systems literacy


systems literacy can help us manage messes.

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

A good working vocabulary in systems includes around 150 terms.

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

It begins with learning:

  • system, environment, boundary
  • process, transform function
  • stocks, flows, delay (lag)
  • source, sink
  • information (signal, message)
  • open-loop, closed-loop
  • goal (threshold, set-point)
  • feedback, feed-forward
  • positive feedback, negative feedback
  • reinforcing, dampening
  • viscous cycle, virtuous cycle
  • circular processes, circularity, resource cycle
  • explosion, collapse, oscillation (hunting)
  • stability, invariant organization
  • balancing, dynamic equilibrium, homeostasis
  • tragedy of the commons

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

As students progress, they learn:

  • behavior (action, task), measurement
  • range, resolution, frequency
  • sensor, comparator, actuator (effector)
  • servo-mechanism, governor
  • current state, desired state
  • error, detection, correction
  • disturbances, responses
  • controlled variable, command signal
  • control, communication
  • teleology, purpose
  • goal-directed, self-regulating
  • co-ordination, regulation
  • static, dynamic
  • first order, second order
  • essential variables
  • variety, “requisite variety
  • transformation (table)

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

More advanced students learn:

  • dissipative system
  • emergence
  • autopoiesis
  • constructivism
  • recursion
  • observer, observed
  • controller, controlled
  • agreement, (mis-)understanding
  • “an agreement over an understanding”
  • learning, conversation
  • bio-cost, bio-gain
  • back-talk
  • structure, organization
  • co-evolution, drift
  • black box
  • explanatory principle
  • “organizational closure”
  • self-reference, reflexive
  • ethical imperative
  • structural coupling
  • “consensual co-ordination of consensual co-ordination”
  • “conservation of a manner of living”

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

One course, 3 hours per week for 15 weeks is a bare minimum for a survey of systems thinking. Ideal would be three, semester-long courses

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

  1. Introduction to Systems (covering systems dynamics, regulation, and requisite variety—with readings including Capra’s new The Systems View of Life, Meadows’ Thinking in Systems, and Ashby’s An Introduction to Cybernetics);
  2. Second-Order Systems (covering observing systems, autopoiesis, learning, and ethics—with readings including Glanville’s “Second-order Cybernetics,” von Foerster’s “Ethics and Second-order Cybernetics,” and Maturana + Davila’s “Systemic and Meta Systemic Laws”); and
  3. Systems for Conversation (covering co-evolution, co-ordination, and collaboration—with readings including, Pangaro’s “What is conversation?,” Pask’s “The Limits of Togetherness,” Beer’s Decision and Control, and Maturana’s “Metadesign”).

A Systems Literacy Manifesto

person with basic systems literacy should be fluent with these patterns: resource flows and cycles; transform functions (processes); feedback loops (both positive and negative); feed-forward; requisite variety (meeting disturbances within a specified range); second-order feedback (learning systems); and goal-action trees (or webs).

1. Resources

2. Elsewhere

2.2. In the Agora

2.3. Mentions

This page last updated: 2023-03-17 Fri 16:15. Map. Recent changes. Source. Peer Production License.