ISSS2000 Abstracts

ISSS2001 Abstracts


ELC (Evolutionary Learning Community)


A Special Integration Group (SIG)
Sponsored by Syntony Quest for the
International Society for the Systems Sciences


The ELC SIG began as an Exploratory Breakout Session at the 43rd ISSS Meeting and was formally accepted as a SIG for the 44th Meeting. This SIG invites the creative exploration of Evolutionary Systems Design (as philosophy, theory, methodology, and practice) by action-oriented systems thinkers of today who wish to engage in the creation of the conditions under which partnership cultures may emerge tomorrow. Through papers and conversation, this objective will be followed down a path of inquiry couched in a normative evolutionary perspective. To this end, the notion of Evolutionary Learning Community (ELC) will serve as the vehicle of choice for action-research, focusing attention on the development of shared evolutionary competence. It is hoped that ELC inquiry will ultimately promote community design that cultivates self-empowerment, integrates learning, work, and the enjoyment of life, and fosters evolutionarily sustainable patterns of existence.

SIG CO-CHAIRS: Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D. and Kathia C. Laszlo, Ph.D.abd
> Syntony Quest <
1761 Vallejo Street
Suite 302
San Francisco, California 94123-5029
Tel/Fax: ++415/346.1547
Or, ISSS V.P. for Administration G.A. Swanson, E-mail:


Toronto, Canada, 16-21 July 2000


As part of ISSS praxis, the development of operational models of ELC could help understand the dynamics of sustainable development in complex human/nature systems. Although essentially abductive in methodological style, the two lines of design inquiry to be pursued to facilitate ISSS offerings will be essentially deductive and inductive, respectively: the former will proceed through discussion of theoretical analyses relating to the principles and constructs required for a community to be both evolutionary and learning oriented; and the latter will proceed through presentation of observations of, and interactions with, existing communities that demonstrate evolutionary competence or the potential for it. Since these two approaches are co-dependent and mutually inform issues of systems science and quality of life, they will form the backbone of the ELC SIG sessions.

ISSS2001 Abstracts



Order of presentation:
- Title
- Author(s) and contact information
- Abstract

1. The Epistemological Foundations of Evolutionary Systems Design

Alexander Laszlo
> Syntony Quest <
1761 Vallejo Street, Suite 302
San Francisco, CA 94123-5029

This paper presents the genesis of Evolutionary Systems Design (ESD) as a praxis that draws on General Evolution Theory and Social Systems Design methodology, in addition to Critical Systems Theory, to engage in life-long learning and human development in partnership with Earth. The origins and foundation of ESD are portrayed as providing the basis for a framework that bridges evolutionary consciousness and evolutionary action. The roots of ESD are traced back to General Evolution Theory and the notions of evolutionary stewardship that grew out of the action-inquiry encounters fostered by the International Systems Institute. It is described how these notions were given operational viability through the methodology of Social Systems Design. The fundamental tenets of ESD are presented and discussed by way of a four stage evolutionary learning framework. Finally, the vehicle of Evolutionary Learning Community through which ESD operates is shown to embody the potential for individuals and groups to think, live, and act in harmony with the dynamics of which they are a part as a means to guide the conscious creation of sustainability.

2. Design and Theories of Social Evolution

John A. Broadbent
Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building,
University of Technology, Sydney
PO Box 123
Broadway, New South Wales
Australia 2007

Design describes future pathways desired by humans, while evolution describes the pathways actually taken. A convergence of these two processes seems desirable, so that design might act as an evolutionary guidance system and thus accord more closely with evolutionary processes. This paper examines diverse theories of social evolution, including those with economic, thermodynamic, sociobiological, technological and general systems emphases, in an attempt to establish more enduring principles for design practice.

3. Learning, Design, and Action: Preparing the ground for Evolutionary Learning Community

Kathia C. Laszlo
> Syntony Quest <
1761 Vallejo Street, Suite 302
San Francisco, CA 94123-5029

Evolutionary Learning Community is a potential future direction of educational processes that seek to respond to key contemporary global challenges. Given the increase in human conflicts and ecological degradation, the world cannot continue functioning in the same way as it does today — doing so would put into jeopardy the possibility for a human future in partnership with Earth. There is a need for a new way of empowering and developing our human potential.

What do we need to learn to design Evolutionary Learning Communities? This paper presents the results of an inquiring process that took the form of research as learning for action. The focus of the inquiry was the creation of some initial conditions considered necessary for the design of ELC. These conditions included: 1) an operational definition of ELC; 2) the description of the personal attributes of the potential designers of ELC; and 3) the design of a learning framework for empowering designers of ELC. The particular approach used was Evolutionary Systems Design: a systemic heuristic approach based on social systems design and complemented with an evolutionary systems perspective and a critical systems orientation. The inquiry involved a theoretical phase that was complemented with the experiences and perspectives of some individuals — who are engaged in areas of work relevant for the design of ELC, such as systems design, community development, educational change, and environmental sustainability — who engaged with the author and principal researcher in Learning Conversations.

4. Toward Authenticity in Human Activity Systems

Sherryl R. Stalinski
Aurora Now Foundation
5111 E. Camino Francisco Soza
Tucson, AZ 85718

For many years, the research team on Healthy & Authentic Community of the International Systems Institute's Asilomar Conversation Community has sought to create markers of health and authenticity within human communities. An oft raised question of this inquiry from those unfamiliar with the application of systems science concepts in human activity systems has been "what does 'authentic' mean in this context?" Aren't all individuals and communities "authentic" by the nature and reality of their existence? This paper will seek to explore the relevence and meaning of 'authenticity' as it relates to notions of healthy and sustainable communities, including the role of the truly 'authentic' individual. The paper will further identify the relevance of application of the systems sciences as one effective framework around which healthy, authentic communities can design themselves.

