Delia Pembrey MacNamara’s Paper Proposal

The Boundary Triage: Controlling the Man and the Machine

1. Experimental epistemology
2. Management
Keywords: Boundary, onto-epistemology, systemic leadership, sociocybernetics
This paper aims to build upon sociocybernetics and systemic leadership in a networked world. My initial investigation focussed on open innovation, collective intelligence and leadership in the networked world. From innovation being found at the ‘edge’ of the network, social technologies seemingly heralded an era of the ‘boundaryless’ organisation (Ashkenas, et al., 2008), with leaders needing to be ‘boundary spanners’ (MacGillivray, 2009) and managing boundary dynamics of competing ideas for product and process innovation (Gharajedaghi, 1999; Tuomi, 2006). Yet an individual leader’s decisions, often informed by personal ‘boundaries’, have systemic effects (MacNamara, 2011). Fullan (2001) suggests that leadership in all areas needs to become quite sophisticated, concentrating on a small number of ‘key dimensions’. The concept of ‘Boundary’ appeared key. The question became, “What is a Boundary? What is the nature of Boundary – it’s being? How does it come into existence?”
My objective is to introduce the Boundary Triage, a partial ontology of Boundary represented symbolically that I have developed based on a transdisciplinary review of ‘Boundary’, grounded in systems theory, whilst conducting my PhD research on “Systemic Leadership in a Networked World”. The aim of the Boundary Triage is to provide a theoretically grounded, practical and easily deployable systemic leadership development tool to non-practitioners and practitioners. Importantly, it is a partial ontology of Boundary still in development and needs to be tested and further developed. It is intended that, by naming it the ‘Boundary Triage’, it will enable the Triage to have the freedom to be critiqued, tested, explored and developed both as theory and as a practical tool. This is in line with Maturana’s (1980) approach to coining the term ‘autopoiesis’, which was initially advanced as a proposition to be tested. Three concepts will be presented: The Boundary Triage, the key concept, and two practical supporting concepts: the Bounded Event (BE) and the Bounded Object (BO).
It is proposed that the concept of Boundary is onto-epistemological and is socially constructed. In order for a Boundary to exist it requires a Creator (an Observer), at least one Acceptor (this could also be a psychological aspect of the Observer as in Mead’s, 1934, “Me and I” theory), and at least one Reinforcing Factor (RF) (for example, environmental, physical, psychological, cultural, or whatever is significant to the Observer) which, through their interaction, create an emergent effect on the boundary. A collective Boundary, such as a company policy, is called a Boundary Object (Star & Griesemer, 1989) and is assumed to be consensual. This thesis focuses on the Observer as an Agent and how an Observer’s limits (Bounded Objects) can constrain societal self-steering (Baumgartner, 1986) in an era of collective intelligence and open innovation. If the Observer is an Acceptor of a BO (such as language, culture, rules policies), the Observer then becomes the Creator of the BO in their own minds, processing (or binding) the object with their own unique RF (constructivism). BOs are RFs in future Binding Event moments, and are often subconscious influencers in an Observer’s observations and interactions.
Practically, in the first instance, the Triage is to be used as a heuristic for prioritization as personal boundaries are ‘crossed’ in a social context, to understand personal boundaries, identify others’ boundaries (from language and body gestures) and to enable better communication before a “mess” occurs. In the second instance, the Triage is to be used as a personal heuristic to understand the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘where’ (the Binding Event) that has led to a particular belief, paradigm or worldview, and the ability to critically review and adjust them. In both instances, it aims to provide the Observer with a tool to ‘control’ previously held beliefs, adjust variables, in order to restore equilibrium.
The Boundary Triage is very simplistic and it still in its infancy and needs to be developed further. It has not been tested in a collective (social) environment where competing ideas, agendas, and cultural paradigms play.
Fieldwork is currently being conducted in Australia to test the viability of the Boundary Triage and its systemic value in a collective (social) environment where communication, language, ethics and values will be key.

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 3) Experimental epistemology; constructivism; philosophy of science
  • 2) Control systems; automation; systems engineering

2 thoughts on “Delia Pembrey MacNamara’s Paper Proposal

  1. Ranulph Glanville

    This is personally interesting to me in that as part of my early architecture studies I described a community using similar notions of boundary—I think! What I later discovered was the incredibly deep and powerful boundary logic (as is became called in computing), created by George Spencer Brown and known through his book, Laws of Form. It interests me how people from a systems background have rarely hard of this, although it precedes Maturana, for instance: it seems that this is part of the world of cybernetics which should be shared with systems but isn’t. There may be lots of richness here?

    I wonder if Buber’s I and Thou might also be relevant here?


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