Proceedings of the IFSR Conversation 2010, Pernegg, Austria
Gary Metcalf (USA), Gerhard Chroust (Austria)
30 years is a long time for a small conference or workshop to survive. We can be proud that the Fuschl Conversations still exist and show their usefulness. When looking back on the history several phases can be distinguished1:
- The initial phase (1980 – 1994) which could be mainly seen as a personal experience phase. Participants attended the conversation without any attempt to disseminate afterwards their results to the outside world in a formal way. These conversations were driven by the charismatic personality of Bela H. Banathy. Topic centered on the general area of social systems design. The participants profited from Fuschl mostly as individuals (As Charles Francois remarked: “When you leave Fuschl, you are a different person”).
- By 1996 it was decided to give the Fuschl Conversation a little more structure and transparency. A formal Call-for-Participation and a participant selection procedure was introduced, accepting around 28 participants in 5 to 6 teams, still discussing various aspects of Social Systems Design. A short version of the results was published soon after in the IFSR Newsletter, a more detailed report together with accompanying ‘think papers’ was published as proceedings. We may call it the dissemination phase.
- When Bela was unable to join us in Fuschl from 1998 onwards, his spirit kept the Conversations going but gradually the ideas got somewhat diluted, and we reached a ‘diversification phase’. Social Systems Design was not the only focus any more. Also many participants discussed topics which were not really ‘theirs’. At the closing of the Fuschl 2004 Conversation a certain feeling of uneasiness about the validity and the relevance of the Conversation was felt.
- 2005: This development coincided with another change to the IFSR. Initiated by IFSR’s then President Jifa Gu, the IFSR Board decided to hold its first Congress in Kobe, Japan, in November 2005, at the request of our new Japanese member, the International Society of Knowledge and Systems Science (ISKSS)2. This congress will be remembered as a turning point in the history of the IFSR: For the first time IFSR was willing to really take a lead in the Systems Movement, we entered the integration phase for the Fuschl Conversations.
- 2006: The vision of the IFSR’s new role could only be realized by achieving a consensus between our members and by an evaluation of the situation of the systems movement. We could say that we went into a strategic reorientation phase. This gave a new challenging purpose to the Fuschl Conversation: to provide a platform for representatives of our member societies and other prominent scientists to evaluate the state of affair in systems, make some conclusions for the future and to give guidance and direction to the IFSR and its members.
We decided that the Conversation-style was the right tool and Fuschl the right environment to achieve our goal. For 2006 we choose topics which were relevant and strategic to the systems movement at large and to the IFSR in particular. We invited representatives of member organizations to suggest participants. The Fuschl Conversation brought numerous suggestions, ideas and actions plans for the future work of the IFSR. The findings and suggestions of Fuschl 2006 can be found in the proceedings3.
- One major impetus was the recognition that IFSR needed a much more interactive and comprehensive Web-site. As a consequence – after some deliberations and with assistance from David Ing, then webmaster for the ISSS – Gerhard Chroust, the Secretary General, agreed to renovate the website, using a different technology (DRUPAL) and on this basis provide a dynamic communication means for our member societies and for the Systems Movement in general. By November 2007 the new website (http://www.ifsr.org) became operational and is under constant improvement since. One of the major advantages of the new website is the accessibility of much of the information (all past and current Newsletters, all available proceedings of Fuschl Conversations, pictures, etc.) to the general public in a central repository. But we all agreed that this 2006 Conversation was to be a singular event, not to be repeated the next time.
- With 2008 we went a middle ground: We choose (finally) four topics which seemed to be in the center of concern for the systems movement in general but also to the participants. We entered the topic oriented phase. All topics were concerned with enabling the IFSR to perform better. We kept the traditional Conversation style. Again the Conversation was characterized by a strong involvement of all participants. In the Conversation we tried to enhance the panel discussions and the cross-team interactions, encouraging participants to join as ‘guests’ other teams.
- Fuschl 2008 showed considerable difference to the 2006 Conversation. In 2008 operational and practical problems were in the foreground: “How can we achieve…”, while 2006 was more concerned with long range strategic visions. Both Conversations established the IFSR as a high-level coordinative player in the Systems Movement and were very helpful in deciding on future directions.
- But we also recognized that we need more changes to keep the Fuschl Conversations sufficiently useful to justify their existence and the associated expenditure in time and money.
- In Bela Banathy‘s the preparation for a Conversation ideally begins as an outgrowth of a previous Conversation – or at least with many months of advance thinking and preparation. A topic is chosen by a team; individual input papers are prepared and distributed to allow the team members to further refine questions and to arrive at some shared understanding of the ideas and viewpoints of other team members. By the time the team arrives at the formal, in-person, face-to-face Conversation, a great deal of familiarity and background should already be established and the team simply moves into an intensive phase of work that has begun.
- In reality in today’s environment that kind of collaboration between professionals at great geographic dispersion and with much tighter schedules is difficult to achieve. Those difficulties were part of what had brought the Fuschl Conversations to a critical junction, and became magnified in many ways during the 2006 and 2008 Conversations – a reality that was instructive for us going into the future.
- With 2010 some of the above intentions came true: Two of the four topics of 2010 (Team 1 and Team 2) grew out of the 2008 conversation, the third one was initiated at the ISSS 2009 Conference and was integrated into the Conversation (Team 3). The fourth topic (Team 4) was recognized a potential key topic for the future, somehow a test for the ability of Systems Thinking to link up with the world of Systems Engineering.
With these proceedings we try to convey a realistic and largely un-edited record of the Fuschl Conversation 2008. The style and the level of detail differ depending on the type of group. The reports in these proceedings should be considered as ‘work-in-progress’.
1 Metcalf, G. and Chroust, G., Fuschl 2006 – Aims and Objectives, in Metcalf, G. and Chroust, G.: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Fuschl Conversation, April 22-27, 2006, Inst. f. Systems Engineering and Automation, Kepler Univ. Linz, 2006, SEA-SR-13}, ISBN 3-902457-13-9, pp. 6-9
2 Gu, J. and Chroust, G., IFSR 2005 – The New Roles of Systems Sciences for a Knowledge-based Society, Kobe 2005, JAIST Press 2005, Japan – CDROM, ISBN 4-903092-02-X.
3 Metcalf, G. and Chroust, G.: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Fuschl Conversation, April 22-27, 2006, Inst. f. Systems Engineering and Automation, Kepler Univ. Linz, 2006, SEA-SR-13, ISBN 3-902457-13-9, pp. 65