Monday, 18 June 2012

Lugano Summer School... Day 1

Just writing the title makes me feel as though I am in the big brother house (I can hear a Geordie voiceover "who goes... you decide"... It's a bit early to declare my vote yet - but there are a couple of clear contenders in my student colleagues!)

No, it's not big brother, it's two weeks of "holiday" at a summer school in Lugano run by Werner Ulrich (who invented Critical System Heuristics) and Peter Checkland (who is, in his own words), "responsible" for Soft Systems Methodology.

The day began with all of us nervously cramming ourselves into the narrow space between the desks, trying to take a measure of each other. The conversations reminded me of the first day at university... in those days, you asked three questions:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Which halls are you staying in?
  3. What were your A'level grades?
In those three questions you could answer the friend / shag / steal their notes when they're not looking conundrum!

Today, though we are older, the questions are not too dissimilar...
  1. Where are you from?
  2. When did you arrive in Lugano?
  3. What do you do? (meaning, are you a doctor, professor or pleb?)
In these three questions we were able to answer the friend / bore / steal their notes when they're not looking conundrum...

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that they seem mostly harmless - and I am the least educated person in the room. This is odd for me.

We were scheduled to start at 9:15. At about 9:45, Werner finally got us to all sit down. Werner is Swiss (from Bern), and this tardiness is so out of character for a Swiss person (particularly one from the Deutsch side of the country) that I asked to see his ID at the break. He thought I was joking! I wasn't.

The other out of character thing is the coffee... INSTANT COFFEE????? This is insane, and very un-Swiss. I blame his wife!

After an extended round of introductions where some (not all) tried to ingratiate themselves with stories of their extensive systems expertise, we got down to business, defining what a system is. This is where Werner and Peter had their first falling out... over whether a bicycle is a an ontology (there is simply a bicycle which represents a bicycle) or an epistemology (there is an idea of a bicycle in our heads which we believe represents a bicycle). I am a little ashamed to say I caused that...


A quote from Werner that I particularly appreciated:

A method cannot justify the way we reach results that can change people's lives. Legitimacy is the only thing that can justify the way we reach results.

We have to use methods with some critical distance

...and one from Peter:

There are many ways to define a problem. If someone comes and asks you about a problem defined in a way you hadn't thought of, you've not yet defined the problem.

Although I don't think he actually said problem - probably problematical situation, but I was too lazy to write all that! Why am I so sure? because he also said:

As soon as you say the word problem you suggest that there is a solution which will solve the problem...

Finally, thoughts from Werner on complexity:

Social complexity is driven by two things;
  1. diversity of empirical - we find out about different things
  2. diversity of normative - we think about what we know differently
I think he used a little saying here "it's like news reel and reaction" but I'm not sure.

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