The cybernetics of systems of belief – Scott (2000)

The cybernetics of systems of belief

(PDF) The cybernetics of systems of belief

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The cybernetics of systems of belief


Authors: Bernard Scott

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This paper reviews the proposal by D.J. Stewart of extending the cybernetics world view, where one is limited to just two ontological domains, those of “energy” and “information”, by adding a third domain, the domain of “observer valued imparities”. A link is suggested between Stewart’s proposals and the constructivist epistemologies of second-order cybernetics which impose on the observer the obligation to take responsibility for the worlds he or she constructs, including decisions about beliefs and purposes. A model of “science” as a system of beliefs is presented. Finally, the model is given a general interpretation.

The Sustainability Laboratory

The Sustainability Laboratory


The Sustainability Laboratory was established in 2008 by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli in order to help address urgent sustainability issues facing the planet.

To guide its activities, The Lab has developed its own unique, action-oriented conceptual framework, which takes a holistic perspective and features cross-sector and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Applying this holistic approach, The Lab engages in research, development, and education activities focused on key sustainability-related issues. Our growing portfolio of projects demonstrate cutting edge, model strategies for addressing sustainability challenges on a local, regional, and planetary scale.

Toggle Lab – immersive ‘whole systems’ labs



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Your System Made Perfect

Systems Leadership, Lessons & Learning

Picture it. The health and care system in your place working perfectly. Can’t quite imagine that? Is the image a bit blurred, lacking in detail, hard to define? For some, it’s crystal clear, but not for everyone.

The lack of a clear shared vision of success for systems working in health and social care means the steps to achieving the vision may be equally unclear, or contested.

As a great philosopher once said “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which path you take”*.

36 Best Alice In Wonderland Quotes - PBC

*it was the Cheshire Cat

A recent Twitter debate elicited a variety of views on ‘what good looks like’ in health and care systems. All similar, none exactly the same.

In the systems development work I do, a great deal of time and effort is spent with teams, crafting and refining a vision that belongs to the people round the table. A…

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A schema for better understanding systems leadership and systems change

I’m pleased to say that I have a piece on ‘six ways to see systems leadership’ in Gabriele Bammer’s excellent Integration and Implementation Insights blog today:

That piece sets out an attempt to provide a light classification for the very wide and undefined phrase ‘systems leadership’.

In this companion piece, I want to give references and examples and comment a bit more critically on what I see as the risks of the popularity of ‘systems leadership’. I should say from the start that I have tended to include ‘systems change’ methods and approaches (see as well as ‘systems leadership’ because there is such significant overlap. I am setting out early thinking that will, no doubt, beg some questions!

My six categories as in the other piece, with examples and references:

1. Systems leadership as a form of better, inclusive, wider leadership.

• Peter Senge piece ‘the dawn of systems leadership’
Emphasises seeing the system, generative conversation, co-creation.
• The United Nations System Leadership Framework
Which emphasises norms, principles, inclusivity, accountability, multidimensionality, transformation, collaboration, and self-application, with four ways of working: achieving impact, driving transformational change, employing systems thinking, and co-creating solutions
My concern is that this may easily revert back to ‘individual development masquerading as leadership development’. It could be radically challenging, but appears likely to attract lip service without critical challenge.

2. Systems leadership driven externally from outside the system
3. Facilitative system leadership, supporting change to emerge from within the system

The risk of both is, frankly colonialist do-gooding (or intentional meddling).
The possibility of (2) is a real external drive and positive disruption which reframes a system or multiple systems by identifying an alternative locus from the current power base which comes to be perceived as legitimate from within the system. The possibility of (3) is real self-determination when the facilitators do not exercise control.
This is a fine distinction which cannot easily approaches, because as you can see, how they are done will be as important as which approach is selected.

