Twenty first century visions:

Systems practice for managing complexity

International conference 15-17th July 2003, St Anne's College, Oxford

With Klaus Krippendorff, Richard Bawden, Ray Anderson and Peter Checkland

We live in a period of unprecedented connectivity. Processes of change affect all aspects of our lives from globalisation to modernisation and personal transformation. We experience both possibility and deep unease. Within this context many commentators claim that we need to be more systemic, yet the activities of the SPMC network has revealed little awareness of the role that systems thinking and practice might play nor the benefits that might accrue. Many people are not even aware of their own capacities to think and act systemically.
This 3 day event is the culmination of nearly three years of work within the SPMC network1. SPMC comprises individuals involved in managing from the private, public, and not-for profit or NGO sectors - and practising consultants. This event is for anyone concerned with using systems thinking and practice for managing change and complexity.

We anticipate most will want to be at the main conference and also choose to participate in either the day before or the day after.

Event themes

We have shown that Systems practice is a 'silent practice' for most of those people who do it. That is, the systems thinking which underpins their actions is not made explicit with clients (by consultants) or those involved in managing in everyday contexts. This leads to a paradox. STSP (systems thinking, systems practice) is claimed to be an effective form of practice (for managing complexity) yet it has no way of building institutional capital whilst ever it remains a silent practice. In this event we explore the extent that this is a failure of communication or more specifically our communication about communication.
Within the network we have exposed difficulties in building a community of conversation for practice around STSP from scratch. We have learned that one of the best ways to do so is to start with participants' own experience. But this raises deeper theoretical and practical issues related to our ways of `knowing' our epistemologies: outdated conceptions of `control' abound in the UK modernisation arena, for example. There is also no evolving praxis for `joined up thinking and acting' or enacting the `third way'. Can systems practice play this role? Presentations made in the network have claimed that the purpose of systems practice is to undertake a process of systemic inquiry which shifts peoples ''mental furniture' but how can we foster epistemic communities of conversation? These are themes that will be addressed during days 2
and 3.

Tuesday 15th July Introducing different Systems traditions -a day both for newcomers to systems practice and for those who want to brush up their systems skills

This first day is designed for those who want to know more about systems practice. It can serve as a stand alone introduction to systems thinking and practice - and it can also be used as a day of preparation for those who want to attend the main conference on day 2 but are not sure they have the relevant background knowledge or experience. Participants on day 1 will receive pre-readings in order to enable them to make the most of the sessions. Workshop options will include:
B7 An introduction to Soft Systems methodology
B7 Systems failures
B7 The Open University approach to Systems
B7 Second order cybernetics
B7 The Natural Step a systems approach to managing sustainability
B7 Tools for Information Systems Development
B7 Viable systems
B7 Critical Systems Approaches
Wednesday 16th July Conference Making sense of systems practice for managing change
A day of presentations on the major themes by international scholars and practitioners. Invited speakers include Will Hutton (the Observer and the Work Foundation), Professor Klaus Krippendorff (confirmed), Professor Richard Bawden (confirmed) Ray Anderson CEO of Interface. and Tim Smit of the Eden Project.
Thursday 17th July Advancing your systems practice
A day for experienced systems practitioners to participate in a specialist workshop with one of four experienced Systems scholars, including Klaus Krippendorff, Richard Bawden and Peter Checkland.
This is a day of workshops. You will have the opportunity to be guided by one of the experienced practitioners and introduced to their ways of thinking and acting systemically for change. They will introduce you to case studies based on their experience in ways that are participatory and engaging. Workshops last all day and we ask you to choose on booking. Places are allocated on a first come-first served basis.

Klaus Krippendorff PhD

is the Gregory Bateson Term Professor for Cybernetics, Language, and Culture at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. He has published widely on cybernetics and systems theory, on methodology in the social sciences, and on human communication theory. Among his books are Information Theory, Content Analysis (translated into Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Hungarian), A Dictionary of Cybernetics, Communication and Control in Society (Ed.), and The Analysis of Communication Content (Co. Ed.). He initiated work on 93Product Semantics94 as a new approach to industrial design centred on meanings. Recent publications have focused on second-order cybernetics, constructivist epistemology, theory of conversation and discourse, critical (emancipatory) theory, and on how social reality is constructed in human communication.
He has been consulting with various scholarly projects and business applications of content analysis. He furnished the ideas of computer-aided text analysis software, and created a reliability statistic, known as Krippendorfff's alpha. As a designer, he has collaborated in the development of future scenarios of technical and social systems. Current concerns include exploring ways that language participates in the social construction of reality, the construction of selves, others, various institutions, and particularly of future worlds.

