We propose that a wholistic paradigm (e.g. like Biomatrix systems theory) can contribute various concepts to the development of an appropriate information age relevant governance.
Biomatrix systems theory distinguishes between two types of systems:
- entity systems (e.g. a person, neighbourhood community, organisation, society, humanity, species, etc.)
- activity systems (e.g. the activities, processes, or functions of the entity systems)
There are some generic differences in the governance of entity and activity systems. The following are some reflections on this.
societal governance from an entity system perspective
Entity systems form a containing systems hierarchy, whereby an entity system contains sub-entity systems, which – in turn – consist of sub-entity systems, etc. For example, the planet contains human, animal, plant, societies; each society consists of individual members, each individual of cells, etc.
Each entity system within the containing hierarchy is a whole in its own right, different from the other parts, but also an integral part of a larger whole. Accordingly, systems theory speaks of two forces that operate in each entity system: a differentiating force that emphasises the uniqueness of each part and an integrating one which makes a system part of a larger containing whole.
However, the entity system is not merely an accumulation of sub-entity systems. It is more. To paraphrase the famous systems dictum: an entity system is greater than the sum of its parts of sub-entities. A society is more than the sum of its individual members. Analogous to the organism which survives the renewal of its cells, a society continues as its members die and new ones are being born. It is greater than all its members together.
In the context of society, this larger integrated and wholistic character of the entity system is expressed by the concept of community. (In the context of an individual person we speak of his / her personality.)
Community has a uniting and individual transcending characteristic that is often expressed as community spirit. (From the field perspective of Biomatrix theory we would explain this “spirit” as being the underlying in-formation field with which the individual in-formation fields of the members resonate. Individuals whose fields do not resonate with the collective field are not part of that community.)
Societal governance from an entity system perspective is to build and protect a community, as well as harmonising it with the larger containing wholes.
By comparison, the current political system of democracy is entity system based governance in a non-systemic manner, because it is focused on the parts of the whole in an accumulative (i.e. numerical) manner. It allows the majority of the parts and their shared characteristics to represent the whole and rule over the other parts which have other characteristics. It is a win / lose model based on power over.
Even if – as some would argue – political parties reflect different sub-communities in society, the focus is nevertheless on numbers and the representation of the self-interest of their members at the expense of and through power over other members of the containing community.
Although in praxis cooperation between the parts occurs, this is driven by necessity and not principle. The necessity arises from the recognition that in a win / lose situation the opposing parties could drive the system into lose / lose mode.
Instead, the cooperative strategy proposed below is a principle based governance stance which demands to seek out areas of shared values and interest to build a shared containing whole (i.e. a shared community) and advance the interest of the whole, as well as that of its parts, in a balancing manner.
Integrating parts into a coherent whole (i.e. community building) and balancing the interests between the parts and between the parts and the whole are the core governance challenge of a cooperative strategy. This goes beyond a representative model of governance.
Note: This balancing occurs not only in space (i.e. between the levels of part and whole), but also in time (i.e. between short versus long-term considerations). Justice from a systemic perspective implies balancing the interests of different systems in time and space.
societal governance from an activity system perspective
activity systems within an entity system
Entity systems consist of bundles of activity systems (i.e. the actions, processes or functions of the entity). They are the functional parts of an entity system. Each function is directed at and co-produces other entity systems. For example, society has functions like education, health care provision, and transport which are aimed at providing services to develop its members. Likewise, through their activities (e.g. work function, cultural function, parenting function, etc.) the individual members of a society co-produce the state of development of the society they are part of.
In the same manner that an entity system is greater (and different) than its containing parts of sub-entity systems, an entity system is a whole that is also greater than the sum of its activity system parts. It is a synergistic emergence from the interaction of all its activity systems.
On the one hand, its activity systems shape the entity system, on the other hand, the entity system shapes its activities. For example, a person’s work-life shapes him or her as a person. At the same time, the person shapes his / her work-life. Likewise, different societies shape their education and other functional systems according to their preferred values, and –in turn- are shaped by their functions.(This is how the national development planning perspective and the community building perspective would interface).
