Part 1 of a series of 3 posts:
Glenda Eoyang is the Founding Executive Director of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute (HSD). About which, Glenda says:
The goal of the HSD Institute is to develop and disseminate the theory in practice of HSD. It works across four scales at the same time:
1) Individual practitioners understand and apply HSD.
2) The HSD Institute manages processes and products to support others as they apply HSD. It is a bounded, fairly traditional non-profit institution.
3) The network of certified HSD professionals connects individuals as they practice and learn about HSD and its applications.
And 4) The Field of HSD Theory in Practice includes the intellectual property–ideas and products–that both feed into and emerge from the shared work of individual practitioners, the Institute, and the network.
Tim and I recently had the pleasure & privilege of helping the HSD institute create their very first network map of 800+ certified professionals across the globe. It was especially an honor because of Glenda’s historical attitude toward network maps:
Given Glenda’s deep insight and experience in working with complexity in human systems, paired with her recent experience with our mapping approach, I was especially eager to get her thoughts on how well our process fit (or didn’t fit) with the needs she had set out to meet with us.
On the Relationship of Human Systems to Networks
Because I used Glenda’s CDE framework in my Master’s Thesis in 2011, I was particularly interested in learning how she understood network mapping in relation to her theories of change in human systems – especially change in the context of ‘change networks’ working on what Glenda calls intractable problems such as climate change, poverty & inequality, systemic violence, etc.
Dealing with intractable problems, she told me, requires understanding kinds of causality and change.
Glenda talked about three kinds of cause: The first and simplest is two-dimensional ‘Static Change’ – the idea that a thing moves from one stable state to another stable state–and stays there. The second is more complex and multi-dimensional – the Newtonian equation of Mass, Distance and Time. ‘Newtonian Change’ is predictable. It has definable milestones, giving us things like Project Management and Developmental Models. This second type of change-causality works great on a lot of things, but not on intractable problems.
And the third, the kind of change Glenda’s work focuses on is ‘Dynamical Change’, which comes out of complexity.
But, I asked her – how does that relate to change networks?
The ‘CDE’ and Self-Organizing Systems
What originally drew me to Glenda’s work was the concept of self-organizing systems. Natural systems self-organize all the time, and we think nothing of it, yet the idea seems so counterintuitive in human systems, and really difficult in practice. At that time, (~10 years ago), I was reading and learning as much as I could about the idea of Self-Organizing Systems – because, intuitively, yeah – it just seem so Right and so True. But still, at the practical level, what enabled, or triggered, or catalyzed self-organizing was all really confusing and vague to me. It clearly didn’t just happen. Then I came across Glenda’s CDE Model, which I found super-helpful. It gave me a way to think about self-organizing. So what is the CDE?
In HSD the CDE are the three conditions that influence the behavior of self-organizing in systems. They are: a Container (C), Differences (D), and Exchanges (E).
So when I asked Glenda about how networks relate to dynamical change, I suddenly saw the overlap – to the degree a network reflects the CDE in human practice, a network is a self-organizing system.
Networks, Intractable Problems, and Adaptive Action
But still – networks may be self-organizing systems, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently able to solve intractable problems – where does that part come in?
For that, Glenda says, we need Adaptive Action – that ability to take meaningful action within a context of not knowing.
Can a Network Become Conscious?
Ok – so Container-Differences-Exchanges, and Adaptive Action . . .But consciousness – how does that fit in? That’s what we’ll address in the next post in this series. Sign up for our newsletter to be sure you don’t miss it.