Prof Richard Bawden AM PhD FRSA

Richard Bawden has experiences working with the strategic development of organizations and communities that extend over more than two decades. For much of that time he was a Senior Academic and Administrator at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. During this period he led a series of initiatives concerned with the innovative integration of experiential learning with systems theories, philosophies and practices. The essential focus of this work was on the inter-relationships between the learning capabilities of individuals and the systemic developmental strategies of the organizations, institutions and communities with which they were involved.
He was appointed foundation Professor of Systemic Development at the University of Western Sydney, and in 1995, as the foundation Director of the Centre for Systemic Development at the same institution. In 1999, he was appointed Visiting Distinguished University Professor at Michigan State University in the USA. He has also been a consultant to strategic development projects in more than a dozen countries across five continents working with such international development agencies as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Fund, UNESCO, and the Ford and Kellogg Development Foundations. Richard is also a director of the Global Business Network (Australia).
In 2000 Professor Bawden was appointed to Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of his work nationally, in that country, and internationally.

Peter Checkland

Peter Checkland is Professor Emeritus in the School of Management at the University of Lancaster. He is known internationally for his development over a 30 year period of Soft Systems Methodology which is increasingly used as an approach in Information Systems development and other domains where purposeful action is planned. Peter came to academia after 15 years in industry firstly as an industrial chemist and then as a manager of a 100-strong R&D group in ICI.

Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface

Interface is a multinational carpet manufacturer. Anderson has taken systems thinking and sustainability to the core of his managing and business operations has agreed to speak by video link from the US.

Venue information

The event is being held at St Anne's College, Oxford, which is situated in 5 acres of tranquil leafy grounds yet within a short walk of the centre of Oxford. The number of on-site rooms is limited so we advise you to book early if you require overnight accommodation at the event. All rooms are ensuite; some non-ensuite rooms may be available for early bookers.

Further information

See the attached booking form or contact Jacqueline Eisenstadt, 01908 653528 or

Booking form SPMC 3 day event 15-17th July 2003, St Anne's College, Oxford


Liz Attkins Tel: ++ 44 (0) 1908 834844
De Montfort University Fax: ++ 44 (0) 1908 834961
Hammerwood Gate, Kents Hill Email:
Milton Keynes MK7 6HP
Full name and title:
Tel no: Email:
Special needs /dietary preferences:

Please register me for the following sessions: (tick_ the boxes you require)

Tuesday 15th July day attendance only A372
Tuesday 15th July day plus full board accommodation*including Tuesday night A3150
Wednesday 16th July day attendance only A399
Wednesday 16th July day plus full board accommodation* including Wednesday night and conference banquet A3188
Thursday 17th July day attendance only A399
Whole event 3 days plus full board accommodation* - nights of 15 + 16 July A3435
Bursaries for students/unemployed/retired - please enquire.
*All accommodation is ensuite. For a non-ensuite room, please call to check availability.

If you wish to attend on DAY 1 please indicate your workshop preference: (tick_ the boxes you require)

NB: With the exception of the first two workshops listed, which both take a double session, you can reserve two options.
Workshop option 1st choice 2nd choice
An introduction to Soft Systems methodology (double session) n/a
Tools for Information Systems Development (double session) n/a
The OU approach
The Natural Step - Managing Sustainability
Critical Systems Approaches
Systems failures
Second-order cybernetics
Viable systems

If you wish to attend on DAY 3 please indicate your workshop preference: (tick_ the boxes you require)

Workshop option 1st choice 2nd choice
Klaus Krippendorff
Peter Checkland
Richard Bawden
4th option to be confirmed

I enclose a fee of:

Payment method - cheque/credit card/invoice: (delete as necessary)
Cheques: should be made payable to The Open University and should accompany this application.
Credit card: If you wish to pay by visa please complete the following details:
I wish to pay by credit card: Name on card:
Address of Credit Card holder:
Access/Master card/Visa number:
Amount: Expiry date:
Signature: Date:
Invoice: please give invoice address
VAT number if applicable:
VAT is only charged on the Wednesday full board fee

Cancellation: Cancellations must be received in writing and will be subject to a cancellation charge.
The organisers take no liability for cancellation of all or any part of the programme, due to circumstances beyond their control.



Systems Practice for Managing Complexity – a network sponsored by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)