The ISSS Conference 2019 – A buzzing hub for the BCSSS and scientists throughout the systems sciences

After both deep conversations and playful workshops at the American Society for Cybernetics Conference, Ray Ison (BCSSS Board member) and Angelika Schanda (BCSSS Program Manager) traveled south, from Vancouver, British Columbia to Corvallis, Oregon to attend the 63rd Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS).

This second conference on Schanda’s North America Conference Tour proved to be an interlinking platform for a very diverse set of systems thinkers. One would encounter second-order cybernetics, self-reflective members from the American Society of Cybernetics (ASC); computer modelers with rigorously developed methodologies from the System Dynamics Society (SDS), systems engineers who design new systems at the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), representatives of the umbrella organization International Federation of Systems Research (IFSR), BCSSS members, just as well as visitors from other disciplines who are working with systems thinking principles. As such, it also saw more BCSSS representatives than at the other two conferences on this tour, whose contributions were numerous. Only some highlights of these can be provided below.

This diversity and connection to the BCSSS community does not come completely as a surprise, as the ISSS has developed out of one the longest-standing systems science organizations, founded in 1954 under the name “Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory” (originally co-founded by Ludwig von Bertalanffy). This year’s motto “Nature’s Enduring Patterns: A Path to Systems Literacy” seamlessly fits with this history.

Ray Ison presenting an overview of IFSR

It has quickly become clear at the conference that there is more than just one path. Many routes were uncovered and discussed during this conference, which became ever more clear with Ray Ison’s workshop “IFSR: A Peak Body to Raise our Collective Profile and Status in the International Science, Education and Practice communities”. With his cross-sectoral experience as former ISSS president, BCSSS board member and current IFSR president, Ison presented his findings about over 80 organizations that self-identify in some way with systems or cybernetics – a fascinating insight into the diversity, but also the commonalities of approaches around the world:

“Building solidarity is not a negation of difference; difference builds insight, opens new lines of inquiry and fosters enthusiasm, but solidarity institutionalized through a platform open to celebrating difference and what the many lineages of Cyber-Systems have to offer, is surely something IFSR and its members seek?”

(quoted from the official schedule)

After attending the first half of this sesssion – the program was densely filled with amazing workshops – Angelika Schanda and some of the attendees moved to their own Socio-Ecological Systems and Design Special Integration Group (SIG) meeting, where Schanda hosted the session for Stefan Blachfellner, chair of the SIG as well as the BCSSS Research Group. Later during this week, David Rousseau, leader of the BCSSS Research Group ‘Systems Science and Philosophy, hosted a very well attended and highly interactive meeting of the ‘Systems Philosophy‘ SIG that he chairs. Helene Finidori, leader of the BCSSS Research Group Systems Science and Pattern Literacy, contributed with a key presentation in regards to the conference theme: ‘Towards Pattern Literacy: The Bio-Semiotic Underpinnings of ‘Patterning’ and ‘Languaging’.

Learn more about Pattern Literacy in Support of Systems Literacy: Helene Finidori (2020). Towards Pattern Literacy. The Biosemiotic Underpinnings of Patterning & Languaging, ISSS 2020, Oregon, USA

Helene Finidori, David Rousseau and Howard Silverman

An especially instructive session for Angelika Schanda was concerned with knowledge management and wiki software. Past ISSS president David Ing invited original wiki developer Ward Cunningham to this session, who introduced ‘federated wikis’ as a new format to improve the ease of sharing and learning even further. The lessons from this workshop will prove invaluable for the BCSSS’ endeavour to provide access and further develop the ‘International Encylopedia of Systems and Cybernetics’ by Charles François. Just a few months ago, François had transferred the stewardship over this monumental work in the Systems Sciences to the BCSSS.

As countless meaningful conversations and meetings have to go unreported, there are at least a few more highlights to share. At this year’s elections, Angelika Schanda was confirmed as VP for Membership and PR. Len R. Troncale, past president of the ISSS and Lecturer for the Systems Engineering Grad Program at the California State Polytechnic University, held this year’s Bertalanffy Lecture, which was live streamed on the conference website. Finally, the BCSSS was able to add another fundamental contribution to the field to its library. Michael C. Jackson’s was kind enough to sign his newest book ‘Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity’ for the center.

Overall, there are a lot of new developments in the field. The ISSS conference devoted a number of meetings and discussions on the ISSS Future with the most impressive results. The list of initatives that were subsequently presented by the community was overwhelming. The last day saw over an hour dedicated only to these presentations, with many attendees staying on long after the end of the conference to discuss the next steps to these initiatives. There will be much to look forward to at the 2020 ISSS Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

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