To contribute to any of these, please see the details at the end of this newsletter.
Message from the President
Registration closes 15 March
ISSS2023, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Two weeks before registration closes for the 2023 ISSS conference in the Kruger Park. Two weeks of distributing messages, calling up friends and answering lots of queries.
Over the past weeks of putting together the programme content of the conference, I again realised how exciting our systems discipline is. The people working in the traditional silos around me are amazed by the “lack of coherency” of the conference I’m organising. But when I look at the programme, I see a plan coming together beautifully: people of different professions reflecting on their systems practice.
In this newsletter, we feature our keynote speakers, also to showcase our unity in diversity. At ISSS2023 you will experience a festival true to the nature of South Africa: from African collectivism to corporate change management. From stories of practice, from Morocco, Ethiopia, and the border of the Kruger Park itself, to reflection on our systems practice as a profession. From health and entrepreneurship to leadership, we provide something interesting to everyone. The beauty of it all is that we as systems practitioners look beyond the disciplinary boundaries created by educational systems. Whether we come to the Kruger Park from Brazil, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, or New Zealand we are brought together by our passion for looking beyond traditional systemic boundaries. Come and celebrate our systems sciences in the Kruger Park. The programme itself matches the spectacular venue.
We created a one-page PDF document to be distributed in your networks. Registration is ongoing until 15 March 2023 and we still have accommodation available. Please distribute the message about our conference in your networks.
International Society for the Systems Sciences, 67th Annual Conference.
REGISTRATION CLOSES 15 MARCH!
In addition to the speakers we featured last month, we now add the following keynote speakers:
Professor Vhonani Olive Netshandama
Professor Vhonani Olive Netshandama has over 10 years’ experience as a Director for Community Engagement at the University of Venda. She holds a PhD in Nursing Education from the University of Johannesburg. She is the 2016 distinguished women in science, awarded by the Department of Science and Innovation. For over 2 decades, Professor Netshandama has been a lead partner of Sustainable learning environments and other related projects in Education, IKS and Public Health.
A decolonial community based participatory researcher with an interest in engaged scholarship, Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS), as well as social entrepreneurship learning, research, and innovation, she is active in transdisciplinary post graduate supervision where she insists on innovative impactful participatory design research. Vhonani an experienced multiple stakeholder facilitator of co-learning and reflective processes. She has mentored hundreds of students doing community-based work at both undergraduate and post graduate levels. An MiT Innovation leadership bootcamp alumnus, Vhonani has recently launched a collaborative short Social Entrepreneurship course for students, unemployed graduates and communities.
Prof Rachel Tsakani Lebese
Professor Rachel Tsakani Lebese is a Research Professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Venda. She is a licensed nurse. Her PhD was on the development of ‘A model to promote dialogue about sexual health between
teenagers and parents/teachers in Limpopo Province, South Africa’. Her research interest is rooted around culture, Ubuntu, sexual and reproductive health, applying community-engaged participatory rural appraisal to address problems identified together with the community. She has led to the completion of several research projects such as breast self-examination, the implementation of a model to promote dialogue between teenagers and parents.
Prof Lebese has over 2 decades of experience in Community Based Nursing Education. She taught undergraduate students, by applying a problem-based community-centred project-organized curriculum. The same engagement is also used for research in trying to revive Ubuntu among communities. Prof Lebese is involved in hospital boards, Ubuntu community movement, and youth ubuntu boot camps, using theatre approaches. To date, she has supervised to completion of 14 master’s and 11 PhD candidates and has published 85 articles in accredited journals.
Ubuntu’s basis is that taking care of ourselves (human beings) interacting with other human beings, and nature, or the Creator, is to be mindful of our responsibilities towards one another, and towards sustained livelihood. Her scholarly movement is about community Ubuntu, in which she maps the ubuntu ecosystem in Health Promotion. Prof Lebese is a fellow of the Albertina Sisulu SARCHi in Nursing Science. Her community-based work covers Thalamela and Greater Giyani Municipality, least 6 communities, namely Nweli, Malavuwe, Mbahe, hlaneki, Ngove and Sikhunyani. This is an interfaculty-inter-institutional, participatory, transdisciplinary multistakeholder project involving advancing co-creation of knowledge practices that should promote health and healing through the application of ubuntu principles. Professor Lebese’s presentation will focus on how ubuntu’s philosophy is being revived through the scholarship of community engagement.