All entity systems of a specific type have evolved the same types of activity systems. For example, all organisms have the same type of physiological functions that are organised in the same generic manner. Or, the marketing and IT systems in all organisations function according to generic knowledge and use the same type of hard and soft-wares. Likewise, anthropologists tell us that all societies have evolved similar functions, such as economic, political and various cultural (i.e. religious / moral, aesthetic and science related) functions. They also observe that these systems evolve similar features during different stages of development (e.g. during the agrarian, industrial and information stage of a society)
From a governance point of view, an activity system requires primarily a function specific governance (i.e. the expertise of scientists and “technocrats”) in their (re)design, operation and governance. Only secondarily does it need to be shaped or “customised” according to the specific values of the entity system (i.e. specific community) they serve.
The current governance model of representative governance is not functionally conceived. The elected representatives of the entity are supposed to make decisions about functions of which they have no expertise knowledge (and even if they have expert advisors, their ability to select them may be a problem). More seriously, there is no law enforcing stakeholder consideration in the design and operations of societal functions, nor is there legally entrenched stakeholder accountability.
linking up of activity systems across entity systems
Analogous to a fishing net in which the threads run continuously through the knots (in fact creating them), activity systems in the Biomatrix run through entity systems. (One way of looking at the Biomatrix is that it is a web of interacting supply chains.)
More specifically, activity systems of different entity systems link up with each other to form larger supply chains. For example, the nutrition supply chain requires light to allow plants and animals to grow; they become food by harvesting, processing, distributing, cooking and eating them, which our body digests, metabolises and absorbs as nutrients. Likewise the energy supply chain in society starts with our planet’s (and sun’s) resources from which energy is generated and distributed to consumers.
All supply chains leave by-products (e.g. waste, pollutants) along the way mwhich become part of other supply chains.
Each section of a supply chain is part of a different entity system (in the case of the nutrition chain these are the sun, the planet, the agricultural and food industries, the family, person, cells in the body, molecules and atoms; in the case of the electricity supply chain these include mines, power-stations, distribution line operators, energy storage and appliance related enterprises).
While nature’s supply chains have evolved sustainable functioning, most supply chains created by society are not sustainable. In nature, the processes associated with life’s functions have evolved stability, whereby the outputs (both products and by-products) become input to others, resulting in the ecological balance we observe. By comparison, many of society’s supply chains (in parts and as wholes) exceed the carrying capacity of nature by overloading nature’s capacity to absorb by-products and through resource depletion.
As outlined in the introduction, many of the supply chains that comprise our global economy need to be redesigned from a sustainability perspective. This implies that activity system governance will have to inspire a change in entity system governance and even overrule it.
By comparison, the current global supply chains emerge from the self-interests of the organisations linking up with each other. Individual entity system (i.e. corporate, national) perspectives prevent the creation of sustainable supply chains. Although some organisations embrace supply chain management , this is mostly from the perspective of optimising their own operations within their current business model and not from the perspective of transforming their own business model in terms of benefitting the larger whole. In fact, the entity systems along a supply chain can only change their business model, if this is prompted by an overarching redesign of the industry. An example would be that the coal industry changes its business model from being a continuous energy provider to becoming a complementary energy provider. In praxis this would involve using different technologies than they use now, which implies a costly change (if it can be done at all within existing power stations).
Activity system governance requires that stakeholders from all sections of a supply chain need to cooperate in the (re)design of a supply chain and its implementation, whereby each stakeholder needs to make its unique function specific contribution. We have previously referred to this as a stakeholder democracy.
A stakeholder democracy would imply that
- stakeholder is a function specific concept (e.g. the different sections of a supply chain and their specific stakeholders need to be considered or involved in its design and operations)
- decisions would need consideration or involvement of all stakeholders (i.e. legitimacy of decision-making would need to be dependent on stakeholder consideration / representation, whereby the failure to include key stakeholders would make the decision illegitimate).
- accountability on the design and operation of an activity system is to its relevant stakeholders (and not to an anonymous majority of the associated entity system).
The current entity system governance model of a numbers based democracy driven by the self-interest of the parts (be the number of persons within national governance or number of countries within international governance), is insufficient to deal with the global supply chain challenge.
However, it is possible that by embracing the governance ideology of Systemic Cooperative Strategy more appropriate governance models (e.g. of activity system based public / private partnerships) could emerge.