[OSList] Summer research project idea: 'self organisation'

Harrison Owen via OSList oslist at lists.openspacetech.org
Sun Nov 30 09:41:38 PST 2014

Kari – I totally agree with your congratulatory note to Dan for having introduced ecology to our discussion. Thinking about self organization in the abstract gets pretty fuzzy, and limiting the conversation to OST is ...limiting. But seen in a broader context (the biosphere), things become quite juicy and exciting, I think. For example, it has often occurred to me that you could look at “The Origin of the Species” as an early treatise on self organization. It is quite unlikely that Darwin would have recognized the terms (self organization), but the story he tells is a rich description of the natural self organizing world. To be sure there are some holes in his description, leading to no small amount of debate in the years following publication, but the basic story line is pretty clear to me – given a rich diversity stressed internally and externally by environmental forces, wonderful things emerge. And there wasn’t an executive committee in sight!


If this story happens to be a remotely accurate description of the natural world of living creatures, I find it very hard to understand how it could be that creatures lately arrived, namely us, could be excluded. The notion that all human systems are essentially self organizing, therefore is not a strange one. What would be strange is the suggestion that we had somehow escaped what is apparently a fundamental rule of the Biosphere. Your comment ... “I see that there is selfe-organization at work all the time” therefore is not only spot on – it is actually a blinding flash of the obvious. Well done!


I joke, but with serious intent. When doing our research it is most important not only to understand what we are looking at (re-searching), but also and equally importantly, how we see it. The object of our affection would seem to be organizations, particularly human ones. But how do we view them? I think it fair to say that the “standard” view point considers organizations to be creatures of our making. We designed, control, and run them. Full stop. That there may be an additional phenomenon called “self organization” is admitted as a possible, but never to be confused with the reality of organization in the human sphere. 


An alternative view sees human systems as a (minor) subset of all natural systems, possessing certain distinguishing characteristics for sure, but never the less woven out of the same cloth and sharing all the fundamental features, including self organization.


Doubtless what I have said above seems some less than revolutionary and no more than you might have expected from me. Some might even accuse me of being rather a broken record, if you are old enough to remember such things (broken records). But my purpose in repeating myself is to starkly contrast the two viewpoints – which constitute (I think) totally different paradigms. And if Thomas Kuhn is correct in his analysis, the distance between two paradigms is enormous to the point that what makes sense in one paradigm is understood to be totally crazy in the other. One immediate impact of all this is that mutual understanding between those holding one paradigm or the other is minimal, to say the least. 


The classic case, or course are the paradigms represented by Newtonian Physics and Quantum Mechanics. For those anchored in the Newtonian world (which would be most of us)—the world of the Quantum is weird, crazy, impossible ... Nuts. And communication between those enthralled by one paradigm and the others is challenging at best and may be downright impossible. There are multiple reasons, but one is that  each paradigm has its own unique logic derived from the unique “first principles” of the respective paradigms. The Newtonian world is orderly and predictable. The Quantum world is random and indeterminate. One could say, “Different strokes for different folks,” and the bridges across the divide are difficult to find.


The connections with the “conversation” between Newton and the Quantum theorists and our adventure are more than a simple analogue, I think... but  all that would be the subject of a much longer essay. However, I think the lessons regarding the pains and perils of paradigm hopping are very apropos. It ain’t easy. I occurs to me that the fact that the academic community has generally (totally?) avoided Open Space Technology may well be a good example of the problem. With the standard paradigm installed as the dominant view in Academe, OST is crazy and makes no sense. And crazy nonsense is best ignored.


So on with our re-search! And I think it will be critical to the venture to constantly remind ourselves what we are looking at, and how we see. It will be fun.




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From: OSList [mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Kári Gunnarsson via OSList
Sent: Friday, November 28, 2014 11:52 AM
To: Daniel Mezick; World wide Open Space Technology email list
Subject: Re: [OSList] Summer research project idea: 'self organisation'


This is a good idea Daniel

To use material from ecology. I like it.  I even went online to search for some Journal articles that talk about the different cultural aspect with intervention programs. There is a Critical Review on two grand intervention by Blaikie and Muldavin (2014) one in the eastern Himalayas and the other across the border in eastern India.

As I was reading this, I see that there is selfe-organization at work all the time. At one instance the work happened in harmony and flexibility with the imposed system and in the other instance the self-organization happened despite the system ridged closed and toxic structure and undermined its interventions objectives.

Blaikie P and Muldavin J (2014). Environmental justice? The story of two projects. Geoforum 54. 226–229. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016718512002850).

On 28 November 2014 at 12:20, Daniel Mezick via OSList <oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:

There are many well-established words that are used to more precisely discuss self "organization" in the biological and social sciences. I wonder if actively using some of these well-defined words might be helpful in the discussion.

Example: stigmergy
Stigmergy is a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent.

More details


On 11/26/14 8:25 PM, John Baxter via OSList wrote:

Hello facilitators of self organisation


Let's take a moment to consider self organisation, as 'field' or 'practice'.


I am scoping a summer project at the moment (in the southern hemisphere!).


I have been reading and learning all I can about self org.  There is less than I expected at the heart of self org practice, but much more than I realised in intersecting fields (e.g. in governance, democracy, community organising, management, change, systems...).  There are also unanswered Qs about what 'self org' is (indeed, if it is anything at all).


It might be worthwhile formalising this, through a focused research project, and sharing the results in a report or the like.


Possible focus questions that come to mind for me are

- what does someone need to know to say "I do self organisation"?

- what would someone need to know to be an 'expert' in self org?


Would appreciate your perspective, as a practitioner-facilitator-fellow wave rider:


What (if anything) do you think deserves to be done?

Who should be involved in doing it?


​Thank you for contributing to the quest!


John Baxter

Cocreation Consultant & ​Co​Create Adelaide Facilitator

 <http://www.jsbaxter.com.au/> jsbaxter.com.au | CoCreateADL.com

0405 447 829 

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