5. Learning through Viable Knowledge Creation

Maurice Yolles and Paul Iles
Liverpool John Moores University
Liverpool, L45 9JZ
United Kingdom

The idea that learners can have styles of learning derives from the work of Kolb, which stems from an inadequate theory of learning behaviour. Learning might better be placed within the context such as the knowledge creation cycle of Nonaka and Takeuchi. However this too has its epistemological problems. An alternative knowledge creation cycle is proposed that results in an alternative conceptualisation of knowledge style, and it derives from viable systems theory.

6. The Coherent Architecture of Team Syntegrity: From Small to Mega FORMS

Joseph Truss, Christine Cullen and Allenna Leonard
Team Syntegrity Inc. (TSI)
150 Yonge Blvd
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5M 3H4

Professor Stafford Beer’s book Beyond Dispute: The Invention of Team Syntegrity, (Wiley 1994) describes the invention of a group methodology for dealing with complex issues. Beer applied principles of managerial cybernetics to work out how to achieve high levels of "syzygy" (cooperation and commitment) in groups that are large enough to satisfy issues of requisite variety, and small enough to accomplish something. The result was Syntegration™, a collaborative group process for thirty people that takes five days. In 1992, Team Syntegrity Inc. (TSI) was founded to find viable markets for Syntegration, and to continue the development of the methodology together with Beer. Delving deeply into the underlying geometry of the Icosahedron, Joe Truss led the development of a suite of applications of the TS method that remove the constraints of thiry people and five days. Truss showed how the TS method can be used for groups of virtually any size, in sessions lasting from one to many days. With over 100 Syntegration events delivered for client groups in several countries and several languages, the power of Syntegration to help groups creatively address complex challenges is evident. However, TS offers more. It offers a coherent architecture for groups, and connected groups of groups, to think, plan, act and learn collaboratively in the most efficient way. It provides an "organized space" within which groups can self-organize, using a structured process governed by cybernetic principles, to deal with their own issues and problems. The paper describes the development of the TS protocols since Beer invented Syntegration, both from a technical and practical perspective, and provides examples of client interventions in relevant industries. It explains how the application of TS architecture and protocols, as organizations move relentlessly into the emerging e-economy, can support viable, connected, self-organizing and truly empowered groups and learning communities.

7. The Mind-Book: A Designerly Tool for Learning To Learn in The Age of Internet

Silvia Austerlic
310 Cedar St. #5
Santa Cruz CA 95060

In order to make visible and embody our concepts, we need to give them a context where they can exist by their own right, a place to play. The mind-book is an educational device (on which concept I’ve been working since September 1998), a low-tech, user-friendly visualization tool and experiential thinking technique that could be integrated to support any on-going learning, creative or even therapeutic process. I see design as a human potentiality that manifests itself in the invention of new social practices, be they products, artifacts, services and trends. Design practices are a proactive strategy for facilitating change working toward a desired outcome. Thus, the mind-book offers a tangible frame of reference where to display in a designerly way any idea we want to work on; make visible our own meaningful connections and produce new ones, by playing with verbal and non-verbal symbols.

The mind-book aims to facilitate experiential thinking processes through joint venture partnership among students and instructor/learning process facilitator. Symbolic meaning, intuitive thought, and experiential learning are brought together by the students’ reflections, attention and imagination; all aspects of design intelligence. Viewing design as a form of intelligence invites us to understand genius as the ability to work with our own perceptions, and put into effect what we have in mind.

For the students, the mind-book is a designerly tool to help them visualize their own perspective in the context of a broader learning environment, explore their imagination, clarify their personal interests, and give shape to their own ideas.

For instructors, the mind-book is a visualization method to better understand and evaluate the students’ learning processes, and assist them to accomplish a more complex understanding by building from their own individual performances.

It is complementary with other techniques of learning and evaluation.

8. Learning Communities for Educational Reform

Shoshana Keiny
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Beer-Sheva 84230

Our idea of a learning community is based on the enactive view of learning, whereby the individual 'teacher as learner' and the community of teachers, are cast as dynamically and dialectically interactive. As the individual teacher learns the community changes, and this change of context in turn, transforms the very identity of the learner. Our emphasize is on the dialectic interaction between the teacher's situated knowledge, and the group's reconstruction of a new professional pedagogical knowledge, which in turn, transforms the basic assumptions of the participating teachers. Thus context is not seen as an external situation, but rather as locus of activity experienced by the participants.

Based on Macmurray's definition of a community as a medium in which each member is recognized as different, yet feels free to express him or herself as a person, our primary task is to develop communities of learners. Our collaborative frameworks consist of teachers and researchers who jointly strive to create an educational reform in terms of learning teaching and schooling. To evolve into communities of learners, they have to grow beyond collaboration. Collaboration as means and not an end is typified by personal-relationship, equality, and freedom. Commitment to freedom and equality enables the participants to be exploratory and to develop their uniqueness. The reciprocity of interpersonal relations and freedom, creates a climate in which we can most fully be ourselves while constructing new professional knowledge.

Our paper based on a case study of one such educational project, illustrates our process of learning as dialectics between participants and their context of a growing learning community.

