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    Open Systems Theory, Making Adaptive Lasting Change

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    Event description

    Course overview

    The last few decades have proven that organisations exist in unpredictable environments and not isolation, hence the traditional approaches to strategic planning, organisational design and culture change are no longer effective. In attempting to adapt to highly unpredictable environments, organisations are all too often running from one new change management fad to the next.

    Open Systems Theory (OST) was developed and pioneered by Professors Fred and Merrelyn Emery. OST is a socio-ecological (people-in-system-in-environment) body of knowledge which uses the two-way relationships between people, their organisations, and their environments. It has been derived from integrated theory and practice over decades. And its development has been for a wide variety of purposes in organisations, communities, and industries with proven results.

    A common thread of organisational change, agile or otherwise, is that they may provide change for a time and provide some, often localised, longer term benefits. However, they do not live up to expectations or have the promised lasting impacts. In fact, some wind up doing more damage long term than good.

    All this is unnecessary as organisations can take greater control of their destinies by establishing themselves as adaptive entities; and this course teaches participants how to do just that.

    The basic tools taught in the course are the highly acclaimed Search Conference (SC) and Participative Design Workshop (PDW) methodologies developed and pioneered by Professors Fred and Merrelyn Emery. These methods are joined by Unique Designs and the Two Stage Model of adaptation to complete a suite of methods for adaptation in every context.

    All methods are products of OST, which is unique in relating people and their organisations to their environments using democratic & participative principles.

    In our experience OST is the only internally coherent approach to true business agility in a turbulent environment, which is backed up by decades of scientific results in both theory and real-life settings.

    By attending this course, you will learn about the design and management of these three basic and complementary methods for active adaptation.

    • Search Conference (for planning) as an adaptive and participative approach to strategic planning, answers questions like: ‘Where do we want to be in the year X while operating in ever increasing uncertainty?’
    • Participative Design Workshop (for organisational design / redesign) addresses: ‘How do we design agile adaptive workplaces to get there?”
    • Unique Designs (for all circumstances other than strategic planning and organizational design and redesign).

    This practical course is designed for those with a responsibility for making, understanding, and sustaining change. It provides a framework within which other methods and tools for change can be evaluated and integrated. Course participants experience these methods, and practice using them by bringing their own real-life examples to practice on.

    Course Outcomes

    At conclusion of this practical course, you will have:

    1. The knowledge and skills to begin designing and managing Search Conferences, Participative Design Workshops and Unique Designs
    2. An understanding of the practical theory underpinning these participative methods, so you are able to create designs for unique circumstances
    3. The practical knowledge to discriminate between effective and ineffective proposals for change

    Course format

    A typical OST course is a 6-day event running from 3pm on a Sunday to 1pm on the following Friday. However, because many consultants and practitioners do contract work it was decided to hold this OST course across two consecutive weekends.

    Also, the format of this course does not follow typical 9 to 5 training programs. It is designed around human circadian rhythms to maximise participant energy and learning.

    1st Friday1st Saturday 1st Sunday2nd Friday2nd Saturday2nd Sunday 

    3pm to 9pm

    9am to 9pm

    9am to 6pm

    2pm to 9pm

    9am to 9pm

    9am to 9pm

    Evening meal provided.

    Lunch and morning and afternoon tea / coffee provided/

    Course Dinner provided

    Lunch and morning and afternoon tea / coffee provided

    Evening meal provided.

    Lunch and morning and afternoon tea / coffee provided
    Course Dinner provided

    Lunch and evening meals provided.

    Morning and afternoon tea / coffee also provided

    Part 1 - The Search Conference for ecological (system-in-environment) strategy development

    All organisations and communities today need periodically to take stock of themselves in their changing environment and plan more adaptive directions and futures. Whether that be repositioning in a marketplace, planning a partnership with an ecosystem member, planning a disruptive start-up business, dealing with climate change, and so on, the Search Conference (SC) is applicable.

    The Participative Design Workshop for organisational (re)design

    To survive and thrive in business landscapes that are characterised by discontinuous change, organisations are transforming from bureaucratic dominant hierarchies of authority to systems where change and adaptability are natural and inherent.

    The Participative Design (PD) Workshop is an effective and efficient method of making the change to democratic organisational structures where the basic unit of work is the self-managing group, which is responsible for meeting agreed outcomes such as productivity, quality, responsiveness, and safety.  

    Unique Designs

    As participants practice the various components of the SC and PDW, they begin to realise how they can be applied flexibly. For example, an organisation may have concerns about the level of adaptivity of its ecosystem. Using various components from the SC and the PDW, a unique design (UD) workshop can be designed to identify the overall adaptivity risk of the ecosystem, and the necessary action plans to mitigate any risks. 

    About Merrelyn Emery and Peter Aughton

    Merrelyn Emery has a background in psychology and obtained her PhD from the University of New South Wales. Since 1970 she worked with Fred Emery to further develop the theory and practice of Open Systems Theory (OST). This has consisted of many theoretical and statistical studies as well as countless applications of the methods in many organisations and communities in many different countries. It is these applications that have established the validity and reliability of the theory and methods.

    She is the author of 10 books and 8 edited books plus numerous chapters and articles covering futures, planning, design, research, education, and all specific aspects of OST. She continues her research and writing and has taught intensive workshops around the world on the history and ‘state of the art’ of OST.

    Since 1993, Peter Aughton has worked to design sustainable organisations that significantly increase employee engagement, innovation, and organisational performance through the application of methodologies based on OST. Peter has applied these OST transformation methodologies and improvement techniques in many different organisations, from SMEs to large corporations. He has also trained management and staff across the globe in the application of these methodologies, so their organisations have the in-house capability to sustain performance improvement in rapidly changing environments.

    Before becoming an OST practitioner, Peter held various research and management positions with the Exxon and Mars Corporations. Peter has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Chemistry) and Postgraduate Qualifications in Education and Business Science from the RMIT, Melbourne, and Victoria Universities respectively.

    Accommodation in Canberra

    We have arranged accommodation at the venue to keep costs down, we are waiting on a booking code - and will pass this on when we receive it. Then you can book your stay at the Ramada Encore Belconnen Canberra, 


    * In case of lock down or last minute COVID related cancellation, some cost (ie Hotel booking) will be charged

    ** We have reduced the cost to allow a 10% donation to children's charity via Humanitix 


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