Approaches which fit within these two categories include:
• Systems Leadership – Harvard Kennedy School ( ) which focuses on ‘individual, community, and system’ and has the steps: convene and commit; look and learn; engage and energise; act with accountability; and review and revise.
• System-of-interest with complexity – ‘wicked problems’/messes etc (UK systems leadership in children’s services model – Public Value Theory, Grint’s Wicked Problems and Adaptive Leadership)
• System-of-interest with outcomes – often turning an unstructured/un-organised system into a structured/organised one – more likely an understand – plan – do (with some kind of review) purposive model – (Collective Action, Collaborate, Systems Stewardship, outcome-based commissioning)
• Advocacy and support for network, collaborative, co-operation, peer, permaculture, and other alternative organisational forms
• The water of systems change ( – for funders of ‘systems change’ – looks at structural, relationships, paradigms levels.
Definitely aiming to be in the (3) camp:
• Whole swathes of futures/design ‘whole system’ or ‘representative of whole system’ co-creation approaches – (FutureSearch, Theory U)
• Asset-based community development type approaches, mobilising/enabling those considered the ‘constituents’ of the system to shape change.

4. Systems leadership for systems innovation.

• ‘6 Ways to Make Your Work More Effective, From Entrepreneurs Who Want To Change The World’ – by Rachel Sinha and Ella Saltmarshe
• Rachel Sinha – mapping the world of systems innovation (unpublished)
• Leyla Acaroglu – a manifesto for design-led systems change
• Anna Birney, Laura Winn, Corina Angheloiu and Zahra Davidson – The School of System Change as a systemic endeavour (working paper)
• Forum for the Future – A ‘How To’ for system innovation – by Anna Birney
• Forum for the Future – Cultivating System Change – A Practitioner’s Companion – by Anna Birney
• The work of Collaborate CIC in ‘funding and commissioning in complexity’
• Social Innovation Change, Social Innovation Generation, Forum for the Future, and the Systems Studio – Funding Systems Change: Challenges and Opportunities
• Hamoon Ekhtiari – don’t build a start-up, become a systems entrepreneur
• The work of the Ashoka Foundation
There is a set of interventions in collaboration in systems change – exemplified by CoCreative – which illustrates the strong link between this kind of systems innovation and (4) facilitative systems change, in that it intentionally bridges from ‘entrepreneurial’ movements which provide challenge bottom-up to connect them into a more effective alternative system leadership.
The risk in this space, of course, is that these approaches are too small, too local, too hard to support as ‘alternative’ system leadership in a world in which they provide an alternative to the dominant power base, and fizzle out. They could, of course, divert attention to small, non-threatening alternative power bases and away from challenging existing structures at their heart (‘systems leadership theatre’, we might say).

5. Systems leadership as leadership of complex systems.

• Barry Oshry’s Organic Systems Framework
• Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model
• Organisation within environment, including with ‘partners’ etc – (Hoverstadt and Loh, and health systems work UK)
• Collaborate CIC – Building Collaborative Places: Infrastructure for System Change / Behaving Like A System – the preconditions for place-based system change
• USAID GKI Systems-Leadership-Brief ( – strong on actors, linkages, environment though with a naïve ‘root cause’ element.
• Institutional system within an environment – (UK NHS and much mapping)
• Macdonald Associates’ Systems Leadership Theory (from the Elliot Jacques heritage)

This is my preferred ‘home ground’, so it’s harder for me to criticise this flavour of systems leadership. Certainly, though, it can be accused of:
• An assumption of ‘systematicity’ or bringing things into the scope of ‘creating a functioning system’ which may not be warranted.
• Challenges where elements of the system overlap in terms of geography and levels of hierarchy.
• A starting point in the locus of what is considered ‘legitimate power’ in the status quo which may weaken the critical perspective.

6. Organic types of systems leadership

• Network weaving, from June Holley, an approach fundamentally predicated on connection, self-organisation, and ongoing change;
• Nora Bateson’s work, particularly around Warm Data Labs which is emergent and concerned with engaging the ongoing effort and learning embedded in existing system patterns
• Systems convening, forthcoming from Bev and Etienne Wenger-Trayner,, which identifies the ‘leadership’ which emerges in its own right from within or across systems, which is embedded and situated and yet organically developing change through network approaches.
• I would likely add the Systems Changes group convened by David Ing here (, though in many ways this is a meta-approach which could encompass any of the above.

A concern is that these approaches may be ‘sidelined’ to reduce radical challenge, kept to a limited field and directly opposed by those benefiting from the existing system because their potentially radical challenge can be dismissed due to lack of legibility of purpose and method. Yet these approaches can potentially ‘get under the wire’ and exert subtle influence for the same reasons.

