2nd Workshop Complexity72H! 17-21 June 2019 at IMT Lucca, Italy.

Complexity Digest

The workshop Complexity72h is an interdisciplinary event whose aim is to bring together young researchers from different fields of complex systems.

Inspired by the 72h Hours of Science, participants will form working groups aimed at carrying out a project in a three-day time, i.e. 72 hours. Each group’s goal is to upload on the arXiv a report of their work by the end of the event. A team of tutors will propose the projects, and assist and guide each group in developing their project.
Alongside teamwork, participants will attend lectures from scientists coming from different fields of complex systems, and applied workshops.
The workshop is organized and will be hosted by the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca.


Wanna know more? Send us an email at complexity72h [at] gmail [dot] com

Source: complexity72h.weebly.com

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Coevolution between the cost of decision and the strategy contributes to the evolution of cooperation

Complexity Digest

Cooperation is still an important issue for both evolutionary and social scientists. There are some remarkable methods for sustaining cooperation. On the other hand, various studies discuss whether human deliberative behaviour promotes or inhibits cooperation. As those studies of human behaviour develop, in the study of evolutionary game theory, models considering deliberative behaviour of game players are increasing. Based on that trend, the author considers that decision of a person requires certain time and imposes a psychological burden on him/her and defines such burden as the cost of decision. This study utilizes the model of evolutionary game theory that each player plays the spatial prisoner’s dilemma game with opponent players connected to him/her and introduces the cost of decision. The main result of this study is that the introduction of the cost of decision contributes to the evolution of cooperation, although there are some differences in the extent of its…

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Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity | Management Science / Operations Research | Management | Business & Management | Subjects | Wiley

This is a biggie, in at least two senses! Mike Jackson says this is twice the size and completely reworked, though following the same schema as the original edition (actually – different title – systems thinking: creative holism for managers)

Availability/launch date in the UK 22 March.

Source: Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity | Management Science / Operations Research | Management | Business & Management | Subjects | Wiley


Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity

Michael C. Jackson

ISBN: 978-1-119-11837-4 March 2019 728 Pages



The world has become increasingly networked and unpredictable. Decision makers at all levels are required to manage the consequences of complexity every day. They must deal with problems that arise unexpectedly, generate uncertainty, are characterised by interconnectivity, and spread across traditional boundaries. Simple solutions to complex problems are usually inadequate and risk exacerbating the original issues.

Leaders of international bodies such as the UN, OECD, UNESCO and WHO — and of major business, public sector, charitable, and professional organizations — have all declared that systems thinking is an essential leadership skill for managing the complexity of the economic, social and environmental issues that confront decision makers. Systems thinking must be implemented more generally, and on a wider scale, to address these issues.

An evaluation of different systems methodologies suggests that they concentrate on different aspects of

complexity. To be in the best position to deal with complexity, decision makers must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches and learn how to employ them in combination. This is called critical systems thinking. Making use of over 25 case studies, the book offers an account of the development of systems thinking and of major efforts to apply the approach in real-world interventions. Further, it encourages the widespread use of critical systems practice as a means of ensuring responsible leadership in a complex world.

Comments on a previous version of the book:

Russ Ackoff: ‘the book is the best overview of the field I have seen’

JP van Gigch: ‘Jackson does a masterful job. The book is lucid …well written and eminently readable’

Professional Manager (Journal of the Chartered Management Institute): ‘Provides an excellent guide and introduction to systems thinking for students of management’

Preface xvii

Introduction xxv

Part I Systems Thinking in the Disciplines 1

1 Philosophy 3

1.1 Introduction 3

1.2 Kant 4

1.3 Hegel 8

1.4 Pragmatism 9

1.5 Husserl and Phenomenology 10

1.6 Radical Constructivism 11

1.7 Conclusion 12

2 The Physical Sciences and the Scientific Method 15

2.1 Introduction 15

2.2 The Scientific Method and the Scientific Revolution 16

2.3 The Physical Sciences in the Modern Era 19

2.4 The Scientific Method in the Modern Era 21

2.5 Extending the Scientific Method to Other Disciplines 24

2.6 Conclusion 25

3 The Life Sciences 27

3.1 Introduction 27

3.2 Biology 27

3.3 Ecology 35

3.4 Conclusion 40

4 The Social Sciences 43

4.1 Introduction 43

4.2 Functionalism 44

4.3 Interpretive Social Theory 49

4.4 The Sociology of Radical Change 52

4.5 Postmodernism and Poststructuralism 56

4.6 Integrationist Social Theory 59

4.7 Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory 62

4.8 Action Research 67

4.9 Conclusion 68

Part II The Systems Sciences 71

5 General Systems Theory 75

5.1 Introduction 75

5.2 von Bertalanffy and General System Theory 75

5.3 von Bertalanffy’s Collaborators and the Society for General Systems Research 79

