What is Systems Science? | Dec. 2018 | IFSR Conversation

In Dec. 2018, a @incose_org @ISSSMeeting report “What is Systems Science” by @garyrobertsmith @makar_jennifer #HillarySillitto @garysmetcalf #GeorgeMobus #SwaminathanNatarajan following the April 2018 IFSR Conversation was released.

A group of systems scientists and systems engineers met for about a week in April 2018 in Linz, Austria for the biannual IFSR Conversation. This event is sponsored by the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR). This group was investigating the question “What is Systems Science?”.

Systems Science Working Group (INCOSE-ISSS collaboration)
Our team included Gary Metcalf, George Mobus, Swami Natarajan, Jennifer Makar, Hillary
Sillitto and Gary Smith.
Our team included Gary Metcalf, George Mobus, Swami Natarajan, Jennifer Makar, Hillary
Sillitto and Gary Smith.

1 Why the question of “What is System Science?”

Gary Smith / Jennifer Makar
● The purpose of the conversation
● Patterns of thought
● Ambitions for integration

2 A diversity of world views on systems

Hillary Sillitto
● (Why do we see systems and live in systems.)
● Why do people have different viewpoints of what systems are and what are the advantages of these?
● Bridging the schism

3 A diversity of knowledge about systems

Gary Metcalf
● Utility of General Systems Theory
● Isomorphism across knowledge bases
● Appreciating the value of diverse philosophies

4 What is useful from “Science” and what would System Science be useful for

George Mobus
● Key questions for system science
● Complications and Patterns
● Bringing things together

5 Ontological Foundations for Systems

George Mobus
● Naming the things that exist
● How the universe organises itself

6 Reflections on the nature of Systems

Hillary Sillitto
● Real world observables and model world abstractions
● Is “Systemness” a fundamental organising principle of nature?
● A grand sequence of systemicity and emerging periodicity

7 Reflections on the nature of engagement with systems

Swami Natarajan
● Purposes of engagement and pattern of practice organization
● Worldviews: Six dimensions
● Systemology: The nature of engagement with systems
● 4 worlds: Observing, understanding and modelling systems. The formation of knowledge
● The scientific method: Developing validated knowledge
● Challenges in developing validated models for complex systems
● Knowledge Integration

The power of frameworks
Gary Smith
● Foundational knowledge in chemistry
● Analogous thinking for “systemry”
● Utility for system science of such a framework

8 A Knowledge Framework for System Science

Swami Natarajan
Structuring, using and testing a knowledge framework for system science
● Basic structure of a system science knowledge framework
● Tests to determine whether an entry is right
● Consistency relationships within the framework
● Intended uses

9 Enabling System Science

Gary Metcalf
What is the path to create a systematic enterprise for system science?

10 Reflections on the experience and conclusions

Jennifer Makar / Gary Smith


Gary Smith, Jennifer Makar, Hillary Sillitto, Gary Metcalf, George Mobus, Swaminathan Natarajan, “Report on IFSR Conversation in April 2018 on ‘What is Systems Science?'”, Systems Science Working Group (collaboration between INCOSE and ISSS), Dec. 2018 at https://sites.google.com/site/syssciwg/collaboration/ifsr

#ifsr, #incose, #systems-sciences

“The 90-9-1 Rule for Participation Inequality” | Jakob Nielsen | 2006

Summary: In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

Participation Inequality, Nielsen (2006)

All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don’t participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background. 

In contrast, a tiny minority of users usually accounts for a disproportionately large amount of the content and other system activity. This phenomenon of participation inequality was first studied in depth by Will Hill in the early ’90s, when he worked down the hall from me at Bell Communications Research.  

When you plot the amount of activity for each user, the result is a Zipf curve, which shows as a straight line in a log-log diagram.

User participation often more or less follows a 90–9–1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.


“The 90-9-1 Rule for Participation Inequality in Social Media and Online Communities” | Jakob Nielsen | 2006 | Nielsen Norman Group at https://www.nngroup.com/articles/participation-inequality/

#lurkers, #pareto, #participation, #zipf-curve

Reinvigorating Quality of Working Life Research | Grote + Guest | 2017 | Human Relations

Since the 1981 publication on #QualityOfWorkingLife by #EricTrist, perhaps it’s time for a revisiting.  #GudelaGrote (ETH Zurich) and #DavidGuest (King’s College) wrote:

We will make and substantiate five claims in this essay:

  • (1) the initial QWL movement of the 1960 and 1970s offers an early model for evidence-based policy-making and managerial practice resulting from interdisciplinary social science research that provides useful lessons for contemporary practice;
  • (2) contemporary developments in work and in society more broadly justify a renewed focus on QWL;
  • (3) recent research relevant to QWL has been conducted with increasingly narrow disciplinary foci and overly optimistic assumptions regarding the compatibility of individual and organizational interests, which has limited its policy impact. Researchers need to address the challenge of competing perspectives in this regard;
  • (4) a revised list of QWL criteria and an associated analytic framework, that take into consideration both relevant developments in society and advances in research can serve as a basis for a renewed QWL research agenda;
  • (5) QWL researchers need to (re)learn how to create policy impact by working to an interdisciplinary, stakeholder-focused and intervention-oriented research agenda.

