Saturday Metaphorum Workshop

- Responding to the invitation to revolution

Given the mess, what can we as cyberneticians do?

(By A Espinosa and A Leonard)



The Cwarel Isaf Institute held its 2nd Conference on the topic of Cybernetics and the Global Crisis, in St Gallen Management Zentrum, St Gallen, Switzerland on March 19th, 20th 2009. There were a variety of key speakers in the mornings, from a range of professions. The first day the speakers’ emphasis was on understanding the global crisis in the light of our current scientific paradigms in fields as management (Malik), economics crisis (Heinsohn), growth dynamics (Modis) and socionomics (M. Lampert).


The focus of the second day was on how systems thinking and Beer’s work give us a language to better understand the core issues of complexity and sustainability (Leonard); demographics and war (Heinsohn), the current situation in Sri Lanka (Saravananuttu). The stress was upon how the tools of cybernetics help are particularly relevant for addressing current societal and sustainability issues. Michael Ben Eli spoke passionately on the need for 'grand visions' to be grounded in immediate practical activities: in his own words: ‘Transforming World society and its economy to a sustainable basis is the most significant challenge of our time’. He and Malik committed to collaborate on the issue, linking MZSG and Ben-Eli's Sustainability Institute in New York.


The group meetings on the afternoon were focused on suggesting from different perspectives the blueprints for such a transformation towards sustainability. The later panel and closing session there was commitment and enthusiasm about the possibilities of collaboration with M&M on this world initiative, that Malik called ‘the Great Transformation’.


As in last year’s Conference, this year also a group of Metaphorum members attended the CII Conference and most of them also stayed for a workshop on Saturday the 21st, attended by Martin Pfiffner on behalf of MZSG. We wanted in this workshop to reflect on particular projects having bearing on the current crisis that - as a loose cybernetic community - we might help enable. We attempted to nudge to light what initiatives people are currently engaged with, or might be interested in engaging in, which could potentially identify critical issues and ways forward.


Discussions began from several perspectives:

·        Follow-up to presentations and issues from the CII Conference

·        How to engage in activities which might contribute to the necessary transformation.

·        How to concretely respond to the question “as a cybernetician what are you going to do about the mess the world is in?”

·        Find opportunities where Metaphorum can contribute.

·        And, finally, attempt to identify a range of start points (corresponding to the interests/initiatives of the members present)


As part of ongoing conversations about collaborative projects between the CII and the Metaphorum, a suggestion was made to collaboratively develop a comprehensive online portal aimed at supporting knowledge sharing and networking among CII and Metaphorum members. At the workshop, we agreed that such a portal should focus on further development of the blueprint for the Great Transformation, among the members of the communities present (CII, MZSG, TSI, Metaphorum). We discussed the outline that such collaborative portal might take. There follow a summary of the ideas drafted about it between the participants.


The portal’s purpose: To support development of a community of practice among cyberneticians and or practitioners in the world interested in contributing to the global transformation necessary to address the crisis posed to sustainability, by sharing their understanding of issues central to it.

Below is a summary of the broad issues discussed and suggested as the basis on which develop an online platform:


·     Identity: We’ll need to develop a ‘coherent’ statement on how we understand the necessary transformation and how the cybernetic community might have the tools to address it and offer alternative ways of understanding and acting.

·    Introductions to the theory and links to relevant documents (library).

·    Methodologies and tools (VSM, TS, VSA.. etc).

·    Networking: Who is who in the network, what do we do, where we are: broad issues/networks to involve in the great transformation (clusters).

·    Case studies: ongoing/historical projects .


Table 2 gives more detail on desired features, as well as examples of topic and applications.

During the morning session, the participants talked about individual ongoing projects or topics we’d consider relevant to cover in the blueprint. During the afternoon we made a start at clustering the topics to facilitate possible collaboration between interested parties in the communities. Table 1 below shows the resulting proposal.


Steps forward


We discussed the possibility, raised at the TSI Master Designer meeting the previous Monday, of testing some of Assad Jalali’s (See ‘Collaborator’s Surplus’ in Beyond Dispute) questions about the reverberation of information in a Syntegration based on variations of its graph theory configurations.


When initially raised, the idea was to have another opportunity for a Metaphorum Syntegration such as was planned to take place in Sweden last summer that did not get enough participants. In discussions, it was suggested to include the possibility of engaging TSI, CII and Malik Management people as well as others who might provide additional insights to the group. If such occurred, an opening question would need to be carefully designed and selection criteria for participants established. Since there is considerable overlap, with many people belonging to more than one group, there may not actually be a problem with the event being over-subscribed. If it were, that might afford an additional opportunity to experiment with a large group event. We should stress that these are all open issues, and it is for ongoing dialogue of Metaphorum and the other parties to identify any such future events.


In the next few weeks more detailed conversations will be progressing between representatives of the CII and the Metaphorum to agree on ways forward to implementation of both such a Syntegration and the idea of a portal development. Announcements will be made on the process and coordination mechanisms, as well as invitations to those interested in joining this initiative.


Table 1 - INTERESTS AND INITIATIVES (see list below of attendees for full names)



Guerrilla Education



Confidence & Learning



Community of Practice

CII, Metaphorum


Online Education

Angela, Roger, Allenna, Alfredo, Robin, Penny, Jose


Communities in transition



Communities of learning



Abbey Gardens



Applications & Decision Making



Management Transformation

Martin, Gino, Stefan





Heal Thyself

Alan & Johannes


VSM/Spiritual: Connect the VSM to us for ourselves



World of Action

Alan, Gino


Tech C/Political



Key Indices



Global Conflict Resolution

Barry, David S, Leonie


Global Portal and participation

Joe & Chris

Climate Change

Climate Change

John J, Joe & Chris, Angela

Economic/Financial System

RainyDays, Regulation and System







Roger, Alan & Russell



Alan & Chris





Angela Espinosa and Barry Clemson (facilitators) Roger Harnden, Alan Pearson, Alfredo Moscardini, Johannes Flecker, Sebastian Hoffmann, Joe Truss, Chris Cullen, Stefan Wasileski, Robin Asby, Penny Marrington, John Jopling, Ernesto Lleras, Martin Pfiffner, German Bula, Gino Gross, Russell Clemens, Maria Sourlas, Vasso Sourlas, Ern Reynolds, Malvina, Martin Pfiffner, Allenna Leonard


[Note: some participants were not present the whole time]


Table 2







Integrate Perspectives


Interested Individuals




New Products

Media Exposure (our own or other’s articles)

Education (guerilla/non-standard)

For all ages films/cartoons



Inside/outside coherence


Governance/government communities

New financial instruments sustainability







Research Initiatives

Theoretical conflict resolution,

·    Metaphorum

·    Malik Mgmt

·    Systems community

·    Practitioners who are close

to systems approaches


New tools

Case studies