Does anybody fancy a free, one-day course on the viable system model (VSM)?

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Posted Sep 22 2019 by Dave Darby of
An illustration of the viable system model

I recently interviewed Trevor Hilder, a specialist in the viable system model. I’ve been interested in it for a while, since I heard from credible sources that it could be a valuable tool for building the new economy.

I’ve since found that it could be a useful tool for organising almost everything, including businesses, local economies, governments, networks, voluntary organisations and institutions of all kinds.

Trevor said that if I wanted to learn more, and especially his (Moral Modalities Framework) slant on the VSM, he’d run one of his one-day VSM workshops for a small group of people (including me) in London. He’ll do the same anywhere in the country if his expenses are covered (for up to to 7 people).

Very basically, the viable system model organises entities (from businesses to economies) based on 5 levels:

  1. operations
  2. regulation and conflict resolution
  3. management
  4. predictive – looking out at the rest of the world, to try to understand what’s going on, and what threats or opportunities are on the way
  5. values / policy / guardianship

None of these levels are dominant or subservient to any other, and all are seen as necessary for a sytem to be ‘viable’.

The idea came from the late Stafford Beer, who was in the process of converting the Chilean economy to a VSM model in 1973, when Pinochet put a stop to it.

There’s more of an explanation in the interview, and the most accessible online guide available was written by Jon Walker.

A colleague and I visited Jon and his partner, Angela Espinosa, who has many successful VSM projects in South America under her belt. We’ve started a conversation about using the VSM to help embed mutual credit into communities, and how to build the Open Credit Network in the UK.

The VSM has its critics, as you can see from this Loomio thread. But we think it’s worth a shot.

Here’s some more information from Trevor:

How Organisations Really Work

11am – 4pm, Date to be Decided

I’d like to offer a four hour workshop to teach the fundamental concepts of how organisations work, based on the work of Professor Stafford Beer in the field of management cybernetics, which he founded in the 1960s.

Beer applied these concepts to fields as diverse as managing steel production, publishing, banking and economic policy. I learned them from Beer in the 1990s and since then have applied them with great success to understanding organisations and building better (software) systems to free people to get their work done with the minimum of bureaucracy.

I recently taught these ideas to the COO of an organisation with an annual turnover of £30 million which reduced his working week from 100 hours to about fifteen! The workshop will be in depth and highly interactive, and I will be helping participants work on their own interests as we go along.

It will consist of two sessions of about two hours each, with a break for lunch in between:

11:00 – 13:00 Introduction to the Viable System Model (VSM).

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch.

14:00 – 16:00 Overcoming Social Barriers to Organisational Change – the Moral Modalities Framework (MMF).

Due to the interactive nature of the session, it will be restricted to a maximum of seven participants.

NB: we have 2 people signed up already, so we’re looking for another 5 max. We’ll have to pay Trevor’s expenses (around £50 for London), so we’ll share that by the number of participants.

If you’re interested, send me your details (dave at lowimpact dot org), and why you want to do it. It will be more-or-less first-come first served, but I guess ‘I want to develop the co-operative sector in my town’ is going to beat ‘I want to become a billionaire’, for example.

This workshop is in London because that’s where I live. Trevor will do the same in your town if you pay his expenses.

PS Jon, Angela, Trev – if I’ve gone wildly wrong with my description of the VSM, could you correct me in the comments?