5.4 Miller and the Search for Isomorphisms at Different System Levels 80

5.5 Boulding, Emergence and the Centrality of “The Image” 82

5.6 The Influence of General Systems Theory 85

5.7 Conclusion 86

6 Cybernetics 89

6.1 Introduction 89

6.2 First‐Order Cybernetics 91

6.3 British Cybernetics 95

6.4 Second‐Order Cybernetics 102

6.5 Conclusion 108

7 Complexity Theory 111

7.1 Introduction 111

7.2 Chaos Theory 112

7.3 Dissipative Structures 117

7.4 Complex Adaptive Systems 119

7.5 Complexity Theory and Management 125

7.6 Complexity Theory and Systems Thinking 136

7.7 Conclusion 144

Part III Systems Practice 147

8 A System of Systems Methodologies 151

8.1 Introduction 151

8.2 Critical or “Second‐Order” Systems Thinking 152

8.3 Toward a System of Systems Methodologies 155

8.3.1 Preliminary Considerations 155

8.3.2 Beer’s Classification of Systems 155

8.3.3 The Original “System of Systems Methodologies” 157

8.3.4 Snowden’s Cynefin Framework 160

8.3.5 A Revised “System of Systems Methodologies” 162

8.4 The Development of Applied Systems Thinking 166

8.5 Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity 169

8.6 Conclusion 169

Type A Systems Approaches for Technical Complexity 171

9 Operational Research, Systems Analysis, Systems Engineering (Hard Systems Thinking) 173

9.1 Prologue 173

9.2 Description of Hard Systems Thinking 175

9.2.1 Historical Development 175

9.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 177

9.2.3 Methodology 179

9.2.4 Methods 182

9.2.5 Developments in Hard Systems Thinking 184

9.3 Hard Systems Thinking in Action 188

9.4 Critique of Hard Systems Thinking 191

9.5 Comments 196

9.6 The Value of Hard Systems Thinking to Managers 197

9.7 Conclusion 197

Type B Systems Approaches for Process Complexity 199

10 The Vanguard Method 201

10.1 Prologue 201

10.2 Description of the Vanguard Method 203

10.2.1 Historical Development 203

10.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 206

10.2.3 Methodology 209

10.2.4 Methods 211

10.3 The Vanguard Method in Action 212

10.3.1 Check 213

10.3.2 Plan 215

10.3.3 Do 216

10.4 Critique of the Vanguard Method 220

10.5 Comments 224

10.6 The Value of the Vanguard Method to Managers 225

10.7 Conclusion 226

Type C Systems Approaches for Structural Complexity 227

11 System Dynamics 229

11.1 Prologue 229

11.2 Description of System Dynamics 231

11.2.1 Historical Development 231

11.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 233

11.2.3 Methodology 241

11.2.4 Methods 244

11.3 System Dynamics in Action 247

11.4 Critique of System Dynamics 249

11.5 Comments 258

11.6 The Value of System Dynamics to Managers 258

11.7 Conclusion 259

Type D Systems Approaches for Organizational Complexity 261

12 Socio‐Technical Systems Thinking 263

12.1 Prologue 263

12.2 Description of Socio‐Technical Systems Thinking 264

12.2.1 Historical Development 264

12.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 268

12.2.3 Methodology 276

12.2.4 Methods 279

12.3 Socio‐Technical Systems Thinking in Action 280

12.4 Critique of Socio‐Technical Systems Thinking 281

12.5 Comments 288

12.6 The Value of Socio‐Technical Systems Thinking to Managers 289

12.7 Conclusion 289

13 Organizational Cybernetics and the Viable System Model 291

13.1 Prologue 291

13.2 Description of Organizational Cybernetics 296

13.2.1 Historical Development 296

13.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 299

13.2.3 Methodology 311

13.2.4 Methods 317

13.3 Organizational Cybernetics in Action 320

13.4 Critique of Organizational Cybernetics and the Viable System Model 325

13.5 Comments 337

13.6 The Value of Organizational Cybernetics to Managers 339

13.7 Conclusion 340

Type E Systems Approaches for People Complexity 341

14 Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing 343

14.1 Prologue 343

14.2 Description of Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing 346

14.2.1 Historical Development 346

14.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 348

14.2.3 Methodology 353

14.2.4 Methods 355

14.3 Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing in Action 357

14.4 Critique of Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing 360

14.5 Comments 365

14.6 The Value of Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing to Managers 366

14.7 Conclusion 367

15 Interactive Planning 369

15.1 Prologue 369

15.2 Description of Interactive Planning 371

15.2.1 Historical Development 371

15.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 375

15.2.3 Methodology 379

15.2.4 Methods 382

15.3 Interactive Planning in Action 384

15.4 Critique of Interactive Planning 388

15.5 Comments 394

15.6 The Value of Interactive Planning to Managers 395

15.7 Conclusion 395

16 Soft Systems Methodology 397

16.1 Prologue 397

16.2 Description of Soft Systems Methodology 401

16.2.1 Historical Development 401

16.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 404

16.2.3 Methodology 411

16.2.4 Methods 420

16.3 Soft Systems Methodology in Action 427

16.4 Critique of Soft Systems Methodology 431

16.5 Comments 441

16.6 The Value of Soft Systems Methodology to Managers 442

16.7 Conclusion 443

Type F Systems Approaches for Coercive Complexity 445

17 Team Syntegrity 447

17.1 Prologue 447

17.2 Description of Team Syntegrity 449

17.2.1 Historical Development 449

17.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 450

17.2.3 Methodology 455

17.2.4 Methods 458

17.3 Team Syntegrity in Action 459

17.4 Critique of Team Syntegrity 462

17.5 Comments 468

17.6 The Value of Team Syntegrity to Managers 470

17.7 Conclusion 470

18 Critical Systems Heuristics 471

18.1 Prologue 471

18.2 Description of Critical Systems Heuristics 473

18.2.1 Historical Development 473

18.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 476

18.2.3 Methodology 479

18.2.4 Methods 484

18.3 Critical Systems Heuristics in Action 485

18.4 Critique of Critical Systems Heuristics 490

18.5 Comments 502

18.6 The Value of Critical Systems Heuristics to Managers 508

18.7 Conclusion 509

Part IV Critical Systems Thinking 511

19 Critical Systems Theory 515

19.1 Introduction 515

19.2 The Origins of Critical Systems Theory 516

19.2.1 Critical Awareness 517

19.2.2 Pluralism 519

19.2.3 Emancipation or Improvement 522

19.3 Critical Systems Theory and the Management Sciences 524

19.4 Conclusion 528

20 Critical Systems Thinking and Multimethodology 531

20.1 Introduction 531

20.2 Total Systems Intervention 540

20.2.1 Background 540

20.2.2 Multimethodology 541

20.2.3 Case Study 545

20.2.4 Critique 553

20.3 Systemic Intervention 558

20.3.1 Background 558

20.3.2 Multimethodology 559

20.3.3 Case Study 562

20.3.4 Critique 565

20.4 Critical Realism and Multimethodology 568