9. A Report on an Investigation into Our Teaching of Information Systems in U.K. Universities and an Experiment in Evolutionary Learning

J. Brian Hopkins
School of Design and Communication Systems
Anglia Polytechnic University
Chelmsford, CM1 1LL
United Kingdom

The report is a product of a research project conducted with the Open University in the U.K. which has focused on the role of our teaching philosophies and pedagogic practice as a contributory factor in the expressed levels of dis-satisfaction with delivered information systems (IS) amongst our client community. Using, amongst other approaches, textual and discourse analysis a detailed study was made of the publications and documentation used by universities for both external and internal consumption, together with transcripts of student role-play exercises, observation of teaching methods and practices and analysis of examination and assignment questions and answers. The results have confirmed the initial hypothesis that the process is driven primarily by a conviction that the process of IS development is essentially part of the engineering family of methods in which goals are clearly definable (potentially) and thus proven, serial methods (seen as “best practice”) can be employed and that these stances, translated into a focus on acquiring skills in tools and techniques, must be at the heart of our teaching and learning strategies. As a alternative to this approach the research has also engaged in experimentation with student groups who have worked within a framework of their own design, being encouraged to initiate and formulate analysis and design methods which grow out of their own experiences, intuitions and common sense. The role of the tutor has been that of mentor and consultant. This evolutionary learning process has proved invaluable both as a learning scheme and also, potentially, as a prototype for a more creative and participative mode of IS development based around Schon's ideas of "artistry" and the education of professionals.

10. Transdisciplinary Collaboration for Sustainability: New Frameworks for Learning and Governance

Gregory Baeker
Humanities Division
University of Toronto at Scarborough
greg.baeker@utoronto.caAnn Dale
Sustainable Development Institute
University of British Columbia
anndale@sdri.ubc.caNina-Marie Lister
School of Urban and Regional Planning
Ryerson Polytechnic Institute

Complex systems draw their strength and resilience from diversity: genetic diversity in species, biological diversity within ecosystems, and cultural diversity in human communities. At the present rate and scale of human activity it is clear we are undermining diversity and degrading the very foundations for life. Sustainable development, therefore, is the strategic imperative of the 21st century. The complexity and chaos inherent in the present interaction of human and natural systems, our uncertain knowledge due to interactive effects across time, place and scale, presents unprecedented challenges for learning and governance. While the interaction of social, economic and ecological determinants of sustainability have been extensively analyzed, the cultural dimensions of sustainable development have received considerably less emphasis. As the world becomes more integrated economically and technologically, mass global migration is simultaneously resulting in urban centres with unprecedented ethno-racial and cultural diversity, diversity that requires us to fundamentally rethink cultural assumptions related to citizenship, civil society and social cohesion in the governance of human communities. Panel will draw on insights from a diverse range of academic disciplines and professional experience. More specifically it will explore the potential for new insights into the challenge of sustainability in complex systems based on synergies between post-normal science and postmodern cultural analysis. Effective policies and strategies for sustainable development require interdisciplinary expertise brought together in transdisciplinary networks and fora of collaboration linking researchers, planners and public policy makers, NGO’s, business leaders, and communities. They demand evolutionary ways of communicating, understanding and trust.

11. The Evolutionary Corporation

Brian F. Nattrass and Mary A. Nattrass
The Natural Step
Thoreau Center for Sustainability, The Presidio
P.O. Box 29372
San Francisco, CA 94129-0372

An 'evolutionary corporation' consciously operates with a growing understanding of the dynamics of the natural systems within which it is embedded and aligns its actions with those systems. It consciously chooses strategies consistent with vital evolutionary choices for the many systems with which it is connected and upon which it depends. An evolutionary corporation recognizes the growing evolutionary force that human systems have become on a global scale and takes responsibility for the role that industry plays as a major part of that evolutionary force. Based upon the case studies undertaken by the authors in such leading European and American corporations as IKEA, Scandic Hotels, Interface, and Collins Pine, several characteristics of evolutionary corporations can be identified: strong core values embracing sustainability, a commitment to learning, a whole systems worldview, an expanded sense of responsibility and accountability, robustness, evolutionary consciousness and conscious evolution, and a recognition of the benefits of sustainability to business. Each of the corporations studied utilizes The Natural Step framework for sustainability to develop a new shared mental model of business reality, one that integrates sustainability considerations into strategic business decisions and day-to-day operations.

12. Title tba

[derived from work with a variety of state and local agencies on work groups addressing substance abuse]

Erin Artigiani
4321 Hartwick Rd
Ste. 501
College Park, MD 20740

A paper about how creating a new system allows new and better methods of communication to evolve between agencies and individuals. As the ELC (system) begins to evolve, it can develop and implement actions and strategies that the individual members would be incapable of building. These actions and strategies can have a more comprehensive and lasting effect on people, places, and polices than any individual effort. The paper would focus on the efforts of two particular workgroups – one with the mission of implementing specific actions to respond to emerging drugs and one with the mission of developing a strategy to reduce youth substance abuse.


The following paper lays the groundwork for Evolutionary Learning Community inquiry. It presents the terminology, the methodology, and the action-research objectives of the sort that the ELC SIG seeks to promote, and thus provides a conceptual framework in which to couch our conversations.


Evolutionary Learning Community Inquiry:
Theoretical background and core definitions
by Kathia C. Laszlo, M.Ed.

Syntony Quest
1761 Vallejo, Suite 302
San Francisco, CA 94123-5029


Paper submitted for presentation at the 43rd Meeting of the ISSS
27 June - 2 July 1999, Asilomar (USA)



Evolutionary Learning Community (ELC) inquiry is a field of disciplined, creative and participatory action-research. It seeks to develop the competencies and sensitivities in individuals and groups that empower them to purposefully design experiences of community that are learning oriented, self-empowering, and environmentally sustainable. This paper sketches out the three main components of the theoretical, methodological, and philosophical bases upon which ELC inquiry rests:

1) insights from the sciences of complexity-in particular evolutionary systems theory;

2) perspectives from human science traditions-in particular certain aspects of critical theory, feminism, and the participatory paradigm; and

3) systems thinking-which supports the integrative and transdisciplinary nature of the inquiry.

In addition, the key terms that define ELC inquiry are identified and explained. The paradigmatic assumptions underlying this inquiry will be made explicit in order to create a comprehensive foundation for common understanding among those interested in engaging in the design of ELC.