This kind of QWL research agenda should benefit evidence-based policy-making and interventions in organizations, but also academic research itself by rebalancing its rigour and relevance.

We will conclude with some remarks on where we hope a discussion provoked by this essay might lead us as a scientific community concerned with improving QWL [Grote and Guest (2017), pp. 150-151, editorial paragraphing added).

Although the researchers see a return to the scientific approach back to interdisciplinary, the political and economic environment in 2017 is seen as unfavourable towards QWL.

Table 1. Changing frames for quality of working life (QWL) research.
Original QWL movement QWL research from the 90s to today Proposed future QWL research
Orientation towards practice Normative; evidence-based intervention Creating an evidence base for practice Normative; creating an evidence base for practice and
evidence-based interventions
Research focus Relevance Rigour Relevance and rigour
Scientific approach Interdisciplinary Disciplinary Interdisciplinary
Level of analysis Meso to macro Micro to meso Multi-level
Promoted employment relations Collective agreements Individual agreements Combining collective and individual focus
Political and economic
Favourable towards QWL Unfavourable towards QWL Unfavourable towards QWL
Social impetus Emphasis on collective emancipation as a route to societal prosperity Individual proactivity for personal emancipation Emphasis on individual and collective paths to emancipation

The employment relations are no longer on just collective agreements, but on combining the individual and the collective.

After revising a list of quality of working life criteria (adapted from Walton (1973) and Walton (1974)), the researchers propose a framework.

In Figure 1, we outline an integrative framework that incorporates all criteria in the classification.

Figure 1. An integrated framework for future quality of working life research.

Figure 1. An integrated framework for future quality of working life research.

At its heart (level 1) is the individual worker and their job, reflected in Individual proactivity and the Development of human capacities, implying a focus on job content, decision-latitude and employee

In the first band around this core (level 2), reflecting the organizational context of work, we locate organizational HRM policy-related criteria including Adequate and fair compensation, Safe and healthy working environment, and Social integration.

The outer band (level 3) covers issues related to the world outside work including Consideration of the total life space, Social relevance and Flexible working, although the latter potentially cuts across all three levels.

The boundaries between the different levels of analysis are likely to vary in strength and there is inevitably some overlap. Specifically, Growth and security is placed at the boundary of level 1 and 2 and Constitutionalism, that is the protection and promotion of employees’ rights and mechanisms for representation, sits between levels 2 and 3.

Outside the sphere of QWL we locate national and international institutional and legislative arrangements and the wider economic and financial systems that facilitate, prescribe and also inhibit QWL activities [Grote and Guest (2017), pp. 156-157, editorial paragraphing added).

The researchers then propose four research approaches that will have impact.


Grote, Gudela, and David Guest. 2017. “The Case for Reinvigorating Quality of Working Life Research.” Human Relations 70 (2): 149–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726716654746.  Alternate search on Google Scholar.

Trist, Eric L. 1981. The Evolution of Socio-Technical Systems: A Conceptual Framework and Action Research Program. Occasional Paper 2. Toronto, Canada: Ontario Quality of Working Life Centre.  Alternate searches on Google Scholar and on Worldcat.

#quality, #quality-of-working-life, #trist

Cross-border impacts of cannabis legalization in Canada

With cannabis legalized in Canada today (Oct. 17), can we compare socio-political aspects to the U.S. Prohibition laws 1920-1933?  Daniel Francis, a historian in BC, was reviewed.

For Canada, America’s federal Prohibition law, in effect from 1920 to 1933, was a miraculous economic benefit. Canadians were free to manufacture and export liquor. The American customers who took possession of it in their own waters or on their own soil assumed all the risk. Big-money people weren’t the only Canadians cashing in, for the little guy prospered as well. A case of whisky bought in Quebec for $15 could be sold in New York State for $120. “There wasn’t any job in Canada that paid that much for so little work,” Francis writes.

“Prohibition in U.S. led to exciting times in Canada (review of Closing Time by Daniel Francis)”  | Marcel Martel | January 2, 2015 | Vancouver Sun at http://www.vancouversun.com/Prohibition+exciting+times+Canada/10697267/story.html

Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum-runners and Border Wars | Daniel Francis | 2014 at https://danielfrancis.ca/books/closing-time

Closing Time, Daniel Francis


#canada, #cannabis, #legalization

Connectivity and complex systems: learning from a multi-disciplinary perspective | Turnbull, Hutt, Ioannides et. al | 2018

Understanding complex systems from different disciplines, writes @Ecohydrology et al., requires appreciating the standpoints of …

  • (i) defining the fundamental unit for the study of connectivity;
  • (ii) separating structural connectivity from functional connectivity;
  • (iii) understanding emergent behaviour; and
  • (iv) measuring connectivity.