20.4.1 Background 568

20.4.2 Multimethodology 570

20.4.3 Case Study 572

20.4.4 Critique 572

20.5 Conclusion 576

21 Critical Systems Practice 577

21.1 Prologue 577

21.2 Description of Critical Systems Practice 579

21.2.1 Historical Development 579

21.2.2 Philosophy and Theory 581

21.2.3 Multimethodology 593

21.2.4 Methodologies 601

21.2.5 Methods 604

21.3 Critical Systems Practice in Action 607

21.3.1 North Yorkshire Police 607

21.3.2 Kingston Gas Turbines 617

21.3.3 Hull University Business School 621

21.4 Critique of Critical Systems Practice 632

21.5 Comments 637

21.6 The Value of Critical Systems Practice to Managers 638

21.7 Conclusion 638

Conclusion 641

References 645

Index 679

RSD8 – Eighth Symposium for Relating Systems Thinking and Design October 17-19, 2019 IIT – Institute of Design Chicago, Illinois, USA – Call for Participation

Call for Participation

RSD8 – Eighth Symposium for Relating Systems Thinking and Design

October 17-19, 2019

IIT – Institute of Design

Chicago, Illinois, USA

SDA Site: https://systemic-design.net/

EasyChair: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=rsd8.

RSD8 Conference website up soon

Systems Change for Governance: Design + Networks + Activation

There is an emerging concern to address the pragmatics of large-scale social system change across all contexts. Organizations can no longer go it alone if they want to achieve scaled and sustainable impact. Building, activating, and amplifying capacity to co-design and co-produce with real stakeholders has always been a challenging commitment. Successful system change models are still emerging across different sectors, and their results are simultaneously challenged by massive global trends. Achieving systems-level transformation requires activating, cultivating and galvanizing networks-technological, infrastructural, and social-that support new collaborative activities, processes, and mindsets.

The role of systemic design in informing equitable and sustainable choices increasingly demands that designers re-orient toward “design and…”. Together, we’ll explore real-world contexts where organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, policymaking, and design are already colliding, as well as new tools and methodologies to evolve our individual and collective points of view about leadership and the transformative practices-and challenges-of large-scale collaboration.

Our thematic questions include the following:

* How can organizations engage and activate networks for reimagining livelihoods and the platforms for supporting them?
* What is the role of leaders-including designers-in designing sustainable solutions that reimagine the interconnectivity of social, technical and ecological infrastructures?
* How can socially-focused entrepreneurs prototype large-scale transformations that weave together new technological developments and more equitable and inclusive solutions?
* Where might we learn from alternative or emerging models of developing and scaling access, inclusion, and equity in large-scale transformation initiatives involving multiple stakeholders?
* What ethical and ecological principles – such as social justice, regenerativity, transparency, and “fit”- should inform how we enable systemic change in action?


The conference theme encompasses many areas of Systemic Design, exploring the opportunities for systems and design thinking in different interdisciplinary and complementary domains. We welcome works addressing this wide theme from different perspectives, fostering special reflections on the relevant topics proposed below.

1. Systemic Design and Organizations, Business Practices, and New Economies
2. Systemic Design and Emerging Technological Infrastructures
3. Systemic Design and Access, Inclusion, and Equity
4. Systemic Design Models and Processes for Sustainment
5. Systemic Design and Governance: Policymaking and Decision Making
6. Open track


Discussion Groups

Participants submit abstracts that will be clustered around thematic areas, and they give brief presentations about their work. These presentations will be followed by loosely structured conversations between 15-20 people led by a facilitator, who afterwards will be responsible for providing a short summary of the discussion and its insights. Both the discussion summary and the submitted abstracts will be published in the conference proceedings.

Activity Groups

Facilitators submit proposals for leading a session that addresses a specific system change challenge for large-scale transformation. Activity groups are knowledge sharing and benchmarking discussions focusing on emerging Systemic Design practices and applications in public, private, and social sectors. Facilitators will be responsible for documenting and summarizing the results of the activity. Accepted activity groups submission and results will be published in the conference proceedings.


Workshops are half/full day sessions that provide an opportunity for participants to engage with the latest tools and methods of systemic design. Facilitators submit proposals for leading hands-on activities sharing their tools, methods, and strategies for large-scale transformation and re-inventing systems of governance. Workshops allow facilitators to test and prototype ideas and co-create new knowledge collaboratively with participants. Workshop proposals should include no fewer than 3 registered facilitators. Proposals should be in the region of but no more than 1000 words and provide an overall description of the theme, details of the proposed activities and format of the session, workshop goals and expected outcomes as well as detailing any technical or space requirements.

Charles Owen Tribute

Charles Owen is a pioneer in connecting design and systems thinking. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Design where he conducted research and taught until 2010 in the Master and PhD Design graduate programs. For participating in this session, participants submit proposals for presenting a review and re-evaluation of Charles Owen’s theories and/or projects through the lenses of contemporary systems theory and challenges. Prof. Owen’s biography, publications, and projects can be found at the Institute of Design website (link: https://id.iit.edu/people/charles-l-owen/). Accepted participants submission will be published in the conference proceedings.


Call for abstracts/proposals for Discussion Groups, Activity Groups, Workshops, and Charles Owen Tribute
“Reinventing Systems of Governance: Design + Networks + Activation” is an interdisciplinary conference aiming to represent the state of the art of systems thinking application in design towards sustainability and stimulate an international debate among academics and professionals on the topic.