Key words: systems inquiry, human science, sciences of complexity, design, evolution, community, learning, evolutionary learning community (ELC).


Background and Conceptual Roots of the Emergent
Evolutionary Learning Community Inquiry

The Evolutionary Learning Community (ELC) inquiry is a field of disciplined, creative and participatory action-research that seeks to develop the competencies and sensitivities in individuals and groups to purposefully design experiences of community that are evolutionary, learning oriented, self-empowering, and environmentally sustainable. The ELC inquiry is motivated by the global contemporary challenges of human societies and by the formidable tasks that education faces if it aspires to respond appropriately to the crises and opportunities that surround us today. It is also inspired by the unlimited evolutionary possibilities ahead of us. Therefore, the ELC inquiry has an empowering and creative purpose grounded in a transdisciplinary body of knowledge. Systems inquiry provides the foundation and the context for this transdisciplinary exploration.

The idea and ideal of ELC emerged from the work of a research team (Group D) within the International Systems Institute (ISI) in 1993. Since then, there have been seven design conversations (six in California and one in Fuschl, Austria) dedicated to the exploration of ELC as part of the International Conferences on Social Systems Design sponsored by ISI.

In the general context of social systems design, which is the main area of research of ISI, Group D has been exploring since 1989 the idea of a design culture. The focus on design culture lead to an exploration of designing communities, the components for building a design culture (i.e., the design principles, the learning system, and the resources or “tools” of design), and the relational dynamics among these components. The focus shifted to the design of the learning system that can enable a design culture. Eventually, the learning system became the “evolutionary learning community” (ELC). The team has been interested in finding a balance between the theoretical and practical aspects of the inquiry by working on the description of the ideal ELC (i.e., what an ELC “should be”) and simultaneously linking this learning to the everyday life and work of those engaged in the inquiry. In short, the main question guiding the collaboration is “how to create the conditions for the design of ELC and the emergence of a design culture?”

The notions of social systems design and design culture are very much the conceptual roots of the construct ELC. In terms of the evolution of this line of inquiry, the change of focus from a direct interest in designing a design culture to designing ELCs indicates a shift in assumption: We cannot design a design culture, but we can design communities that by their ways of being and becoming can create the conditions for the emergence of a new (i.e., design) culture.

Social systems design, as proposed by Banathy (1996), is a form of decision-oriented disciplined inquiry that facilitates the transcendence of the actual situation in a social system into one that is agreed by those engaged in the design to be a better one. In other words, it is a process that helps to identify the needs to change and translate an ideal vision of the future into a feasible reality. Social systems design is a process through which individuals and communities can create the conditions for the development of their individual and collective potential and for the social evolution of humanity. Systems design is concerned with what ought to be.

Banathy (1996) defines design culture as “a learned pattern of behavior.... [that] enables the collective creation of novel phenomenon” (p. 241). This definition indicates the centrality of learning to the process of facilitating transformation toward a more creative and purposeful culture. Design competence is the manifestation of such learned behavior. However, how does large social systems, such as a complex industrial society, learns design competence to embody a design culture? Culture, by definition, is a property of a group or population (Laszlo & Krippner, 1998, p. 67) and learning is a process that can be both individual and collective. If a design culture can be learned, there needs to be a link between the individual and collective learning processes and the emergent design culture of the whole system. Here is where the notion of community, or more specifically, learning community, becomes a central piece in this inquiry as the social unit where the conditions for the synergistic emergence of a design culture can be created.

Design culture is a creative and participatory culture that is able to transform itself. However, creativity and participatory transformation per se do not bring about healthy and sustainable social systems. Therefore, a question that arises is: how can we guide creative and participatory transformation in positive and ethical directions? This is a central concern for systems designers and specially for those involved in ELC inquiry. Social systems design starts by creating an ideal image of the future and works to translate the image into reality. In ELC inquiry, a core aspect of this ideal vision is to articulate specific manifestations of what we are calling sustainable futures. The notion of sustainable futures indicates an open array of environmentally and socially responsible future possibilities that represent the interrelated diversity of the human spirit and life choices which give rise to the collective socio-cultural and historical features of human societies.

Purpose of ELC inquiry

ELC inquiry has a timely-and urgent-agenda. The following articulation of purposes are based on the concepts and principles that show potential contributions for the advancement of this work, as will be argued throughout this paper. However, this is just a proposal that seeks to provide elements for dialogue since ELC inquiry is a collaborative effort which objectives and premises need to be shared and co-created. Some of the proposed purposes indicate that ELC inquiry seeks to:


Key Concepts in ELC Inquiry

The Meaning of Evolution and Learning

Evolution, both as a scientific theory and as a universal myth, is a powerful story for the transformation of consciousness and society (Feinstein and Krippner, 1988, pp. 212-213). Chaisson (1987) believes that “an appreciation and understanding of evolution... can provide a map for the future of humanity” (p. 200), while Csikszentmihalyi (1993) considers that “in order to make choices that will lead to a better future, it helps to be aware of the forces at work in evolution” (p. 4). ELC inquiry makes explicit these intentions and assumptions.