Samuel (Sammy) Njenga is a Kenyan national living in South Africa.
He is a leadership and management consultant involved in areas of leadership development, change management, organisational viability, strategic alignment and organisational transformation. His interests include African perspectives on systemicity as well as how to promote workplace learning. Sammy leads Systems Thinking Africa (STA), an organisation which facilitates transformative conversations inspired by Africa philosophies (including Ubuntu, Utu and Ukama) in order to
support systems practitioners in addressing complex and messy challenges. Systems Thinking Africa recently launched STA NextGen- a youth-led initiative to teach and support young people in understanding and applying systems thinking approaches to the complex issues they face.
In seeking to build its body of research and academic base, Systems Thinking Africa also partners with other systems practitioners including Dr. Martin Reynolds of the Open University, UK.
Sammy is a senior faculty at the Henley Business School Africa where he facilitates on a number of management development programmes.
Sammy also lectures at the University of Stellenbosch Business school as well as the University of the Free State Business School. He is a student of Systems theory and Practice and has a Bachelor’s of Education (Hons), an MA in Organisational Leadership, a Master of Commerce in Organisational Management and Systems, and is currently doing a PhD through the University of the Free State Business School. He is using systems thinking approaches to look at short learning programmes in business schools and their relevance to learning in the workplace.
Suja has a passion for leadership and systems engineering and as such she is quite active in INCOSE. She is a coach at INCOSE Technical Leadership Institute since December 2020. She was a member of the INCOSE International board of directors, as Chair of the Policy Management Committee from July 2014 to December 2016. She served as the President of INCOSE South Africa from January 2017 to December 2018.
Suja provides training and consultancy services in systems engineering and leadership development to individuals and organisations through Letter27. She is also a sessional lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering and the Built
Environment at the University of the Witwatersrand delivering post-graduate courses on systems engineering.
Prior to joining Letter27, she was a course presenter at Certification Training International. She was a senior systems engineer with Garmin Stellenbosch, creating first-of-its-kind outdoor and fitness products. She led the management of software releases, including the testing, deployment, and support of new software. Her experience also includes substantial modelling and simulation, image processing, and the development of technology systems, such as battery packs for the dismounted soldier. This latter work was performed at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for the defense industry in South Africa.
She is an INCOSE Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) and a Solution-focused Brief Coach (ICF-ACSTHs training). She received her B.Sc in Electrical Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand and her M.Eng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Johannesburg.
Dr Maya Vachkova
I am part of the vibrant Politics group at the University of Exeter, where I work a Senior Lecturer in Systems Thinking and Programme Director of the Systems Thinking in the Public Sector Apprenticeship. The aim of my programme is to give access to higher education to professionals and to equip them with the skills to explore complexity and to think collectively with others while critically reflecting on boundaries. In my role as
Programme Director, I engage actively with other providers and established the Systems Thinking Providers Network, which I chair. We welcome all providers of the apprenticeship course, exchange good practices, collaborate on developing the national assessment and on ensuring the viability of the Systems Thinking Practitioner profession.
I was born in Varna, Bulgaria where I attended the First Language School and then moved on to achieve an LLM at the University of Sofia in 2011. During the Arab Spring, I worked in the human rights and refugee sector in Bulgaria on domestic violence, refugee and civil rights projects. As such, I have facilitated multiple meetings between Government agencies in Bulgaria, the UNHCR and NGOs from the refugee and human rights sector, in order to find collaborative solutions to complex social issues. I hold an MA in Peace, Conflict and Development and worked as a researcher at the University of Bradford, investigating the relationship between natural resource governance and conflict. This work brought me to the discovery of systems sciences in 2015.
In 2016, I was awarded a full scholarship from the Centre for Systems Studies at the University of Hull, where I benefited from the mentorship and guidance of Professor Gerald Midgley, Professor Yasmin Merali and Professor Gerry Johnstone. My PhD project was in systemic marginalization and identity processes, focusing on the face-veil ban in Bulgaria.
