling | The Guardian

This is really a great case study for anyone looking for a systems thinking topic for students – or serious research. In either case, have them do a simple cause-and-effect diagram first using maximum creativity and thinking, to see if anything they intuit maps to the reality.

Prejudice, opinions, beliefs, passion, science, disputed science, contextual sensitivity, and deep nebulousity. What is a policy-maker to do?

Some things that seem fairly clear:

  • IF you have a bad accident, a properly-fitted cycle helmet could save your life or mitigate damage (though while it might help with head injuries – some brain surgeons say they’re too flimsy to be *much* use – they do also increase the risk of neck injury – and of course it might look like it saved your life, but the helmet took a blow that would have been a near-miss to your head)
  • Most people do not wear them properly fitted.
  • If you are planning on going fast or dangerously, you should wear one.
  • They are fairly unlikely to subconscioulsy make you cycle more dangerously.
  • They are very likely to make cars be just a bit more aggressive and drive closer to you.
  • Increased wearing of helmets possibly has a small negative affect on overall health outcomes.
  • Mandatory helmet rules definitely dissuade cycling, and seem to increase overall accidents.
  • It would be a far more powerful intervention for public safety and health to create a positive and safe cycling environment.
  • Almost nobody wears hi-viz or helmets in the Netherlands. But of those injured, a really high proportion of them wear helmets.
  • More people have cycle accidents when drunk. Very few drunk cyclists wear helmets.
  • The most effective interventions are in increasing car driver capability and awareness.

What seems very clear is that teenage car drivers and their passengers should definitely wear helmets and neck braces.

Personally, I favour the requirement to make all cars absolutely as safe and protected as possible, as long as all the drivers are situated at street level in a balsa-wood box with a dagger embedded in the steering wheel.

PS I have had two bad cycle accidents in my younger days – once I was doored by a car and did a flying somersault over the top of the car door, and once my bottom bracket snapped and left me sliding under and into the back of a car in front. Both times I was greatful to be wearing a helmet, which I habitually do.

The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’

The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’ | Cycling | The Guardian

An article: from a whole dedicated website:


NB this was prompted by the current (as of 1 January 2021) UK Prime Minister being accused of something for cycling seven miles from home (two women were cautioned and fined recently for meeting up five miles from each of their homes… were they exercising? Did it matter they brought tea? Were they on a bench chatting? Was it really a picnic? Did they need three police cars to arrest them? etc) – and in this stock phot from 2013, he is helmetless – though I have definitely seen him wearing one in such a manner that it was pointless anyway.