The development of the sciences of complexity have produced “the beginnings of a general theory of evolution that covers everything from molecules to humankind” (Goerner, 1994, p. 20). Bowler (1984, p. xiii) believes that the development of the notion of evolution is “perhaps the most controversial of all scientific theories,” and the most recent general evolution theory is not the exception. This theory of evolution is “a general way of conceptualizing the self-organizing selection process of the universe displayed in the increasing complexity which occurs as a result of the dynamic balancing effort of entropy and negentropy through the process of fluctuation, amplification and subsequent bifurcation allowing successful phase transition and emergence” (Reeves in Francois, 1997, p. 130). In other words, the evolutionary process of systems far from thermodynamic and chemical equilibrium is composed of periods of dynamic stability (homeostasis), and when this stability can no longer be maintained, the system enters a period of turbulence-or bifurcation-when it transcends (self-organizes) to a higher level of organization, structural complexity, dynamism and autonomy. In this way, open systems become more complex and dynamic, more in control of themselves and of their environment, moving further and further from the inert state of equilibrium (E. Laszlo, 1996, p. 12). This conception of evolution describes an order-producing universe and according to Goerner (1994),
has dramatic implications for human beings because, like the Copernican revolution, it creates a radical change of perspective.... It denies classical science’s image of a sterile mechanical universe of directionless colliding particles and accidental life. The Copernican revolution showed that we were not at the center of the universe. The nonlinear revolution shows that we are embedded in a deep, creative, and directed process that is the physical universe. We are part of something much larger, more coherent and more miraculous than just ourselves. (p. 21)

This emergent understanding of evolutionary dynamics offers great possibilities for the conscious creation of sustainable futures. E. Laszlo (1991) believes that “having become conscious of evolution, we must now make evolution itself conscious. If we so willed it, the next leap in the development of human society can be intentionally guided.... we have the means, and the opportunity, to design our destiny” (p. 104). However, those conscious of evolution are a few educated and forward looking individuals. The mainstream understanding of evolution remains Darwinian-dominated by conceptions of competition and survival of the fittest-just as the dominant world view is still rooted in a mechanistic and reductionistic way of thinking. It is through learning processes that these conceptions can be updated and transformed and the facilitation of such learning processes is the role of ELCs.

In the last decades, the human species has put into risk not only their future but also the future of life on Earth (E. Laszlo, 1994, p.1). Our contemporary ways of living are unsustainable, our social systems are breaking down, our societies are not in peace. It is the limits of human will and understanding that obstruct the paths toward a better future. Einstein and Russell (1957) considered that “we have to learn to think in a new way” in order to ethically apply our knowledge and to give creative solutions to our problems. To learn to think in a new way may depend on our ability to learn to learn in new ways.

Learning is a transformative process which holds the potential for being “the greatest source of change in social systems” (Banathy, 1996, p. 318). However, "learning" means different things in different contexts. Sometimes learning is confused or taken as a synonym of teaching. Sometimes learning cannot be separated from what happens in a formal educational institution, or is constrain to a process for children and youth. Sometimes learning is limited to cognitive, rational, and verbal processes that can only handle data and knowledge but not understanding and wisdom. But learning can be much more than all these. For instance, Capra (1996) thinks that to learn is to be alive. Learning is a complex activity that involves the whole human being and that implies interactions with other human beings and with the natural and socio-cultural environment. It is a process of change that could have many results, including, for instance, the acquisition and generation of knowledge, the development of skills, and the reformulation of values and perspectives.

Educators, psychologists, organizational consultants, and philosophers, among others, have theorized about different kinds of learning. Two kinds are particularly relevant for the change of mindset called for by Einstein and Russell and for ELC inquiry: transformative learning and evolutionary learning. Transformative learning involves the expansion of consciousness in human systems through the transformation of basic worldviews and the development of capacities of the self (Elias, 1997, p. 14). Evolutionary learning is innovative and enables the learner to cope with uncertainty and change, renew perspectives and creatively design new forms of social systems (Banathy, 1996, pp. 318-319). Both transformative and evolutionary learning are the antithesis of maintenance learning which is adaptive and involves the acquisition of fixed viewpoints, methods, and rules for dealing with known and recurring events that maintain the status quo. Transformative learning and evolutionary learning could be seen as a continuum of enabling processes suitable for the change required in our times. Transformative learning is aimed at inner development, characterized by the expansion of consciousness at the individual and collective levels while evolutionary learning is aimed at outer transformation, through participatory design of sustainable social systems. In this framework, learning is a journey that enables the evolution of consciousness and continues as the transformation of the surrounding reality. The evolution of individual and collective consciousness can prepare and motivate action for conscious evolution (Salk, in Banathy, 1996, p. 317).

Types of Communities

What is a community-that is, an authentic community? How does it relate to an evolutionary learning community? Community can be considered “a group of two or more individuals with a shared identity and a common purpose committed to the joint creation of meaning” (Laszlo & Laszlo, 1997, p. 6). Yet there is more to an ELC than that. One of the core characteristics of an authentic community, as described by Peck (1987), is its synergetic character. He suggests that a community is more of “a way of being together with both individual authenticity and interpersonal harmony so that people become able to function with a collective energy even greater than the sum of their individual energies” (p. 239). Authentic communities are able to enhance their own development while at the same time enhancing that of each individual in the community, thereby promoting both freedom of personal choice and a sense of responsibility for the whole. The operating principle is that of unity in diversity. The common purpose of the community transcends self-interest. This meaning of authentic community accounts for the “C” in ELC.

During the Ninth Fuschl Conversation of ISI the team focused on ELC came up with distinctions between four types of communities: Traditional Community, Surrogate Community, (simple) Learning Community, and Evolutionary Learning Community (McCormick, et. al., 1998). These distinctions were based on a list of terms that defined the dimensions of community types and transformations. These terms were: authentic, community, evolution, learning, sustainability, challenge, syntony, design, culture, identity, consciousness, and purpose. As a result of the week-long conversation, which involved clarifying the meaning and roles of the above terms for each type of community, the group came up with the following definitions:

Traditional Community (TC): A closed, stable system where the individual’s identity is determined by a collective identity rooted in transmitted myths, values, norms, and rites. That is, an individual born within this kind of community is indoctrinated into the culture. Example: Many indigenous communities.