I am familiar with several methodologies for applied systems thinking, cybernetics and soft OR (the viable system model, critical systems heuristics, soft systems methodology, interactive planning, strategic assumption surfacing and testing, system dynamics – to name but a few). I’ve delivered systemic consultancies in SMEs from the Bulgarian food sector where I helped small businesses rethink their sales and distribution strategy. I participated in the first of its kind COVID-19 management evaluation project at a British NHS Trust. Additionally, I have delivered a number of other consultancies in the private sector in the States, UK and Bulgaria, reliant on multimethodology. Most importantly, I am the grateful mother of a seven-year old son called Zarry. He helps me improve my understanding and practice of systems thinking on a daily basis!
Systems practice has been a continuous theme through Gary’s life experience. He began his career as a lab technician in industrial chemistry at the age of 16, he taught himself how to write software applications in the early 80s, and then after his chemistry degree moved on to relational database systems, software development and project management. As a Project Manager, he was responsible for the delivery of telecommunications infrastructures across Europe before taking on the corporate leadership of the PM discipline. Later, Gary was recruited by Airbus to develop the discipline of technical management and worked to bridge the SE and PM disciplines. During this time with Airbus, he has had several roles as Chief Engineer and Architect of Systems Solutions.
Gary is a system junky, his passion extends beyond his professional work and into areas of personal interest to understand the nature of things, to appreciate complexity and to address the big ‘why’ questions. Since the early 2000s Gary has been applying systems thinking to topics such as cancer, inflammation, sepsis, pre-eclampsia and presented to the ISSS on this topic at their Washington conference – “Understanding disease with Systems Thinking”. When asked why he has this passion, he will talk about his parents, his uncle and grandparents, the chemistry set that he got at 14, Thunder Birds, Star Trek, Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, and a wide selection of Sci Fi books.
Working across and with several organisations and contributors, Gary has been applying systems approaches and processes to integrate system science, systems thinking and systems practice. This effort has included co-leadership of two IFSR conversations “Unity in diversity” and “What is System Science?” When asked why he does this stuff, “well, it’s what I have to do, it’s who I am”.
For more information you can connect with him on Linkedin:
We feature selected tracks at the conference in the newsletters leading to the conference
The Embodied Professional: systemic beings in motion
We are systemic beings as much as we are systems thinkers and practitioners. Professional practice demands that we include our embodied selves in the systems we seek to change, not just our minds. This track investigates the creation of an arch of inquiry into the potential of embodied practices to deepen our connection with our systemic sensibility and strengthen our use of our embodied self in professional practice.
There are many levels at which we can integrate the use of our embodied selves as integral to our systemic being on this planet. We can use our intuitive sense of interconnectedness to discern how to engage in complex situations, we can harness our emotional responses as feedback loops for delving deeper into inquiry using scaffolded methods of inquiry.
We can also use our embodied presence to access awe and life-sustaining collective intelligence as much as bear witness to suffering in the world. Practicing awareness of what is going on in the wider environment is a core competence of systemic practice. How can we harness this to include regard for all sentient beings and take pragmatic actions that lead us towards ethical action, with greater confidence into an emerging future?
March Mini Symposia: Systems Practice
In March we start to move towards our conference theme with sessions focusing on systems practice. Please see the ISSS calendar for detail on starting times and links. Our first session is on Wednesday and then we revert back to Saturdays.
Wednesday 1 March: Open Mic
Panel discussion on the work of Shann Turnbull. Gary Smith and Roelien Goede will ask Shann questions on his work: Establishing the Science, Architecture, Practices and Art of Self-governance: Based on Biomimicry.
Bruce McNaughton: “A Systems and Cybernetics View of a Living Social System, from a Practitioner Perspective”
This short talk introduces the Living Social System concept Fritjof Capra introduces in his book, “The Systems View of Life”. This has influenced my ability to describe how teams and organizations work as living systems. I will use a systems approach to describe the structure, behaviour and properties of these types of systems. I will share how the model can be used to see / experience living social systems.
