The paper departs from conventional wisdom in traffic engineering to address the issue of traffic safety from a behavioural and social science perspective. It demonstrates how traffic users can learn to improve their own understanding and behaviour, through a well-designed small-group intervention process. The approach relies on the capacity of traffic users to support each other in improving their appreciation of traffic complexities and cope with it better through a process of self-guided learning. The process involved exposing five different groups of traffic users to different versions of a multi-stage group exercise and assessing the effects over a period of time. The main findings were the following: (i) The very fact of going through one of the group exercises seems to produce some self-reported goal-fulfilment and behavioural improvement, irrespective of the actual design of the process; (ii) Group processes promoting appreciation of traffic complexity and goal setting appear to trigger self-guided learning and behavioural change. The experience strongly indicates the potential of well-designed processes in bringing about desirable improvements in traffic behaviour. However, in order to achieve any significant effect at the larger social scale, the process needs to be replicated at multiple centres, on a regular basis. Relevance: The article adopts the stance of second-order cybernetics in recognising the capacity of traffic users to support each other in improving their appreciation of traffic complexities and eventually create a safe traffic environment through a process of self-guided learning. It draws attention to a notion of “improvement” from the viewpoint of the traffic users themselves, rather than one determined externally.
Purpose: This paper sets out to provide arguments and examples supporting the idea that some “wicked” design problems may be usefully approached through the process of bringing forth a self – observing collective, i.e., a community of observers capable of generating and dynamically adjusting a collective standpoint from where new observations can be made. Design/methodology/approach – Interactions within a community of observers can be designed to generate a collective standpoint from where new observations can be made and fed back to the interacting observers, thus ensuring that the collective standpoint also extends the observers’ capacity to observe. Instances of this process are discussed to demonstrate its contribution towards dealing with some wicked design problems. Findings: The paper suggests that one’s capacity to observe, feel, reflect, communicate, and act can be systematically harnessed in a self – observing collective in order to strengthen each member in the face of complex and unstructured problem situations. However, the continued success of the process depends on the effective construction and dynamic maintenance of the collective standpoint that gives the self – observing collective its unique power. Originality/value – The paper borrows certain insights from second – order cybernetics to suggest a way of dealing with ill – structured (and wicked) design problems by facilitating a process of interaction within a community of observers who must be enabled to live with the wickedness of the problem with minimum harm. Relevance: The idea of self – observation in research is a gift from cybernetics, especially from the work of Heinz von Foerster, where the idea was central to the framework of second – order cybernetics or cybernetics of observing systems (as opposed to first – order cybernetics, which is the cybernetics of observed systems). The subject matter of the present paper deals with demonstrating the possibility of coordinating interaction of observers in a group setting so that the group itself acquires the dual status of being an observed system as well as an observing system. Such a group can generate new standpoints or schemata based on the inputs from its members, thus giving rise to new viewpoints.
Network direct selling organisations (NDSOs), for example GNLD and Avroy Shlain, exist in more than 70 countries and have more than 88 million members, who produce a global turnover of billions of US dollars annually. The most recent statistical information reveals that the vast majority of members do not earn significant income. Criticism of these organisations revolves around the ethicality of consumption, the commercialisation of personal relationships, and the exploitation of unrealistic expectations. This article summarises the theoretical developments in the study that informed it, and is based, in essence, on secondorder cybernetics as a methodology as well as a development in theory. It aims to show how communication creates networks that sustain an industry of this kind despite the improbability of its existence. The article concludes that individuals are composite unities of self-creating systems, and they co-create social systems by self-creating and co-creating meaning. Meaning is described as the continuous virtualisation and actualisation of potentialities that in turn coordinate individual and social systems’ actions. A communication process flow model is created and applied to provide a theoretical explanation for the existence of NDSOs as selfcreating systems.
Contemporary debates in social disciplines are making increasing reference to theoretical concepts such as sociocybernetics and autopoiesis (Bailey, 1983, 1997, 2001; Bopry, 2007, Brier, 2005; Geyer, 1994, 1995, 2003; Glanville, 2004; Goldspink, 2001; Hernes & Bakken, 2003; Krippendorff, 1996; Letiche, 2007; Luhmann, 1996; Mingers, 2002b; Morgan, 1998; Scott, 1996, 2001b, 2003; Smith & Higgins, 2003; Umpleby, 2005; Van der Zouwen, 1997; Von Foerster, 2003; Von Glasersfeld, 1996). It becomes apparent from these debates that certain paradigm shifts are imminent not so much as a result of new knowledge, but rather as a result of new metaphors that present alternative perspectives for interdisciplinary corroboration. Thus far, debates on revisiting cybernetic concepts have largely been conducted in other social sciences disciplines such as sociology, politics and semiology, this despite the challenges a cocreational perspective poses for communication in general and for organisational communication specifically. This paper aims to raise the debate amongst communication scholars, especially since communication scholars are conspicuously absent in the social-scientific debates within other disciplines, and we are in danger of failing to challenge our own intellectual assumptions. As such, this paper discusses and explores the appropriateness and applicability of cybernetics and autopoiesis as contemporary theoretical approaches to the study of organisations as communicatively enacted entities. It attempts to identify some of the intellectual challenges posed by extending the boundaries of our conversations beyond our recognised metaphors and concepts. The purpose of this paper is to initiate dialogue among communication scholars that may resonate with the constructivist epistemology, and which constitutes both cybernetics and postmodernism. We argue that cybernetics in its entirety poses a challenge for the study of organisations from a communication perspective. We argue, as Geyer (1995) has done, that it may be an intellectually challenging exercise to reposition the current modern and postmodern organisational metaphors within a single new emerging metaphor: the schismatic metaphor.