Modern industrial societies have fragmented the traditional experiences of community for which each human being longs. Surrogate communities were identified as designed ways of community to satisfy the need of common identity and belonging of individuals who do not have access to other forms of community. However, surrogate communities are not authentic in the synergetic way described by Peck since individuals, by joining the community, accept the values, beliefs, and rules-defined by others-under which the community operates. There is an organization, for instance, dedicated to encourage community in the US and abroad. To do so, they organize community workshops-two day encounters among individuals interested in having a cathartic experience leading toward feelings of empathy and connection to each other. After the workshop is over, participants will have to continue paying a fee to gather again as a community, or otherwise, the experience of community will be over and life will continue as it used to before the workshop.
In organizational and educational settings the notion of learning community has become a focus of attention in recent years. Corporations and educational institutions are recognizing the importance and value of the experience of authentic community within their operational contexts. Individuals in learning communities have an explicit common purpose: learning together. Nevertheless, this means different things for different people, just as learning per se holds different meanings in different contexts. In some cases there is no difference between a learning community and a group of students with a professor in a classroom setting. In other more dynamic and innovative cases, a learning community is a group of individuals who come together to learn in a flexible and self-directed way. Learning communities can potentially have a very creative and fluid dynamic of collaboration and synergy in order to adapt to their environment-in a reactive mode. Learning communities can be excellent means for doing things right, that is, for increased efficiency and efficacy in a rapidly changing world. But how can learning communities, in addition, help human systems to do the right things? Learning-oriented authentic communities are ideal spaces for exploring new ways of working, learning, and enjoying life in an integrated way. But learning communities do not necessarily imply the ethical and future perspective required for “doing the right things” which is the quest for sustainability and ethical evolutionary possibilities. This is the particular contribution of ELC inquiry. Therefore, learning communities can be stepping stones toward evolutionary learning communities.

Evolutionary learning community (ELC) has been defined as a human activity system that strives toward sustainable pathways for evolutionary development in synergistic interaction with its milieu, through individual and collective processes of empowerment and evolutionary learning (Laszlo & Laszlo, et. al., 1995). “ELCs do not adapt their environment to their needs, nor do they simply adapt to their environment. Rather, they adapt with their environment in a dynamic of mutually sustaining evolutionary co-creation” (Laszlo & Krippner, 1998, p. 65). Just as the concept “system” is more a pattern than a thing, ELC is an ideal image of community that can serve as a beacon for the design of new social systems appropriate for a new evolutionary era. The ELC inquiry seeks to understand and create empowering and ethical opportunities at the community level and to bridge the socio-cultural and ecological aspects of our world in order to create sustainable futures.



Conceptual Base of ELC Inquiry

ELC inquiry is a systemic and humanistic line of research that draws on the knowledge base of different scientific fields and disciplines. Particularly, the insights of the sciences of complexity and some strands of human science inform the process and the content of the inquiry. Systems thinking is the bind that permits meaningful integration for theoretical and practical ends. Systems inquiry, the sciences of complexity, and human science are three fields that have not been combined for action-research before. ELC inquiry attempts to synthesize relevant elements from these areas to create a solid knowledge base to support a transdisciplinary exploration.

ELC inquiry is a recent development within the systems field that combines emancipatory and critical systems thinking as well as evolutionary systems design (Laszlo & Krippner, 1998, p. 58). ELC inquiry synthesizes from the systems tradition:

Figure 1. ELC inquiry in context


Systems Inquiry and Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is “thinking about the world outside [and inside] ourselves... by means of the concept ‘system’” (Checkland, 1993, p. 3); that is, a cognitive process applied to human and natural systems based on systemic characteristics such as wholeness, interconnectedness, emergence, hierarchy, communication, and control (p. 318). Systems thinking is the process of using and applying systems approaches and ideas, both within and without the systems field and beyond scientific inquiry. Systems inquiry is the disciplined use of systems thinking for scientific endeavors.

“Systems inquiry is a system itself. As a conceptual system, it has three interrelated and internally consistent aspects: systems theory, systems philosophy, and systems methodology” (Banathy, 1992, p. 10). Systems theory is a knowledge base that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries; seeks isomorphisms of concepts, principles, laws, and models in various realms of experience; provides a framework for the transfer and integration of insights relevant for particular domains of research; and promotes the unity of science through improving communication among fields. von Bertalanffy’s (1968) General System Theory is “a theory, not of systems of a more or less special kind, but of universal principles applying to systems in general” (p. 32). Systems theory is the theory of “organized complexity” and wholeness that challenges and complements the “theory of unorganized complexity [which] is ultimately rooted in the laws of chance and probability and in the second law of thermodynamics” (p. 34). General systems theorists acknowledge that specialized knowledge is as important as a general and integrative framework (Hammond, 1997, p. 3). “Specific” systems theories have emerged and include cybernetics, autopoietic systems theory, dynamic systems theory, chaos theory, organizational systems theory, and living systems theory, among other. There is a great overlap between these specific systems theories and what has come to be known as the sciences of complexity which are concrete systemic developments in the hard sciences.

Systems methodology implies organized sets of methods

Banathy (1992, pp. 10-11) regards systems inquiry as including two kinds of disciplined inquiry: those that are conclusion-oriented and those that are decision-oriented. The former produces systems knowledge, the later uses systems knowledge in the solving of real-world situations. Accordingly, systems methodologies can be oriented toward the pursue of systems scholarship and the advancement of the field or can be geared toward the application of systems thinking for the analysis, design, development, and management of complex systems.

Philosophy is a reflective endeavor that has as objects of cognition other items of cognition gathered in different fields of inquiry. Systems philosophy is, therefore, a reflective and synthetic endeavor concerned with systems in general, looking at the world in terms of interacting complex wholes (E. Laszlo, 1972). In systems inquiry, advances in theory and methodology catalyze each other, and philosophy brings them together. Scientific facts function as a foundation for an informed systems philosophy, and systems philosophy creates the conditions for the synthesis of scientific findings with potential practical applications.