Saturday 4 March:
Forging Networks of Resilience and Progress in the Global South
We live in extraordinary times. In spite of more than 500 years of genocide, ethnocide, and myriad forms of slavery, repression, and subjugation, peoples across the Global South continue to resist their integration into the folds of the world marketplace and the homogenization imposed by the system of nation-states. In Mexico, our group has been collaborating with communities experimenting with strategies to assert their autonomy by strengthening their capacity for governing themselves and reorganizing their social and productive systems to better assure their quality of life while caring for their territory and defending it from destructive external forces. Like communities around the world, they are guided underlying cosmogonies whose origins can be traced back into the distant past, belief systems and traditions that contribute to a valuable font of knowledge and understandings that now place them at the forefront of the forces capable of offering pathways to confront the multiple economic, social, and environmental crises facing humanity.
David Barkin holds a PhD in Economics from Yale University and is Distinguished Professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Xochimilco Campus in Mexico City. He collaborated in the founding of the Ecodevelopment Center in 1974. He received the National Prize for Political Economy in 1979. He is a member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences and an Emeritus member of the National Research Council. He collaborates with indigenous and peasant communities to promote the sustainable management of regional resources. Many of these communities are engaged in activities to develop new institutions, advancing towards the construction of post-capitalist societies by fostering new forms of coexistence and alternatives to development to move towards a world of 'good living'. He is recognized for his theory of Radical Ecological Economics, developed during the past 20 years. In 2016, he received an award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany) for research related to climate change. His latest books (in Spanish) are: 'From Protest to Proposal: 50 years imagining and building the future' (Siglo XXI, 2018) and 'The Environmental Tragedy in Latin America and the Caribbean' (ECLAC, 2020, with 20 Latin American colleagues).
Saturday 11 March:
Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Systems Practice
Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) was a pioneer in the theory and practice of integration, both in the public realm (democracy) and in the organizational realm (management, leadership, and conflict resolution). She is credited as author of the concept of “win-win” solutions and emphasized mutual, on-going creativity as the essence of any modern society or organization that would thrive. The renowned management consultant Peter Drucker is said to have referred to Follett as his “guru.” While recognition of Follett’s remarkable insight has been growing in recent decades, she remains to a large extent a gem yet to be discovered. We will review Follett’s key ideas and how she sought to put them into practice, discuss the value of her ideas to today’s challenges, and explore how she exemplified systems thinking and systems practice before most others in the modern era.
Matthew Shapiro is an evolutionary activist, writer, educator, and entrepreneur. He has been involved with systems thinking and practice for nearly three decades, with a particular focus on General Evolution Theory, also known as Evolutionary Systems Theory. His grassroots work has focused on fostering the capacities for dialogue, democracy, and participatory design. The late systems pioneer Bela H. Banathy was a key influence and early collaborator in this endeavor. Matthew’s interests and activities have spanned diverse arenas, from neighborhood organization to educational transformation to metaphysics. He is the author of a variety of books and articles, and recently completed a work titled Early Voices of Conscious Evolution—an anthology comprising more than 120 passages from more than 100 thinkers and actors of the Industrial and Progressive Eras evidencing a major shift in consciousness and the beginning of a new evolutionary era on earth.
Matthew has a BA in Elementary Education and was “All-But-Dissertation” in the doctoral program in curriculum and instruction at Boise State University. He co-founded a progressive charter school and taught its middle school group for two years. A true polymath, in parallel with the above streams Matthew has been involved in renewable energy development since the 1990s. Since 2019 he has led the development of new pumped hydro energy storage projects in the US through his firm rPlus Hydro.
Saturday 18 March:
Systemic Leadership and How High-Impact Organizations Create Transformative Cultures that Deliver Extraordinary Customer Value
The Gallup organization has calculated that the lack of employee engagement worldwide costs employers $7 Trillion annually. Or nearly the combined economies of Germany and Japan. In the U.S., 67% of all employees are either nonengaged or actively sabotaging their employers. Worldwide, this number is 87%. While the economic cost of this disengagement is extraordinary, its impact on human flourishing through meaningful work is staggering.
