Friday, June 5, 2009

Foundation concepts

Two foundation concepts from W Ross Ashby.

Complex systems cannot be understood through simplification. W Ross Ashby is one of the founding fathers of systems theory, and developed the law of requisite variety, published in his 1956 book Introduction to Cybernetics. This amazing insight states that “only variety can absorb variety”; the application of the law is widespread, and was developed further by others, including Stafford Beer, who created a Viable Systems Model (VSM) as an organisational design tool.


While some have suggested that global governance can be achieved through an extension of the democratic principles (for example George Monbiot), it is clear to me that the idea of a unitary source of authority is out of line with modern developments in global systems and governance, which are based on a networked model, much better able to accommodate the inherent variety in a global population, and remain viable as a governance system.


Emerging global examples are ICANN and wikipedia; both operate on an “open mike” pluralistic model that allows each individual to provide input and a collective consensus to emerge through the interaction of ideas.


This concept underpins a lot of recent thinking in the areas of participation for example the guide to participation prepared and published using wiki technology by Laura Sommer (working for the NZ government).


Beth Noveck has also written about “Wiki Government”. Beth comments that governance by a professional elite – based on expert decision making – may be supplanted by communal pooling of knowledge as a better way to organize decision-making in the public interest: “Political philosophers from Aristotle to Rousseau to Rawls have suggested that when groups engage in the public exchange of reason, they produce better ideas."


Towards the end of his life, Ashby, with Roger Conant, published produced the Good Regulator theorem "Every Good Regulator of a System Must be a Model of that System."



What models can we create of the global village?

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