This systemic view of inquiry provides the elements for the conceptual base for ELC inquiry as shown in figure 2. In other words, ELC inquiry is informed by:

Figure 2. Conceptual base of ELC inquiry

Jackson and Keys (in Jackson, 1992) have developed a framework for the classification of different types of systems thinking. This “system of systems methodologies,” as they call it, is a lens that permits the appreciation of the diversity of systems thinking. Some critics of the systems approach suggests that in systems thinking there is “nothing approaching a coherent body of tested knowledge to attack, rather ‘a melange of insights, theorems, tautologies and hunches’” (Naughton in Checkland, 1993, p. 93). This reflects that without a theoretical framework such as the system of systems methodologies, the diversity of systems approaches seems to be eclectic and fragmented. However, with the ability to appreciate the assumptions of systems approaches a different picture emerges: a picture of potentially complementary types of systems thinking. Thus, “systems thinking is powerful these days... both because of the strength and diversity of its various strands and because those strands can be seen as complementary and can be brought together in an integrated way in problem resolution” (Jackson, 1992, p. 278).

The system of systems methodologies has two dimensions: 1) the nature of the system(s) in which the problems exist, and 2) the nature of the relationship between participants. The former includes mechanistic (closed and simple systems) and systemic (open and complex systems) contexts. The later includes relationships that can be described as unitary (when there is general and genuine agreement among participants), pluralist (when there are diverse values, beliefs, and perspectives as well as the openness and willingness to find common ground), and coercive (situations where there is disagreement and conflict and agreement can only be reached by oppression from a more powerful group over another). Jackson (1992) identifies five distinct types of systems thinking based on the system of systems methodologies:

Critical systems thinking is particularly relevant to ELC inquiry since it is committed to theoretical and methodological complementarism, sociological awareness, and the promotion of human well-being and emancipation (Flood & Jackson, 1991, p. 47). By drawing on this critical orientation, ELC inquiry uses mainly approaches from the soft and emancipatory systems traditions and combines them with other relevant sources beyond the systems field such as the ones explored below.

Insights from the Sciences of Complexity

The sciences of complexity deal with chaos, self-organization, and new understandings of evolution. They were born from mathematics, physics, and chemistry, but differently from these traditional sciences, they are not independent from each other but rather are rapidly evolving in interdependence, informing each other, and creating a transdisciplinary body of knowledge-a hallmark of systemic science. In fact, the sciences of complexity can be considered developments within the systems field as specific systems theories.

“Chaos theory” is a popular name for at least two streams of nonequilibrium theories: one is the mathematical study of complex dynamic systems; the other is a more general area of inquiry exploring non-linear dynamics, bifurcations, and self-organization among other complex phenomena (Loye & Eisler, 1987, p. 54). This later stream is the one that offers relevant insights for the advancement of the ELC inquiry. The understandings derived from the sciences of complexity put an end to the old human quest for absolute predictability and control, yet they offer the possibility for improved anticipation of the consequences of human actions, participatory approaches for problem resolution, clearer sense of purpose, and evolutionary images of the future (Loye & Eisler, 1987, p. 57). These are features that ELC inquiry fully embraces.

The understanding of complexity, emergence, and self-organization can influence the ways of thinking and acting in social systems and can inform the impact of individual and collective participation in design processes. For example, chaotic interdependent systems are extremely sensitive to small changes. Nonlinearity means that small causes may lead to large effects and this is what is known as the butterfly effect. Prigogine and Stengers (in Banathy, 1996) reflect on the social possibilities for new order out of chaotic conditions by noting that: "the threat lies in the realization that in our universe the security of stable, permanent rules are gone forever. We are living in a dangerous and uncertain world that inspires no blind confidence. Our hope arises from the knowledge that even small fluctuations may grow and change the overall structure. As a result, individual activity is not doomed to insignificance." (p. 313)

Gleick (in Francois, 1997, p. 53) says that “chaos is a science of process rather than state, of becoming rather than being.... it makes strong claims about the universal behavior of complexity.” This understanding has important implications for ELC inquiry since it promotes life-long learning and design processes in social systems as means for conscious participation in the ongoing becoming that our socio-cultural evolution entails.

The possibilities for self-organization into higher levels of complexity are open to purposeful human actions. ELC inquiry seeks to engage individuals and groups in purposeful design processes that can bring about futures guided by shared values. However, the new levels of organization are emergent and cannot be predicted from the previous state of the system. That is why in ELC inquiry the quest is for creating the conditions for a new system to emerge rather than to try to plan the future. “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails” is a contemporary Western proverb that captures the intentions of ELC inquiry.

The most recent understanding of the dynamics of evolution, as described above, are grounded in the knowledge of the sciences of complexity. In fact, general evolution theory or evolutionary systems theory integrates the relevant insights from the sciences of complexity and is a very important component of the knowledge base informing ELC inquiry. For instance, while previous notions considered competition and adaptation as the main drivers of evolution, the new notion of evolution recognizes the creative and co-adaptive ability of interrelated systems-“an ongoing dance that proceeds through a subtle interplay of competition and cooperation, creation and mutual adaptation” (Capra, 1998, p. 44), which is a beautiful description of the dynamics of potential ELCs. This emergent understanding of evolution embraces seemingly paradoxical processes that also provides a frame of reference for the use of complementary methods in the process of ELC inquiry.