In contrast, high-impact organizations reverse these numbers and 1) create a transformative workplace experience for employees and 2) deliver extraordinary customer value. This presentation will demonstrate that these high-impact organizations approach the practice of leadership systemically, frequently without understanding the value of systems thinking. In doing so, they abandon the traditional approach to leadership as the action of an individual exerting personal influence downward into the lower reaches of the organization (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007). In its place, they design a value-creating leadership system. The result is that they can harness the power of a system to create a sustainable leadership culture and transformative organizations.
A case study: Virginia Mason Medical Center, frequently recognized as one of the safest hospitals in America.
Daniel B Edds, MBA is the author of, Leveraging the Genetics of Leadership, cracking the code of sustainable team performance. This is the first book that documents through case studies and interviews with key leaders in healthcare, manufacturing, education, small business, and the U.S. Military on how to build high-impact organizations with systems design and thinking. Beginning with a systemic approach to leadership, these unique organizations are generating value greater than their size would indicate is possible. By removing personality from leadership and replacing it with an integrated leadership system, organizations of any size can transform their workplace and deliver unparalleled customer value.
Saturday 25 March:
The nature of health and disease, a fantastic voyage
In this talk Gary will be reflecting on new insights that have arisen during his engagement with the system science community over the last 10 years, undertaking a trip of discovery.
We will be exploring the nature of health and disease, cancer, pathogens, inflammation, and the immune response.
From this context we will be making explicit the architectural parallels between biosystem and human organisational pathology, health, defence, and security.
We will reflect on the COVID pandemic and how a systems approach explains how the COVID-19 virus took advantage of a chink in our defence and security processes (in our biochemistry, biosystems and in our societies).As we progress through the journey, we will be reflecting on the systems thinking necessary in the discovery process and those aspects of systemness revealed under study. In applying a systems approach and the power of analogy and paradox, new understandings and opportunities arise for enhancing the health and vitality of organisations.
Building upon previous material in the ISSS futures report, an elaboration of recommendations will be suggested for discussion based on these insights. Bio Gary Smith is a Senior Expert Systems Engineer at Airbus Defence and Space. He is their overall architect for engineering processes and provides technical leadership in the digital transformation of the division. He is an INCOSE certified Expert Systems Engineering Professional and a senior editor of the Systems Engineering Body Of Knowledge. He began his career as a lab technician in industrial chemistry at the age of 16. After his chemistry degree moved on to , software development and project management. Since the early 2000s Gary has been applying systems thinking to topics such as cancer, inflammation, sepsis, pre-eclampsia and presented to the ISSS on this topic at their Washington conference – “Understanding disease with Systems Thinking”. Working across and with several organisations and contributors, Gary has been applying systems approaches and processes to integrate system science, systems thinking and systems practice.
April Mini Symposia: Exploring Synergies
In August 2022, as the new president, I set a vision for myself and the society to explore different perspectives on systems. Personally, and collaboratively, we embarked on a journey of exploration and learning, resulting in becoming aware of a plurality of different methodologies. When listening to our mini-symposia speakers, many of us tried to make sense of how we fit the speaker’s orientation.
In the final part of my presidency, I want to explore possible synergies between the various theories and methodologies.
I hereby invite you, the ISSS member and the speakers of the earlier mini-symposia to use our April sessions (Wednesdays) organised as workshops to explore the methodologies in action. The facilitation methodology will be an implementation of the methodologies we explored.
I’m in the process of inviting our speakers of the past six months and have already commitments from some of the presenters. Finding synergy is more pragmatic when the methodology is applied to a specific situation. The situation we selected (Thanks, Yiannis Laouris, for your suggestion) is to investigate how the ISSS can expand its visibility and become more influential in addressing contemporary complex global challenges. By selecting this topic, we work on the synergy of the methods and gain benefits for the ISSS itself.
The work will start in April during the sessions. We will continue with a workshop for those present at the conference as a smaller face-to-face meeting. This group will report to the online group as work continues after the conference.
Please consider joining the group. We will have our kick-off meeting on the first Wednesday session in April. By doing this work in April, we also accommodate the Australasian members.
Recent Members Publications
Systems Research and Behavioural Science
Letter to the Editor: In search of a golden mean for systemic evaluation: A response to Michael Quinn Patton
Greetings from the Book Club! We have been quickly reading through our current book, Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta and will finish the book at our March 16 meeting. The book is both profound and entertaining and has challenged all of us to think differently about how we show up in the world. Please join us for our final discussion of this paradigm-shifting book!