We ask everyone who wishes to present their work at RSD8 to submit a long abstract of maximum 1000 words (title, keywords and references excluded). The abstract should be submitted by May 3, 2019 through EasyChair at this link: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=rsd8. You should upload the abstract in text form as well as in a PDF file including any images and the conference topics to which your work relates. The abstract submission form will guide you through the process but we recommend you download and read the call for abstracts for more detailed information.

Your abstract will undergo a peer review process by independent referees. We will notify the authors of abstracts selected to be presented at RSD8 within the deadline given on the home page. If you have received an email telling you that your abstract has been selected, you should register for the conference and present your work during the RSD8 symposium (October 17-19, 2019).

After the conference, you will be asked to prepare a working paper that will be included in the RSD8 proceedings: you may consider the feedback gathered during your presentation discussion. All the working papers will be included in the official RSD8 proceedings, published in Open Access by Systemic Design Association. Then, authors desiring to fully develop a research article from the paper will be given the opportunity to submit them for peer-reviewed publication in leading design/scientific journals.

Key Dates

03 May 2019 – Deadline for abstract submission

31 May 2019 – Announcement of abstract decisions

17-19 October 2019 – RSD8 Symposium at IIT-Institute of Design, Chicago


E pjones@ocadu.ca
T 416.799.8799

The Human Network

Complexity Digest

It discusses how a handful of simple and quantifiable features of human networks yield enormous insight into why we behave the way we do.   Two threads are interwoven: why human networks have special features, and how those features determine our power, opinions, opportunities, behaviors, and accomplishments.  Some of the topics included are:  the different ways in which a person’s position in a network determines their influence;  which systematic errors we make when forming opinions based on what we learn from our friends; how financial contagions work and why are they different from the spread of a flu; how splits in our social networks feed inequality, immobility, and polarization; and how network patterns of trade and globalization are changing international conflict and wars.
The book is non-technical, with no equations but many pictures, and is full of rich examples and…

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infed.org | Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning

Source: infed.org | Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning


Picture: Double loop learning by Boris Drenec. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.

Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning. The work of Chris Argyris (1923-2013) has influenced thinking about the relationship of people and organizations, organizational learning and action research. Here we examine some key aspects of his thinking.

contentsintroduction · life · theories of action: theory in use and espoused theory · single-loop and double-loop learning · model I and model II · organizational learning · conclusion · further reading and references · links · cite

Chris Argyris has made a significant contribution to the development of our appreciation of organizational learning, and, almost in passing, deepened our understanding of experiential learning. On this page we examine the significance of the models he developed with Donald Schön of single-loop and double-loop learning, and how these translate into contrasting models of organizational learning systems.


Chris Argyris was born in Newark, New Jersey on July 16, 1923 and grew up in Irvington, New Jersey. During the Second World War he joined the Signal Corps in the U.S. Army eventually becoming a Second Lieutenant (Elkjaer 2000). He went to university at Clark, where he came into contact with Kurt Lewin (Lewin had begun the Research Center for Group Dynamics at M.I.T.). He graduated with a degree in Psychology (1947). He went on to gain an MA in Psychology and Economics from Kansas University (1949), and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Cornell University (he was supervised by William F. Whyte) in 1951. In a distinguished career Chris Argyris has been a faculty member at Yale University (1951-1971) where he served as the Beach Professor of Administrative Science and Chairperson of the department; and the James Bryant Conant Professor of Education and Organizational Behavior at Harvard University (1971- ). As well as making a significant contribution to the literature Chris Argyris was known as a dedicated and committed teacher. Argyris was also a director of the Monitor Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Chris Argyris enjoyed the outdoors – and, in particular hiking (especially in the mountains of New Hampshire and across New England). He is reported as saying that his best thinking was done while taking long walks (which he did daily upto a year before his death). He died peacefully surrounded by his family, on Saturday, November 16, 2013 (Boston Globe 2013).

Chris Argyris’ early research explored the impact of formal organizational structures, control systems, and management on individuals (and how they responded and adapted to them). This research resulted in the books Personality and Organization (1957) and Integrating the Individual and the Organization (1964). He then shifted his focus to organizational change, in particular exploring the behaviour of senior executives in organizations (Interpersonal Competence and Organizational Effectiveness, 1962; Organization and Innovation, 1965). From there he moved onto a particularly fruitful inquiry into the role of the social scientist as both researcher and actor (Intervention Theory and Method, 1970; Inner Contradictions of Rigorous Research, 1980 and Action Science, 1985 – with Robert Putnam and Diana McLain Smith). Much of the focus on this page lies with his fourth major area of research and theorizing – in significant part undertaken with Donald Schön – around individual and organizational learning. Here the interest lies in the extent to which human reasoning, not just behaviour, can become the basis for diagnosis and action (Theory in Practice, 1974 ; Organizational Learning, 1978; Organizational Learning II, 1996 – all with Donald Schön). He has also developed this thinking in Overcoming Organizational Defenses (1990), Knowledge for Action (1993).

As well as writing and researching, Chris Argyris has been an influential teacher. This is how Peter Senge (1990: 182-3) talks about his own experience of Argyris as a teacher.

Despite having read much of his writing, I was unprepared for what I learned when I first saw Chris Argyris practice his approach in an informal workshop… Ostensibly an academic presentation of Argyris’s methods, it quickly evolved into a powerful demonstration of what action science practitioners call ‘reflection in action’…. Within a matter of minutes, I watched the level of alertness and ‘presentness’ of the entire group rise ten notches – thanks not so much to Argyris’s personal charisma, but to his skilful practice of drawing out… generalizations. As the afternoon moved on, all of us were led to see (sometimes for he first time in our lives) subtle patterns of reasoning which underlay our behaviour; and how those patterns continually got us into trouble. I had never had such a dramatic demonstration of own mental models in action… But even more interesting, it became clear that, with proper training, I could become much more aware of my mental models and how they operated. This was exciting.