Here’s a table (detailed text removed from the original article) that compares disciplinary approaches.

Table 1:
Summary of connectivity challenges across different disciplines. Extent to which connectivity challenges are an issue:

    • * do not present a challenge;
    • ** presents a challenge but progress has been made;
    • *** presents a major challenge.


Fundamental Unit (FU)

Separating Structural Connectivity (SC) and Functional Connectivity (FC)

Understanding Emergent Behaviour

Measuring Connectivity

Systems Biology










Computational Neuroscience















Social Network Science





Recognizing Structural Connectivity (SC) as different from (but not exclusive from) Functional Connectivity (FC) is a big start.

Fig. 1 Network-based representation of structural and functional connectivity

Fig. 1 Network-based representation of structural and functional connectivity. Illustration of ways in which structural and functional connectivity within a multitude of systems can be conceptualised using a network-based approach across Systems Biology, Neuroscience/Computational Neuroscience, Geomorphology, Ecology, and Social Network Science


  • Connectivity and complex systems: learning from a multi-disciplinary perspective | Laura Turnbull, Marc-Thorsten Hütt, Andreas A. Ioannides, Stuart Kininmonth, Ronald Poeppl, Klement Tockner, Louise J. Bracken, Saskia Keesstra, Lichan Liu, Rens Masselink and Anthony J. Parsons | Applied Network Science | 2018, 3:11 https://doi.org/10.1007/s41109-018-0067-2

#complex-systems, #connectivity, #multi-disciplinary

Google Plus (for consumers) shutdown | Oct. 8, 2018

The shutting down of one online venue for #systemsthinking on Google+ is inconvenient, yet a possibility that we have forseen.  In headlines, see:

The Systems Sciences community on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/117647110273892799778 is still working, on the day after the announcement.

Gabriel Asata asked:

Any idea about how to maintain ourselves in contact and keep the production and publication of this community after Google+ shutdown?

… to which I responded …

The Systems Sciences community on Google+ should acknowledge that an open community for systems thinkers worldwide has been provided at no charge by Google, as a commercial enterprise, for many years.

In partnership with Benjamin Taylor, our community has been prepared for the possibility that Google+ might not persistent in a supporting such a platform. In January 2018, we partnered on the Systems Community of Inquiry stream at https://stream.syscoi.com/2018/01/19/moving-to-stream-syscoi-com/ . This is an open collaboration site hosted on WordPress.COM that could be moved to an alternate provider, and is backed up on the Internet Archive (you can check at https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://stream.syscoi.com ).

If you prefer to just receive headlines, stream.syscoi.com syndicates to https://twitter.com/syscoi .

If you don’t like Twitter, and would like to experiment on an open source platform with a gradient of intimacy (i.e. like Google Circles), you might follow me (as an individual) at https://mastodon.cloud/@daviding . If a critical mass of individuals sign up on that platform, perhaps we can encourage that open source platform to flourish.  (I’m also on Diaspora at https://diasp.org/u/daviding , but haven’t seen much action there in the past 3 years).

This is part of a longer story, at ..

Since the original explorations in 2015, we can now see “The Federation refers to a global social network composed of nodes that talk to each other. Each of them is an installation of software which supports one of the federated social web protocols” at https://the-federation.info/ .  Here’s a snapshot of popularity at October 2018.

The Federation, Projects

Mastodon (which didn’t exist in 2015, as did Diaspora) now appears to have been growing in popularity.

#diaspora, #federated, #google-plus, #mastodon, #shutdown, #social-network

Systems practice – unpacking the juggler metaphor | OpenLearn

From the Open University, excerpted from a free course on “Managing Complexity: A Systems Approach”:

Many well-known systems thinkers had particular experiences, which led them to devote their lives to their particular forms of systems practice. So, within Systems thinking and practice, just as in juggling, there are different traditions, which are perpetuated through lineages (see Figure 7).

A model of different influences that have shaped contemporary systems approaches

Figure 7: A model of different influences that have shaped contemporary systems approaches

The OpenLearn course was surfaced on reading “The Role of Systems Thinking in the Practice of Implementing Sustainable Development Goals” | Martin Reynolds, Christine Blackmore, Ray Ison, Rupesh Shah, Elaine Wedlock | 2017 | Handbook of Sustainability Science and Research at http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63007-6_42 .

Praxis support for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) based on systems thinking in practice at The Open University.

Praxis support for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) based on systems thinking in practice at The Open University. Source Reynolds et al. (2017). © 2017 The Open University

A complementary presentation was made by Martin Reynolds at the World Symposium on Sustainability Science and Research, Manchester, UK, April 5-7, 2007.
World Symposium on Sustainability Science and Research

Martin Reynolds is in the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice group in the School of Engineering and Innovation, at The Open University.

There are a variety courses when searching on “Systems Thinking” in OpenLearn.


#mooc, #open-university, #systems-thinking