In April, we will start reading Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell. Make sure you get your copy in time! Here are the reading assignments:
April 20: Chapters 1-5
May 18: Chapters 6-10
June 15: Chapters 11-14
July 20: Chapters 15-19
I hope you will join us for these engaging conversations! If you’d like to be added to the email list for the Book Club, please email Marty Jacobs at marty.ja...@gmail.com. Remember, this is a member-only benefit, so please consider joining ISSS. We would love to have your voice at the table!
Systems Science Events in March
Metaphorum Webinar Series
Jose-Carlos Mariategui. ‘CENTRO and the construction of a mathematical model for Latin -America’
I contributed this short paragraph on emergence to the new INCOSE handbook.
Emergence Emergence describes the phenomenon that whole entities exhibit properties which are meaningful only when attributed to the whole, not to its parts. Every model of human activity system exhibits properties as a whole entity that derive from its component activities and their structure, but cannot but cannot be reduced to them (Checkland 1999). Emergence is a fundamental property of all systems including non-complex systems, moderate realist systems, complex systems, systems of systems, and networked systems (Sillitto and Dori 2017). The property of emergence applies to all systems types identified by (Sillitto and Dori 2017) including constructivist and mental concepts.
According to (Rousseau, Billingham, and Calvo-Amodio 2018) emergence derives from the systems science concept of “properties the system has but the parts by themselves do not.” In systems engineering the term is sometimes used to describe properties that the system was not intended to have. However, the systems science definition is generally regarded as the most authoritative.
System elements interact between themselves and can create and can create desirable or undesirable phenomena called “emergent properties,” such as inhibition, interference, resonance, or reinforcement of any property. Many engineering disciplines include emergence as a property. For example, safety (Leveson 1995) and resilience (Rasoulkahni 2018) are examples of emergent properties of engineered systems. Definition of the architecture of the system includes an analysis of interactions between system elements in order to prevent undesirable and reinforce desirable ones.
(Calvo-Amodio and Rousseau 2019) explain how emergence applies to systems in which complexity is dominant. Complexity dominance, they say, encourages us to consider the significance of the difference between kinds of complexity and degrees of complexity systems have. Doing so enables us to use variety engineering to manage complexity accordingly.
Figure X illustrates how the interaction between parts can result in emergent properties in any kind of system. This figure illustrates the basic rules of emergence. First, individual parts cannot exhibit emergence. Second, two or more parts are required for emergence. The final rule is that emergence occurs at a level above the individual parts.
According to (Rousseau, Billingham, and Calvo-Amodio 2019), the systemic virtue of emergent property is used during architecture and design to highlight necessary derived functions and internal physical or environmental constraints. Corresponding derived requirements should be added to system requirements baseline when they impact the SOI.
Calvo-Amodio, Javier, and David Rousseau. 2019. "The Human Activity System: Emergence from Purpose, Boundaries, Relationships, and Context." Procedia Computer Science 153:91-99.
Checkland, Peter. 1999. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Leveson, Nancy. 1995. Safeware: System Safety and Computers. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley.
Rasoulkahni, Kambiz. 2018. "Resilience as an emergent property of human infrastructure dynamics; A multi-agent simulation model for characterizing regime shifts and tipping point behaviours in infrastructure systems." Plos One 13.
Rousseau, David, Julie Billingham, and Javier Calvo-Amodio. 2018. "Systemic Semantics: A Systems Approach to Building Ontologies and Concept Maps." Systems 6 (3)
Rousseau, David, Julie Billingham, and Javier Calvo-Amodio. 2019. "Systemic virtues as a foundation for a general theory of design elegance. ." Systems Research and Behavioural Science 36 (5):656-667.
Sillitto, Hillary G., and Dov Dori. 2017. "Defining 'System': A Comprehensive Approach." IS 2017, Adelaide, Australia.
CONFERENCE REGISTRATION CLOSES 15 MARCH!
Thanks to All Contributors!
Editorial Team: Roelien Goede, Michele Friend, Louise McCulloch, John Challoner