How is the field of systems science different from other scientific fields, and how can we distinguish the various traditions within systems science? We propose that there is a set of underlying assumptions which are generally shared within systems science but are less common in other scientific fields. Furthermore, the various traditions within systems science have adopted different combinations of these assumptions. We examine six traditions within systems science – cybernetics, operations research, general systems theory, system dynamics, total quality management, and organizational learning. We then consider eight underlying assumptions – observation, causality, reflexivity, self-organization, determinism, environment, relationships, and holism. We then assess where each tradition stands with respect to each of the underlying
Summary: Because this book has something of the storytelling of cheerful meetings, von Foerster is made more accessible to the novice; however, it does not lose any of its intellectual sharpness. Henri Atlan and Edgar Morin, in particular, greatly influenced by von Foerster and quite famous in French-speaking countries, give a helping hand to those who wish to explore their work further from the perspective of von Foerster’s vision and thoughts. And Atlan and Morin take also the credit for the fact that von Foerster has become better known in the French-speaking community. Let us a hope the book will contribute to the further spread of von Foerster’s ideas.
Context: Referring to a recent proposition by Kauffman about the “fundamental nature of circularity in cybernetics and in scientific work in general,” I try to advance this insight with the help of system scientific concepts and a computational model. Problem: Often circularity seems to be taken as a metaphor that does not provide a firm epistemological base that fosters analysis. Method: The methodology builds on mathematics, computer-based modeling, and reasoning. Results: By building on conceptual suggestions for grasping the micro-macro difference of complex systems in terms of computational power, circularity can be conceived of as an emerging macro-level phenomenon. Implications: I show that the seemingly irritating - and traditionally evaded - concept of circularity is a fundamental and ubiquitous phenomenon in complex systems that can be grasped on a firm physical basis open to computational analysis. The proposal could support constructivist reasoning and help to eventually bridge the disconcerting gap between the humanities and natural sciences. Constructivist content: Circularity is a fundamental principle in the conception of second-order cybernetics and in particular in the observation of observing systems, as suggested by von Foerster. Trying to set it up on a firm analytical basis could advance the constructivist approach and further support it in becoming the contemporary scientific epistemology it deserves to be.
Context: By proposing to regard objects as “tokens for eigenbehavior,” von Foerster’s seminal paper opposes the intuitive subject-object dualism of traditional philosophy, which considers objects to be instances of an external world Problem: We argue that this proposal has two implications, one for epistemology and one for the demarcation between the natural sciences and the humanities. Method: Our arguments are based on insights gained in computational models and from reviewing the contributions to this special issue. Results: Epistemologically, von Foerster’s proposal suggests that what is called “reality” could be seen as an ensemble of eigenforms generated by the eigenbehavior that arises in the interaction of multiple dynamics. Regarding science, the contributions to this special issue demonstrate that the concept of eigenbehavior can be applied to a variety of disciplines from the formal and natural sciences to the humanities. Its universal applicability provides a strong argument for transdisciplinarity, and its emphasis on the observer points in the direction of an observer-inclusive science. Implications: Thinking in eigenbehavior may not only have implications for tearing down the barriers between sciences and humanities (although a common methodology based on von Foerster’s transdisciplinary approach is still to crystalize), a better understanding of eigenbehaviors may also have profound effects on our understanding of ourselves. This also opens the way to innovative behavior design/modification technologies.
Context: The evolution of perceptual systems and hence of observers remains largely disconnected from the question of the emergence of classical objects and spacetime. This disconnection between the biosciences and physics impedes progress toward understanding the role of the “observer” in physical theory. Problem: In this article we consider the problem of how to understand objects and spacetime in observer-relative evolutionary terms. Method: We rely on a comparative analysis using multiple formal frameworks. Results: The eigenform construct of von Foerster is compared to other formal representations of observer-environment interactions. Eigenforms are shown to be encoded on observer-environment interfaces and to encode fitness consequences of actions. Space and time are components of observational outcomes in this framework; it is suggested that spacetime constitutes an error-correcting code for fitness consequences. Implications: Our results contribute to an understanding of the world in which neither objects nor spacetime are observer-independent. Constructivist content: The eigenform concept of von Foerster is linked to the concepts of decoherence and holographic encoding from physics and the concept of fitness from evolutionary biology.
This paper traces the changing notions of constraints in design and of systems since the mid-20th century in the intersection of design theory and systems theory. Taking a second-order cybernetic perspective, the paper develops constraints as observer dependent, and it analyzes conditions under which constraints tend to be beneficial or detrimental. Ethical implications of constraints in design processes are established with reference to system boundaries. Constraint-oriented design is discussed as an alternative to goal-oriented design, and a method called constraint reversal is introduced as a strategy of deliberate defiance of constraints to support design exploration.