Summary and an attempt to structure these approaches

I have very clearly linked across from systems change into systems leadership, by making an assumption that all these approaches have two complementary goals:
• Ensuring that the system is ‘led’ in a way that is considered broadly beneficial, ethical, legitimate.
• Focusing on the system ‘working’ in an effective, functional way.
This suggests a way to attempt to structure the approaches together by illustrating their focal points, and perhaps affinities, connections, and potential ‘bridging’ between approaches:

categorisation of systems change

(Original piece adapted from earlier drafts at and a comment at

Complexity is in the Middle:

Harish's Notebook - My notes... Lean, Cybernetics, Quality & Data Science.

In today’s post, I am inspired by the idea of a rhizome by Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze. They spoke about it in their fascinating book, A Thousand Plateaus. A rhizome is defined in Oxford dictionary as a continuously growing horizontal underground stem which puts out lateral shoots and adventitious roots at intervals. Common examples of rhizomes include crab grass and ginger. Guattari and Delueze or G&D as often notated, used the idea of a rhizome as a metaphor. They put the idea of a rhizome against what they called as “arborescent” or tree-thinking. A tree has a very definite structure; one that is hierarchic with the branches, main stalk and the root system. G&D viewed tree-thinking as being focused on a central idea and building a world view upon that. They noted:

The tree is already the image of the world, or the root the image of the…

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John Von Neuman: Complexity – From Representation to Performativity | Dr. Rinaldi’s Horror Cabinet (2015)

John Von Neuman: Complexity – From Representation to Performativity

The Extended Mind – Clark and Chalmers (1998)

The Extended Mind

The Extended Mind

The Extended Mind

Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers [*]

Department of Philosophy
Washington University
St. Louis, MO 63130

Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

*[[Authors are listed in order of degree of belief in the central thesis.]]

[[Published in Analysis 58:10-23, 1998. Reprinted in (P. Grim, ed) The Philosopher’s Annual, vol XXI, 1998.]]

HOW TO USE CONSCIOUS PURPOSE WITHOUT WRECKING EVERYTHING – John Gall (A talk prepared for presentation at the annual Gilbfest, London, UK, June 25, 2012)

HOW TO USE CONSCIOUS PURPOSE WITHOUT WRECKING EVERYTHING By John Gall, MS, MD, FAAP A talk prepared for presentation at the annual Gilbfest, London, UK, June 25, 2012

Beyond The Great Reset playlist – speakers from the Systems Change Alliance event – YouTube

Systems Change Alliance 249 subscribers SUBSCRIBED Opening address of the Beyond The Great Reset, The Systems Change Summit, by MC, Satya Tanner.

Beyond The Great Reset Opening Address – YouTube

The world according to Humberto Maturana – Efran and Lukens (1970)

The world according to Humberto Maturana January 1970 Authors: Jay Steven Efran Temple University Michael D. Lukens

(PDF) The world according to Humberto Maturana

When “Worldview” Thinking Becomes a Crutch | John Ehrett (2021)

An evangelical Roman Catholic perspective on the idea of interconnecteedness of ideas, worldviews, (in)commensurability and development of interpretation over time.

Early-warning signals for critical transitions | Scheffer et al (2009)

Early-warning signals for critical transitions

Nature volume 461, pages53–59 (2009)


Complex dynamical systems, ranging from ecosystems to financial markets and the climate, can have tipping points at which a sudden shift to a contrasting dynamical regime may occur. Although predicting such critical points before they are reached is extremely difficult, work in different scientific fields is now suggesting the existence of generic early-warning signals that may indicate for a wide class of systems if a critical threshold is approaching.

Cautionary Tales – Fritterin’ Away Genius | Tim Harford

Claude Shannon and creativity

Cautionary Tales – Fritterin’ Away Genius 14th May, 2021

Cautionary Tales – Fritterin’ Away Genius | Tim Harford

Overcast link

The Magnification of Small Differences — Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin — Overcast

Seth Godin in a brilliant rant on his home turf; the sociological impact of power laws and the consequent impact on human cretivity and possibilities.

Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin The Magnification of Small Differences May 19, 2021

The Magnification of Small Differences — Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin — Overcast

Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin

The Magnification of Small Differences

May 19, 2021