Systemic Business Community

International Conference on Systems Thinking in Management,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, May 19-21, 2004

[The Conference] | [Singerian Inquiry on Governance in the Network Form Business]

The Conference

The main page for the 2004 ICSTM meeting can be found at From those pages, a brief description can be extracted:

The 3rd International Conference on Systems Thinking in Management (ICSTM 2004) will be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA on May 19 - 21, 2004 at the University of Pennsylvania. The University's Ackoff Center for the Advancement of Systems Approaches (ACASA) and the Association For Enterprise Integration (AFEI) are co-hosting the conference. The Conference will feature a celebration of over 50 years of contributions to the management sciences by Russell L. Ackoff.

The purpose of the conference is to critically determine the state-of-the-art in applying systems thinking to the current transformation of government and industry. It will include hard-hitting examinations of key issues that surround managing organizations today, and the application of systems thinking to achieve real world results.

A digest of presentations and talks of the sessions from the conference should be available sometime in June.

Singerian Inquiry on Governance in the Network Form Business

On Form

In August and September 2003, a private discussion was held with ICSTM conference organizers, about a special stream that would run within the conference. The following ideas are excerpted from those discussions:

Conference attendees are generally dissatisfied with paper presentation sessions, where authors are clustered together, but only speak independently to their own content for an allotted 20 minutes. Many attendees prefer the interactive dialogue that takes place in informal gatherings over coffee. Within a conference, an alternative program that engenders greater participation and conversation would be an improvement.

Experience at the 2003 meeting of the Special Integration Group on Systems Applications in Business and Industry in Crete of the ISSS suggests an approach that might be called a Singerian Inquiry.

In a Singerian Inquiry, authors are asked to contribute papers in advance of the session. These papers are clustered into groups for discussion with common themes or threads abstracted from the collection. Authors are encouraged to read the papers before coming (or at least the abstracts). Preconference discussion may be facilitated with online discussions (either through e-mail, newsgroups, or web-based discussion.

At the face-to-face meeting, two to four papers are organized into a session for a discussion in a 75-to-90 minute timeframe.

This approach is described as a Singerian Inquiry -- for more information, consult C. West Churchman, The Design of Inquiring Systems -- because features both of progress and openness are included. The contribution of content in advance of meeting encourages a preliminary vector of progress to be established, although that vector may eventually be redirected. Joint activities focus primarily on the synergistic creation of new knowledge, as a synthesis of contributions from multiple authors that is different from that which any independent individual might produce. In joint discussions, much of the understanding often sought is the context in which the papers were developed: instead of reductively diving into the content of each paper, the questions tend to open up backgrounds and reasons on why authors have been motivated to focus on specific topics. Questions of validity and legitimacy naturally arise, that may challenge the author to rethink his or her approach, or different perspectives.

This approach is not without its downsides. Participants with limited facility in English may be uncomfortable with the free-flowing conversation, and may prefer more structured presentations. The discouragement of Powerpoint slides reduces distractions so that individuals can focus on the conversation. (If visual aids are really necessary, sketches on a flip chart may suffice). The open format may not be an approach that all facilitator-moderators would prefer. In practice, however, this approach has proven to educational, and the conversational format (of questions and short answers in natural conversations) reduces the mental load on listeners who would otherwise have to absorb an entire paper.

Constraints on this approach may be scalability and participation. Three papers in a session can mean five or six authors (as co-creators) in a session. When observers are included, success with a group larger than 30 people has not been proven. Finally, there's no guarantee that a crackpot won't try to take over the group, although peer pressure dynamics tend to discourage grandstanding.

Technology can help in the creation of artifacts. Minidisc recordings of the sessions are made, that can later be digitally encoded to MP3 audio for distribution with digests. These artifacts can serve as a starting point for individuals who were unable to attend the face-to-face discussions, and by the contributing authors who wish to further develop the synthesis of ideas.

On Content

"Governance in the Network Form Business" is a theme that may be described under a number of different titles in different contexts: alliances, outsourcing, heterarchy, non-hierarchical organization, and self-organization, to name a few. Most recently, members of the Systemic Business Community have been researching this theme. Examples of other content on this web site include:

For the ICSTM meeting, a number of authors with complementary interests were invited to contribute papers. (This does not exclude additional authors who may emerge from review process, and are welcomed into our stream). As of February 10, the following papers are under review:

Publication Date Publication Title Author(s) Form
May 2004 "Spider Plants and Emergent Order: The Case of an Inter-organizational Network" [abstract] Asaf Zohar conference proceedings
May 2004 "Plans, Organizational Identity, and Mediating Spaces in Inter-organizational Relations" [abstract + paper] Senem Guney, David Ing, and Ian Simmonds conference proceedings
May 2004 "Negotiated Order in Organizations in the Network Form" [abstract + paper] Annaleena Parhankangas, David Ing, David Hawk, Gosia Dane and Marianne Kosits conference proceedings
May 2004 "Governing Organizations in a Global Environment" [abstract + paper] Gary Metcalf conference proceedings
May 2004 "Accountability and the Governance of Business Alliances" [abstract + paper] G.A. Swanson conference proceedings

This web page should be updated in March, as the papers have been reviewed, and papers with similar interests are added to the stream.

Some content on this website may be subject to prior copyrights.
Please contact the author(s) prior to reproduction or further distribution of the materials.