Helps in analysing and mapping the parts (& interdependent relations) within any given system
The Tool's Purpose
- How might we explore complex multivalent systems, rather than analysing specific parts, taken in isolation?
- This tool offers a set of guidelines that are under development. They illustrate one particular idea of wholeness.
- This is not yet a complete system, merely an approach and a starting point.
- Western thought has long been criticised for emphasising analysis, rather than integration.
- This idea is sometimes used to explain why some professional disciplines (e.g. economics, medicine or agriculture) may appear to treat the symptoms of a difficult situation, rather than their deeper causes.
- 'Suboptimization' may (but may not) occur when local improvements lead to general failure of a larger system.
- Good intentions are sometimes compromised by specialist endeavours that fail to operate holistically.
- The fragmented (i.e. specialised) nature of the design profession is a legacy of its rapid emergence at the end of the 19th century.
- The growth of mercantile and industrial business meant that designers became important for their ability to catalyse new trends and mass consumption.
- Often, specialist designers are asked to mitigate against profligate habits of consumers, when they are an intentional feature of the economic system.
- Not surprisingly, this strategy fails because market forces are too powerful to be countermanded by non-holistic approaches.
- Instead of 'design for sustainability' we need a more comprehensive approach.
- Notably, Richard Buckminster Fuller is almost unique in calling for a comprehensive anticipatory design science.
- We need methods that intervene in many (as many as possible) of the relations that pertain within a given system.
- We would aim to produce a tool that is diagnostic and useful.
- It should be able to map content, then to facilitate appropriate intervention.
Fig. 1 - Mapping interdependencies
- Make a large drawing of a circle, onto which all the pertinent elements can be mapped.
- Label and annotate every element that is likely to have an effect on the whole system.
- Connect every element to every other element and annotate their reciprocal relations.
- Look for what might otherwise have been omitted by using a more intuitive (less explicit) approach.
- Devise a notation system that will record the relational balance among each of the parts.
- Compare unknown systems with known systems that can be mapped by experts in the relevant field.
- Look for ways to 'weight' the relations among the parts, so that possible equilibrium/disequilibrium can be recorded.
- Look for useful 'leverage points' from which the performance of the whole may be improved with minimum effort.
Tool Example - The Relonics Approach
- The above sketch (Figure 1) was inspired by the systemic approach of a medical doctor.
- In 2005 we invited a San Francisco-based physician, Dr. Vadim Kvitash to come to London and to work with us for a few days.
- Dr. Kvitash has patented a medical diagnostic system that is, loosely speaking, 'holistic'.
- He claims that his system evaluates some of the data that is otherwise overlooked, or discarded, by conventional systems.
- For example, in the conventional Western medical evaluation of blood samples it is customary to sample the twelve, or so, key chemicals but to look at each one in relative isolation. (see Wikipedia summary).
- Each of the twelve distinct levels are then compared with a reference figure that is deemed to be 'normal'.
- The Relonic approach challenges the validity of arbitrary, normative standards.
- Dr. Kvitash argues that a parametric level that is 'normal' for one healthy individual may not be normal in another.
- He claims that the standard approach overlooks a great deal of valuable data.
- This suggests that some illness may remain 'invisible' to isolated sampling until it becomes too acute to be moderated by coordination at the local level.
- At this point it is likely to become visible through conventional symptoms.
Monitoring local interdependencies
- Dr. Kvitash's approach (to blood tests) entails the monitoring of all of the 66 interdependent relations among the 12 blood chemicals.
- Once the relative values have been assessed, he claims that his methods (unlike orthodox procedures) can be used predictively with over 95% reliability in certain instances (see captions in Figure 2).
Figure 2 - The 12 chemicals normally tested, with some significant relations highlighted
- The process by which illnesses can remain undetected for a long period can be explained by some of the interdependencies within the set of component parts.
- This may be exemplified in Figure 3, which identifies local and large-scale systems of adaptation.
- It represents the complex internal processes that manage the organism's wellbeing as two systems: regulation and coordination.
- It shows how some medical conditions (e.g. morbid obesity) may not be identifiable using standard diagnostic methods, as described above.
Figure 3 - chart showing how non-holistic diagnosis may overlook important problems
- Some saw ancient Greek society as holistic because the individual found identity only within the whole (society).
- With Christianity came an interest in the differences between human characteristics.
- In the Metaphysics, Aristotle (384 to 322 BCE) asserts that: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
- However, he is probably better known for the legacy of his analytical approaches, rather than for his integration.
- Latterly, the systems of mass consumption devised by capitalism encouraged consumers to become increasingly differentiated by their predilections.
- Emil Durkheim was one of many thinkers to criticise the Western tendency to see society as a collection of individuals.
- Suspicious of capitalism's claims to 'community' (e.g. social networks etc.), Jean-Luc Nancy described it as a plurality of egos.
- Jan Smuts (1926) coined the term holism, defining it as The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.
- Donella Meadows (1997) developed the 12 leverage points system (in increasing importance)
- 12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards)
- 11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows
- 10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport network, population age structures)
- 9. The length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes
- 8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the effect they are trying to correct against
- 7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops
- 6. The structure of information flow (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information)
- 5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishment, constraints)
- 4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure
- 3. The goal of the system
- 2. The mindset or paradigm that the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises out of
- 1. The power to transcend paradigms
- Forrester, J. W., (1971) Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems, Technology Review, Vol. 73, No. 3, Jan. 1971, pp. 52-68
- Meadows, D., (1997), 12 Leverage Points to Intervene in a System
- Kvitash, V., (PATENT) - "Balascopy: A Method for Detecting and Rapidly Evaluating Multiple Imbalances within Multi-Parametric Systems" (U.S. Patent No. 4,527,240)
- Kvitash, V., (2002), Relonics: balascopy-based systems-specific technology, KYBERNETES, Emeraldinsight.com
- Vadim I. Kvitash, (2003) Specific relonic patterns from non-specific or useless laboratory data, Kybernetes, Vol. 32 Iss: 5/6, pp.607 - 628
- Kvitash, V., (2002), Categorical prediction of acute chest pain outcome by relonics, KYBERNETES, Emeraldinsight.com
Some of our Relevant Texts
- Harnessing Hidden Knowledge (download it)
- Network consciousness 2 by John Wood & John Backwell (2011)
- Network Consciousness 3 by John Wood & John Backwell (2012)
see more Workshop Methods
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