In a recent paper, to be published later this year, I Illustrate supported by Beer’s Viable System Model and four vignettes, the relevance of self-organisation, recursive structures, self-reference and reflexivity in policy processes. For me these are concepts to ground policy processes in good cybernetics. The four vignettes illustrate the cybernetics underpinning 'real-world' policy failures. Through this post I want to involve you, the reader, in the development of our understanding of the cybernetics of policy processes. I propose we try together discussing aspect of self-organisation, recursive structures, self-reference and reflexivity in policy processes. I suggest that Beer’s recursive structures and second-order cybernetics have much to contribute to their understanding and betterment.
Policy processes such as development of clean energy, local child care, transparent marketing, economic development and so forth bring together multiple social and economic agents in the creation, regulation and production of these policies and through their interactions, mostly by self-organisation, they may produce organisational systems.
Self-organisation brings together social agents as they find common purposes and recognise the need to interact. But chance interactions may take too long to form policies and some form of guidance, such as political leadership, incentives for particular relations, resources allocation, applications of disruptive technologies and others may help in these processes. These are catalysts of organisational systems (Espejo and Reyes, 2011). However, it is common for agents to have a poor appreciation of the resources and interactions that are necessary to make particular policies viable, leading to painful shortcomings for people and society. Beer’s Viable System Model offers a heuristic to construct policies through effective communications. This model highlights requirements to enable the emergence of organisational systems from fragmented resources. Among these requirements are organisational closure, structural cohesion, value co-creation, structural recursion of autonomous units within autonomous units and others. These are requirements for a good cybernetics of policy processes.In the paper I illustrate these requirements through four vignettes; child services in England, a small company's marketing activities in the English Midlands, alternative energy technologies and global financial services. The child services’ vignette illustrates weak communications between national regulators, local policy implementers and stakeholders. This is an instance of inadequate relational self-organisation. The marketing vignette is an instance of a company that fails developing value co-creation with customers, with the consequence that customers impose their requirements and the company fails to create products of its own design. This is an instance of weak relational reflexivity. The third vignette is an instance of a weak identity of the energy sector as it fails to integrate under the same policy framework energy technology development and energy production. This is a case of a fuzzy self-reference as necessary relations between actors focused on the “outside and then” and on the “inside and now” fail to be developed. The last vignette relates to the 2008 financial crisis. This is an instance of a market driven self-organisation process that failed to recognise that financial services had to go hand in hand with the recursive structure of the economy from the global to the local. These are all instances of situations driven by poor cybernetics.
I would be delighted to hear your reflections about particular policy processes that illustrate problems with organisational closure, structural recursion, structural couplings and so forth. What can we say about improving the cybernetics of policy processes.