Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Cybernetics of Relationships

Dear Graziano,

Many thanks for your comment. From a structural point of view it is apparent that in the UK social services are devolved to local authorities and therefore that it is their responsibility to enable conditions for good services. This requires not only that they allocate sufficient resources but also that they develop trustful relationships within the authority. This is necessary to increase the chances of setting in action support networks before incipient problems generate a crisis, like the death of the Baby P (that is, this is a strategy to reduce risk). These relationhsips should be the outcome of on-going (but not too frequent) communications that respect the services’ autonomy as pre-condition to allow their self-organisation and self-regulation. In contrast to this approach the picture that emerged from discussions in the press was that a national regulator, who by definition is far from the local social service units, was attempting to do this monitoring based on reports (i.e. information) and not on communications (i.e. utterance, information and understanding) and that to improve the situation it wanted to visit these units one a year as if these visits were enough to develop trustful relationships (rather than just fear to a distant controller) and reduce future risks.

This example illustrates my point that organisations don't understand the "cybernetics" (communications and control) of the situations they are in.


Graziano Terenzi said...

Dear Raul,

I fully agree with you. Actually the idea of having a distant controller based soleley on sporadic reports demonstrates the lack of understanding not only of the cybernetics of the relationships within the authority but also of the dynamics of the situation as a whole.
It would be desirable to have a self-organizing local authority structured as to understand the problem situation and to "connect" to higher level authorities (or to other subjects in general) when it feels it cannot resolve the problem situation by itself. This kind of "connection" should be aimed at building a collaborative network which would design the system which would solve the problem situation in a case of inadequacy. What do you think a solution to this problem should look like?

Raul Espejo said...

Perhaps, as you say, it is important to build up networks of collaboration for local authorities to recognise best practice and also develop new appreciations of situations. The latter is necessary to overcome parochial views. In my work I have called these communications relationships of organisational citizenship. Also, it should help to have what Beer called ‘algedonic’ signals, that is, automatic signals that jump recursion levels as they are not dealt with well locally. However, the design of these signals is difficult since they are often related to big-brother strategies or disloyalty (like in the case of whistleblowers). This is an interesting issue for further discussion. Raul

Graziano Terenzi said...

Dear Raul, thank you very much for your reply which I feel of great relevance. I believe that the idea behind these "communications relationships of organisational citizenship", or "collaborative networks", involves, in the first place, engagement and participation not only by experts but also by the problem bearers themeselves. However, stated this way the idea is not yet very clear. Calling for the construction of an algedonic system would undoubetly be a step further towards refining the constraints over the definition of such a "collaborative network" or a system-solution.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of design you remarked, I think that in this context a working solution can still be found.
The main problem I see here is a issue of "engagement". If a person is engaged and believes firmly that an algedonic system will work, he/she will participate to the system workings and will not hinder its functioning, no matter how the system will be designed.
On the other side, if a person is not engaged and does not recognize the utility of this system, then he/she will probably contribute to its misfunction. Therefore, the problem here is surely a problem of design which should be addressed by aiming, among other things, at this worst-case scenario of disengaged and unaware stakeholders.