The ability, demonstrated here, to engage with others, to make links with the general and the particular, and to explore basic orientations and values is just what Argyris talks about when exploring the sorts of behaviours and beliefs that are necessary if organizations are to learn and develop.

Theories of action: theory in use and espoused theory

Our starting point is Argyris and Schön’s (1974) argument that people have mental maps with regard to how to act in situations. This involves the way they plan, implement and review their actions. Furthermore, they assert that it is these maps that guide people’s actions rather than the theories they explicitly espouse. What is more, fewer people are aware of the maps or theories they do use (Argyris, 1980). One way of making sense of this is to say that there is split between theory and action. However, Argyris and Schön suggest that two theories of action are involved.

The notion of a theory of action can be seen as growing out of earlier research by Chris Argyris into the relationships between individuals and organizations (Argyris 1957, 1962, 1964). A theory of action is first a theory: ‘its most general properties are properties that all theories share, and the most general criteria that apply to it – such as generality, centrality and simplicity – are criteria applied to all theories’ (Argyris and Schön 1974: 4). The distinction made between the two contrasting theories of action is between those theories that are implicit in what we do as practitioners and managers, and those on which we call to speak of our actions to others. The former can be described as theories-in-use. They govern actual behaviour and tend to be tacit structures. Their relation to action ‘is like the relation of grammar-in-use to speech; they contain assumptions about self, others and environment – these assumptions constitute a microcosm of science in everyday life’ (Argyris & Schön 1974: 30). The words we use to convey what we, do or what we would like others to think we do, can then be called espoused theory.

When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use. (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7)

Making this distinction allows us to ask questions about the extent to which behaviour fits espoused theory; and whether inner feelings become expressed in actions. In other words, is there congruence between the two? Argyris (1980) makes the case that effectiveness results from developing congruence between theory-in-use and espoused theory. For example, in explaining our actions to a colleague we may call upon some convenient piece of theory. We might explain our sudden rush out of the office to others, or even to ourselves at some level, by saying that a ‘crisis’ had arisen with one of ‘our’ clients. The theory-in-use might be quite different. We may have become bored and tired by the paper work or meeting and felt that a quick trip out to an apparently difficult situation would bring welcome relief. A key role of reflection, we could argue, is to reveal the theory-in-use and to explore the nature of the ‘fit’. Much of the business of supervision, where it is focused on the practitioner’s thoughts, feelings and actions, is concerned with the gulf between espoused theory and theory-in-use or in bringing the later to the surface. This gulf is no bad thing. If it gets too wide then there is clearly a difficulty. But provided the two remain connected then the gap creates a dynamic for reflection and for dialogue.

To fully appreciate theory-in-use we require a model of the processes involved. To this end Argyris and Schön (1974) initially looked to three elements:

Governing variables: those dimensions that people are trying to keep within acceptable limits. Any action is likely to impact upon a number of such variables – thus any situation can trigger a trade-off among governing variables.

Action strategies: the moves and plans used by people to keep their governing values within the acceptable range.

Consequences: what happens as a result of an action. These can be both intended – those actor believe will result – and unintended. In addition those consequences can be for the self, and/or for others. (Anderson 1997)

Where the consequences of the strategy used are what the person wanted, then the theory-in-use is confirmed. This is because there is a match between intention and outcome. There may be a mismatch between intention and outcome. In other words, the consequences may be unintended. They may also not match, or work against, the person’s governing values. Argyris and Schön suggest two responses to this mismatch, and these are can be seen in the notion of single and double-loop learning.

Single-loop and double-loop learning

For Argyris and Schön (1978: 2) learning involves the detection and correction of error. Where something goes wrong, it is suggested, an initial port of call for many people is to look for another strategy that will address and work within the governing variables. In other words, given or chosen goals, values, plans and rules are operationalized rather than questioned. According to Argyris and Schön (1974), this is single-loop learning. An alternative response is to question to governing variables themselves, to subject them to critical scrutiny. This they describe as double-loop learning. Such learning may then lead to an alteration in the governing variables and, thus, a shift in the way in which strategies and consequences are framed. Thus, when they came to explore the nature of organizational learning. This is how Argyris and Schön (1978: 2-3) described the process in the context of organizational learning:

When the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its presents objectives, then that error-and-correction process is single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is like a thermostat that learns when it is too hot or too cold and turns the heat on or off. The thermostat can perform this task because it can receive information (the temperature of the room) and take corrective action. Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.

Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values, frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted. The emphasis is on ‘techniques and making techniques more efficient’ (Usher and Bryant: 1989: 87) Any reflection is directed toward making the strategy more effective. Double-loop learning, in contrast, ‘involves questioning the role of the framing and learning systems which underlie actual goals and strategies (op. cit.). In many respects the distinction at work here is the one used by Aristotle, when exploringtechnical andpractical thought. The former involves following routines and some sort of preset plan – and is both less risky for the individual and the organization, and affords greater control. The latter is more creative and reflexive, and involves consideration notions of the good. Reflection here is more fundamental: the basic assumptions behind ideas or policies are confronted… hypotheses are publicly tested… processes are disconfirmable not self-seeking (Argyris 1982: 103-4).