Human Science Perspectives

“While discussion of human science was once conducted on the grounds of philosophy, professional researchers who must face up to practical problems of social survival are pragmatically moving toward what will work to provide answers where no reliable guides exist” (Salner, 1996, p. 8). ELC inquiry is an emergent area of action-research that faces great challenges in the quest to make practical contributions in the creation of sustainable futures. “How we understand our world, how we learn about it, how we teach the young about their place in it, have consequences for our survival in it” (Salner, 1996, p. 8) and because their relevance for understanding and ameliorating the human condition these critical questions from a human science perspective are part of ELC inquiry.

The human science tradition, like systems thinking, is a reaction against the positivistic and reductionistic approaches of the natural sciences. There are aspects that promise complementarity and synergy for the purposes of ELC inquiry from critical theory, feminism, and the participatory paradigm, all of which are strands within human science still in development. Critical theory can be considered the “umbrella” human science paradigm for ELC inquiry since its axiology is compatible and many authors consider feminist and participatory approaches a part of critical theory. For more clarity, I distinguish between these three human science perspectives, all of which share concerns, assumptions, and approaches with ELC inquiry. There is much to learn from these three strands of human science.

Critical theory seeks to combine philosophy and science, idealism and realism, theory and practice, without assimilating one to the other (Ingram, 1990, p. xxiii). Critical theory has a human empowerment agenda. “Inquiry that aspires to the name critical must be connected to an attempt to confront the injustice of a particular society or sphere within the society” (Kincheloe & McLaren, 1994, p. 140). While many traditional researchers usually claim neutrality, critical researchers often make explicit their partisanship in the struggle for a better world. Some of the assumptions of critical theory, many showing its systemic orientation, are that

Feminism is the only ideology that directly challenges the systems of oppression or what Eisler (1987, p. 164) calls the Dominator model of human relations. Although historically there have been human civilizations based on ranking and power over others as well as civilizations based on linking and power to create, our most recent history is largely as Dominator societies.

Feminism has as its primary objective the emancipation of women, however, it has implications for humanity as a whole. For example, the First United Nations Decade for Women stated as its goals sexual equality, development, and peace (Eisler, 1987, p. 154). Feminist values, such as non-violence, caring, and inclusion, support a more just, peaceful, and ecologically harmonious social order with equality and freedom for all human beings-what Eisler (1987) calls a Partnership society.

Psychologically, one of the main differences between (Western) men and women is the concern for independence in contrast with an emphasis on interdependence, respectively (Montuori, 1989 p. 206). Female emphasis on peace, caring, and inclusivity expands the boundaries of what traditionally have been considered legitimate ways of knowing. Feminist scholars have criticized modern forms of inquiry because of their emphasis on objective, autonomous, rational models identified as masculine. Moderns forms of inquiry have neglected emotions, embodiment, personal experiences, creativity, and collaboration as part of the inquiring process. Although systems inquiry has been lacking some of these features, ELC inquiry embraces this expanded epistemology.

Heron and Reason (1997) call for a “participatory inquiry paradigm” which philosophy and orientation is congruent with the systemic and ethical commitments of ELC inquiry. The epistemology of the participatory inquiry paradigm is a better articulation of the expanded ways of knowing proposed by feminist scholars.

This epistemology includes four interdependent ways of knowing.

Participatory inquiry uses all these kinds of knowing: emotions and personal experiences, creativity and aesthetic expression, theoretical apprehension and practical transformation. Critical subjectivity-or the awareness of the interrelations between these different ways of knowing-is complemented with critical intersubjectivity-the validation through “shared experience, dialogue, feedback, and exchange with others” (Heron and Reason, 1997, p. 283).

The ontology of the participatory paradigm is subjective-objective. “It is subjective because it is only known through the form the mind gives it; and it is objective because the mind interpenetrates the given cosmos which it shapes” (Heron in Heron and Reason, 1997, p. 279). Reality is the result of a co-creative dance between mind and the given cosmos. Participatory inquiry is about co-creating meaning and shaping our world.

The methodology of the participatory paradigm is manifest in many forms of collaborative action inquiry where “all involved engage together in democratic dialogue as coresearchers and as cosubjects” (p. 283). “For what purpose do we cocreate reality?” is the question that seeks to explore the values embraced by the participatory paradigm. “To change the world... participation implies engagement which implies responsibility.... Participatory research is thus essentially transformative” (Heron and Reason, 1997, p. 287-288).

The emerging world view that supports the participatory paradigm is essentially systemic, empowering, pluralistic, and egalitarian. It is based on feminist values, liberationist education, spirituality, ecology and supported by systems thinking and the sciences of complexity. “This world view sees human beings as cocreating their reality through participation: through their experience, their imagination and intuition, their thinking and their action” (Reason, 1994, p. 324). Critical theory, feminist thought, and the participatory paradigm are areas of inquiry with a rich history and a valuable knowledge base that have much to offer to the advancement of ELC inquiry.

Assumptions of ELC Inquiry

The following are assumptions and beliefs that characterize ELC inquiry. They are derived from the knowledge base reviewed above and the implied values. These assumptions and beliefs are made explicit here as guidelines for the development of this line of inquiry.

In addition, ELC inquiry believes that:

It is expected that as ELC inquiry evolves, so will these assumptions.


In order for education to catalyze the transformation of our contemporary dysfunctional social systems, the educational system has to be re-created. ELC is a proposal for a different educational system-a distributed learning system embedded in our communities, giving meaning to our daily lives, empowering us to make the choices that shape our social systems and our futures. It is an educational system concerned with the development of the human potential and the support of productive and enjoyable learning processes relevant for the evolution of our societies in harmony with the ecosystems that sustain our life. As E. Laszlo stated: (1991) “what our world needs... is... flexible and functional learning environments where people, young and old, can be exposed to concepts and ideas relevant to their present and to their future” (p. 92). The creation of these learning environments is the quest of ELC inquiry.



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