biomatrix systems theory blog


Open-endedness of systemic research: systems thinking emphasises learning as a driving force of change. Learning allows systems to adapt to a changing environment and to co-produce deliberate change in itself and its environment.

Systems use iteration with the environment and self-referral (e.g. self-reflection) to generate the knowledge they need to adapt and develop. This leads to an alternation between divergence of knowledge (through iteration) and convergence (i.e. through self-referral based selection and integration).

Iteration can be spatial (i.e. information exchange with systems in the outer and inner environment). This is typically referred to as looped learning. It can also be temporal (i.e. consideration of past and future and their impact on the current situation of the system and its future development). This is referred to as anticipatory learning.

Systemic research builds looped and anticipatory learning into the research design.

Systems thinking also emphasises action learning. Besides the obvious argument that learning by doing is more effective, there are also systemic reasons for action learning, namely the difference in knowledge related to the physical and conceptual reality of the researched system.

Biomatrix Systems Theory distinguishes between the physical and conceptual reality of a system, analogous to an existing house and the plan according to which it was built. Learning how to make a plan is different from learning how to build. A marketing or production plan is different from actually marketing or producing the product or service. Action learning bridges the two realities. It allows learning relating to the conceptual reality, the physical reality and the interaction between the two.

Learning relating to the conceptual reality involves learning the generic systemic framework and organising principles that guide the design of all systems and their application to the specific system that is being analysed and (re)designed. The generic knowledge is trans-disciplinary, the applied knowledge requires discipline specific knowledge.

Learning relating to the physical reality of the system also requires discipline specific knowledge, albeit not necessarily the same. By analogy, the design of the house requires architectural knowledge, that of the builder requires building knowledge (e.g. bricklaying, cement mixing, electrical, plumbing, etc.).

Learning relating to the interaction between the conceptual and physical realities involves managing the building of physical reality according to its conceptual reality. By analogy, the builder needs to plan the building operation (i.e. designing the conceptual reality of the building operations through a project plan). There could also be a feedback from physical reality to conceptual reality (e.g. a need to change the plan due to resource shortages or unexpected terrain difficulties).

In a nutshell, there are layers of conceptual and physical reality within an action learning project and learners keep iterating between them and reflecting on it.

Systemic research should also build some action learning into the research design, as well as ongoing self-referral (e.g. monitoring and evaluating each phase of the action learning project, self-reflecting on learning throughout).

The typical conclusions and recommendations from conferences and research papers are: We need more research on this. What subtle (or maybe not so subtle) difference to state: We need to keep learning about this.

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