The focus of much of Chris Argyris’ intervention research has been to explore how organizations may increase their capacity for double-loop learning. He argues that double-loop learning is necessary if practitioners and organizations are to make informed decisions in rapidly changing and often uncertain contexts (Argyris 1974; 1982; 1990). As Edmondson and Moingeon (1999:160) put it:

The underlying theory, supported by years of empirical research, is that the reasoning processes employed by individuals in organizations inhibit the exchange of relevant information in ways that make double-loop learning difficult – and all but impossible in situations in which much is at stake. This creates a dilemma as these are the very organizational situations in which double-loop learning is most needed.

The next step that Argyris and Schön take is to set up two models that describe features of theories-in-use that either inhibit or enhance double-loop learning. The belief is that all people utilize a common theory-in-use in problematic situations. This they describe as Model I – and it can be said to inhibit double-loop learning. Model II is where the governing values associated with theories-in-use enhance double-loop learning.

Model I and Model II

Argyris has claimed that just about all the participants in his studies operated from theories-in-use or values consistent with Model I (Argyris et al. 1985: 89). It involves ‘making inferences about another person’s behaviour without checking whether they are valid and advocating one’s own views abstractly without explaining or illustrating one’s reasoning’ (Edmondson and Moingeon 1999:161). The theories-in-use are shaped by an implicit disposition to winning (and to avoid embarrassment). The primary action strategy looks to the unilateral control of the environment and task plus the unilateral protection of self and others. As such Model I leads to often deeply entrenched defensive routines (Argyris 1990; 1993) – and these can operate at individual, group and organizational levels. Exposing actions, thoughts and feelings can make people vulnerable to the reaction of others. However, the assertion that Model I is predominantly defensive has a further consequence:

Acting defensively can be viewed as moving away from something, usually some truth about ourselves. If our actions are driven by moving away from something then our actions are controlled and defined by whatever it is we are moving away from, not by us and what we would like to be moving towards. Therefore our potential for growth and learning is seriously impaired. If my behaviour is driven by my not wanting to be seen as incompetent, this may lead me to hide things from myself and others, in order to avoid feelings of incompetence. For example, if my behaviour is driven by wanting to be competent, honest evaluation of my behaviour by myself and others would be welcome and useful. (Anderson 1997)

It is only by interrogating and changing the governing values, the argument goes, is it possible to produce new action strategies that can address changing circumstances.

Chris Argyris looks to move people from a Model I to a Model II orientation and practice – one that fosters double-loop learning. He suggests that most people, when asked, will espouse Model II. As Anderson (1997) has commented, Argyris offers no reason why most people espouse Model II. In addition, we need to note that the vast bulk of research around the models has been undertaken by Argyris or his associates.

Exhibit 1: Model I theory-in-use characteristics

The governing Values of Model I are:

Achieve the purpose as the actor defines it

Win, do not lose

Suppress negative feelings

Emphasize rationality

Primary Strategies are:

Control environment and task unilaterally

Protect self and others unilaterally

Usually operationalized by:

Unillustrated attributions and evaluations e.g.. “You seem unmotivated”

Advocating courses of action which discourage inquiry e.g.. “Lets not talk about the past, that’s over.”

Treating ones’ own views as obviously correct

Making covert attributions and evaluations

Face-saving moves such as leaving potentially embarrassing facts unstated

Consequences include:

Defensive relationships

Low freedom of choice

Reduced production of valid information

Little public testing of ideas

Taken from Argyris, Putnam & McLain Smith (1985, p. 89)


The significant features of Model II include the ability to call upon good quality data and to make inferences. It looks to include the views and experiences of participants rather than seeking to impose a view upon the situation. Theories should be made explicit and tested, positions should be reasoned and open to exploration by others. In other words, Model II can be seen as dialogical – and more likely to be found in settings and organizations that look toshared leadership. It looks to:

Emphasize common goals and mutual influence.

Encourage open communication, and to publicly test assumptions and beliefs.

Combine advocacy with inquiry (Argyris and Schön 1996; Bolman and Deal 1997: 147-8).

We can see these in the table below.


Exhibit 2: Model II characteristics

The governing values of Model II include:

Valid information

Free and informed choice

Internal commitment

Strategies include:

Sharing control

Participation in design and implementation of action

Operationalized by:

Attribution and evaluation illustrated with relatively directly observable data

Surfacing conflicting view

Encouraging public testing of evaluations

Consequences should include:

Minimally defensive relationships

High freedom of choice

Increased likelihood of double-loop learning

Taken from Anderson 1997

As Edmondson and Moingeon (1999:162) comment, employing Model II in difficult interpersonal interactions ‘requires profound attentiveness and skill for human beings socialized in a Model I world’. While they are not being asked to relinquish control altogether, they do need to share that control.

Organizational learning

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön suggest that each member of an organization constructs his or her own representation or image of the theory-in-use of the whole (1978: 16). The picture is always incomplete – and people, thus, are continually working to add pieces and to get a view of the whole. They need to know their place in the organization, it is argued.

An organization is like an organism each of whose cells contains a particular, partial, changing image if itself in relation to the whole. And like such an organism, the organization’s practice stems from those very images. Organization is an artifact of individual ways of representing organization.

Hence, our inquiry into organizational learning must concern itself not with static entities called organizations, but with an active process of organizing which is, at root, a cognitive enterprise. Individual members are continually engaged in attempting to know the organization, and to know themselves in the context of the organization. At the same time, their continuing efforts to know and to test their knowledge represent the object of their inquiry. Organizing is reflexive inquiry….

[Members] require external references. There must be public representations of organizational theory-in-use to which individuals can refer. This is the function of organizational maps. These are the shared descriptions of the organization which individuals jointly construct and use to guide their own inquiry….

Organizational theory-in-use, continually constructed through individual inquiry, is encoded in private images and in public maps. These are the media of organizational learning. (Argyris and Schön 1978: 16-17)

With this set of moves we can see how Chris Argyris and Donald Schön connect up the individual world of the worker and practitioner with the world of organization. Their focus is much more strongly on individual and group interactions and defenses than upon systems and structures (we could contrast their position with that of Peter Senge 1990, for example). By looking at the way that people jointly construct maps it is then possible to talk about organizational learning (involving the detection and correction of error) and organizational theory-in-use. For organizational learning to occur, ‘learning agents’, discoveries, inventions, and evaluations must be embedded in organizational memory’ (Argyris and Schön 1978: 19). If it is not encoded in the images that individuals have, and the maps they construct with others, then ‘the individual will have learned but the organization will not have done so’ (op. cit.).

In this organizational schema single-loop learning is characterized as when, ‘members of the organization respond to changes in the internal and external environment of the organization by detecting errors which they then correct so as to maintain the central features of theory-in-use’ (ibid.: 18). Double-loop learning then becomes:

… those sorts of organizational inquiry which resolve incompatible organizational norms by setting new priorities and weightings of norms, or by restructuring the norms themselves together with associated strategies and assumptions. (Argyris and Schön 1978: 18)

The next step is to argue that individuals using Model I create Organizational I (O-I) learning systems. These are characterized by ‘defensiveness, self-fulfilling prophecies, self-fuelling processes, and escalating error’ (Argyris 1982: 8). O-I systems involve a web of feedback loops that ‘make organizational assumptions and behavioural routines self-reinforcing – inhibiting “detection and correction of error” and giving rise to mistrust, defensiveness and self-fulfilling prophecy’ (Edmondson and Moingeon 1999:161). In other words, if individuals in an organization make use of Model I learning the organization itself can begin to function in ways that act against its long-term interests. Indeed, in a very real sense systems can begin to malfunction. As Argyris and Schön (1996: 28) put it, ‘The actions we take to promote productive organizational learning actually inhibit deeper learning’. The challenge is, then, to create a rare phenomenon – an Organizational II (O-II) learning system.

Here we come to the focus of organizational effort – the formulation and implementation of an intervention strategy. This, according to Argyris and Schön (1978: 220-1) involves the ‘interventionist’ in moving through six phases of work:


Phase 1 Mapping the problem as clients see it. This includes the factors and relationships that define the problem, and the relationship with the living systems of the organization.
Phase 2 The internalization of the map by clients. Through inquiry and confrontation the interventionists work with clients to develop a map for which clients can accept responsibility. However, it also needs to be comprehensive.
Phase 3 Test the model. This involves looking at what ‘testable predictions’ can be derived from the map – and looking to practice and history to see if the predictions stand up. If they do not, the map has to be modified.
Phase 4 Invent solutions to the problem and simulate them to explore their possible impact.
Phase 5 Produce the intervention.
Phase 6 Study the impact. This allows for the correction of errors as well as generating knowledge for future designs. If things work well under the conditions specified by the model, then the map is not disconfirmed.


By running through this sequence and attending to key criteria suggested by Model II, it is argued, organizational development is possible. The process entails looking for the maximum participation of clients, minimizing the risks of candid participation, starting where people want to begin (often with instrumental problems), and designing methods so that they value rationality and honesty.


How are we to evaluate these models and line of argument? First, we can say that while there has been a growing research base concerning the models and interventionist strategy, it is still limited – and people sympathetic to the approach have largely undertaken it. However, asPeter Senge’s experience (recounted at the top of the page) demonstrates, the process and the focus on reflection-in-action does appear to bear fruit in terms of people’s connection with the exercise and their readiness to explore personal and organizational questions.

Second, it is assumed that ‘good’ learning ‘takes place in a climate of openness where political behaviour is minimized’ (Easterby-Smith and Araujo 1999: 13). This is an assumption that can be questioned. It could be argued that organizations are inherently political – and that it is important to recognize this. Organizations can be seen as coalitions of various individuals and interest groups. ‘Organizational goals, structure and policies emerge from an ongoing process of bargaining and negotiation among major interest groups’ Bolman and Deal 1997: 175). Thus, perhaps we need to develop theory that looks to the political nature of structures, knowledge and information. Here we might profitably look to games theory, the contribution of partisan and political institutions (Beem 1999) and an exploration of how managers can make explicit, and work with, political processes (Coopey 1998). Perhaps the aim should be ‘to incorporate politics into organizational learning, rather than to eradicate it’ (Easterby-Smith and Araujo 1999: 13).

Third, and this might be my prejudice, I think we need to be distrustful of bipolar models like Model I and Model II. They tend to set up an ‘either-or’ orientation. They are useful as teaching or sensitizing devices, alerting us to different and important aspects of organizational life, but the area between the models (and beyond them) might well yield interesting alternatives.

Fourth, the interventionist strategy is staged or phased – and this does bring with it some problems. Why should things operate in this order. Significantly, this does highlight a tension between Argyris’s orientation and that of Schön (1983). Schön in his later work on reflection-in-action draws on his pragmatist heritage (and especially the work of Dewey) and presents the making of theory-in-action and the expression of professional artistry in a far less linear fashion. Rather than there being phases, we could argue that intervention of this kind involves a number of elements or dimensions working at once.

This said, the theorizing of theory-in-action, the educative power of the models, and the conceptualization of organizational learning have been, and continue to be, significant contributions to our appreciation of processes in organizations. The notion of ‘double-loop learning’ does help us to approach some of the more taken-for-granted aspects of organizations and experiences. It provides us with a way of naming a phenomenon (and problem), and a possible way of ‘learning our way out’ (Finger and Asún 2000). Argyris and Schön have made a significant contribution to pragmatic learning theory (following in the line of Dewey 1933; Lewin 1948, 1951; and Kolb 1984). First, by introducing the term ‘theory’ or ‘theory in action’, ‘they provide the function of abstract conceptualization (see experiential learning) ‘more structure and more coherence’ (Finger and Asún 2000: 45). Abstract conceptualization ‘becomes something one can analyze and work from’ (op. cit.). Second, through the notion of ‘learning-in-action’ Argyris and Schön rework the experiential learning cycle.

Unlike Dewey’s, Lewin’s or Kolb’s learning cycle, where one had, so to speak, to make a mistake and reflect upon it – that is, learn by trial and error – it is now possible thanks to Argyris and Schön’s conceptualization, to learn by simply reflecting critically upon the theory-in-action. In other words, it is no longer necessary to go through the entire learning circle in order to develop the theory further. It is sufficient to readjust the theory through double-loop learning. (Finger and Asún 2000: 45-6)

This is a very significant development and has important implications for educators. In theexperiential learning model of Kolb (1984) the educator is in essence a facilitator of a person’s learning cycle. To this role can be added that of teacher, coach or mentor, the person who ‘helps individuals (managers, professionals, workers) to reflect upon their theories-in-action’ (Finger and Asún 2000: 46). It is a significant development – but it has gone largely unnoticed in the adult education and lifelong learning fields. This is a result, in part, of rather blinkered reading by professionals and academics within that area, and because Argyris and Schön did not address, to any significant degree, the arena directly (Argyris’s continued to focus on organization and management, and Schön’s on professional thinking).

Further reading and references

Argyris, M. and Schön, D. (1974) Theory in Practice. Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Landmark statement of ‘double-loop’ learning’ and distinction between espoused theory and theory-in-action.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C., Putnam, R., & McLain Smith, D (1985) Action ScienceConcepts, methods, and skills for research and intervention, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [The entire book is available for download from: Action Design: http://www.actiondesign.com/action_science/index.htm].

Argyris, C. (1993) Knowledge for Action. A guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


Anderson, L. (1997) Argyris and Schön’s theory on congruence and learning [On line]. Available at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/argyris.html.

Argyris, C. (1957) Personality and Organization, New York: Harper Collins.

Argyris, C. (1962) Interpersonal Competence and Organizational Effectiveness, Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press.

Argyris, C. (1964) Integrating the Individual and the Organization, New York: Wiley.

Argyris, C. (1965) Organization and Innovation, Homewood, Ill. : R. D. Irwin.

Argyris, C. (1970) Intervention Theory and Method: A behavioral science view, Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C. (1974) Behind the front page, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Argyris, C. (1976) Increasing leadership effectiveness, New York: Wiley-Interscience.

Argyris, C. (1980) Inner contradictions of rigorous research, New York: Academic Press.

Argyris, C. (1982) Reasoning, learning, and action: Individual and organizational, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Argyris, C. (1985) Strategy, change & defensive routines, Boston: Pitman.

Argyris, C. (1985) Action ScienceConcepts, methods, and skills for research and intervention, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Argyris, C. (1987) Reasoning, action strategies, and defensive routines: The case of OD practitioners, in Woodman, R. A. & Pasmore, A.A. (eds.), Research in organizational change and developmentVolume 1, Greenwich: JAI Press.

Argyris, C. (1990) Overcoming Organizational Defenses. Facilitating organizational learning, Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Argyris, C. (1991) Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review, May-June.

Argyris, C. (1993) Knowledge for Action. A guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1974) Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1996) Organizational learning II: Theory, method and practice, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C., Putnam, R., & McLain Smith, D. (1985) Action science: concepts, methods, and skills for research and intervention, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Beem, C. (1999) The Necessity of Politics. Reclaiming American public life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boston Globe (2013). Chris Argyris – Obituary. Boston Globe. November 18 [http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=chris-argyris&pid=168078121&fhid=15200]

Bulman, L. G. and Deal, T. E. (1997) Reframing Organizations. Artistry, choice and leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

.Coopey, J. (1998) ‘Learning to trust and trusting to learn: a role for radical theatre’ Management Learning 29(3): 365-82.

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process (Revised edn.), Boston: D. C. Heath.

Easterby-Smith, M. and Araujo, L. ‘Current debates and opportunities’ in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Edmondson, A. and Moingeon, B. (1999) ‘Learning, trust and organizational change’ in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Finger, M. and Asún, M. (2000) Adult Education at the Crossroads. Learning our way out, London: Zed Books.

Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning. Experience as the source of learning and development, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Lewin, K. (1948) Resolving Social Conflicts. Selected papers on group dynamics, New York: Harper and Row.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, New York: Harper and Row.

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House.

Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. How professionals think in action, London: Temple Smith.

Usher, R. and Bryant, I. (1989) Adult Education as Theory, Practice and Research, London: Routledge.


An interview with Chris Argyris – includes discussion of model I and model II organizations. (from Thought Leaders)

Action Science Network – includes an outline of action science (and model I and model II) and a detailed bibliography of Argyris¢¢ work.

Chris Argyris – useful, short biography by Bente Elkjaer

Chris Argyris – brief biography from Harvard Business Review.

Good communication that blocks learning – article by Argyris for Harvard Business Review, 1994

Motivation Theory article reviewing Argyris’ concern with increasing interpersonal competence.

Chris Argyris – Page from the Monitor Group (where Argyris is a director) with links to some of his publications.

Acknowledgements: Picture: Double loop learning by Boris Drenec. Sourced from Flickr and reproduced under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence. http://www.flickr.com/photos/_boris/2818214746/.

How to cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2001, 2013). ‘Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/chris-argyris-theories-of-action-double-loop-learning-and-organizational-learning/. Retrieved: insert date]

© Mark K. Smith 2001, 2013

Kevin Kelly: The Nine Laws of God – The Corner


Source: Kevin Kelly: The Nine Laws of God – The Corner