Organisational Thermometer

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Jock Mcneish Elbow Room

Featured Image: Jock Macneish My Elbow Room

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  28 March 2023

Designing an Organisational Thermometer in Practice

The chance of a lifetime to launch an international career! Designing a generic organisational thermometer; aligning it with participative organisational change at the workplace level, enthusiastically supported by management. This could become a competitive game changer.

1 Main Points

  • ACTEW (ACT Electricity & Water) and satisfaction indices.
  • The design criteria for the ACTEW surveys.
  • The attributes of an organisational thermometer and the issues involved.
  • ACT Public Works & Services
  • Conclusion

2 Background

2.1 ACTEW as a Case Study

The satisfaction indices arose accidentally in our Q Research work for ACTEW (ACT Electricity and Water). They wanted to look at satisfaction indices for their customers and I managed to tack on staff as well. The situation was tenuous and we certainly didn’t have any remit to pursue organisational change.

Nevertheless the marketing manager and the CEO were keen to look at satisfaction indices and we conducted them twice a year in April and October for domestic customers (what they really wanted) and once a year for large customers and staff from late 1992 to late 1994. (We also conducted a staff satisfaction index for an ACT Government Department in December 1994 with a report in January 1995.)

The work with ACTEW wasn’t sufficient to establish a baseline for staff satisfaction, but it helped ACTEW towards corporatisation. (I always thought that surveying the domestic customers twice a year was excessive but the money was good.)

I don’t think ACTEW was interested in the approach after corporatisation. I’d made my own sunset clause decision to cease involvement with Q Research and take a year overseas in February 1995 (see Karakorum Highway for the purpose of the trip).

Although customer satisfaction is unique to each organisation, staff satisfaction is generic and can be applied to any reasonably sized organisation and hence so can an organisational thermometer. ACTEW had 1370 employees when we began our satisfaction surveys.

Between late 1992 and the end of 1994 I treated the staff satisfaction indices developed at ACTEW very seriously. I was thinking of developing the tool of staff satisfaction into an organisational thermometer to take to the world.

2.2 My Choice

In every life one comes to forks in the road or choice points. For example, I married person A, but should I have married person B instead (hypothetical only). One occasionally wonders about this and what life might have been on path B, not seriously because that is dangerous. Similarly, I entertained the idea briefly, almost a daydream, of devoting a career to organisational thermometers and workplace change. Instead, Denise and I headed off to the Karakorum Highway and a year of adventure — a wonderful trip.

The organisational thermometer approach was also a unique and a wonderful opportunity. I even had a potential collaborative pathway forward. I don’t regret not doing so. Nevertheless, the opportunity still exists. Maybe someone will take it up. Continue reading “Organisational Thermometer”


Cathy McGowan Lessons in Activism

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ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  5 November 2022

Lessons in Activism by Cathy McGowan

Notes for Activists from Cathy McGowan, Cathy Goes To Canberra, 2020

Cathy Goes To Canberra is a gem of a book and I’d encourage you to buy it and read it, but for those who want to put doing politics differently into action, hopefully this summary will also prove a useful tool into the lessons Cathy and Indi have to teach us.


1 General

My purpose is to bring Cathy McGowan’s ideas to a wider audience and to highlight the profound lessons she has learned in a long and active career into community-based action.

I want to provide an adjunct or another resource to those already available. I‘d encourage you to visit Cathy McGowan’s website which has an array of other resources and also the Community Independents Project site, which also provides plenty of resources of its own.

At a recent webinar conference of the latter, one woman said: I no longer call it volunteering. What I do every day I call my democracy work!

2 Lessons in Activism

The following is my summary of Cathy’s book. It is probably biased and imperfect and perhaps Cathy would want to change some of it. The saving grace of blog articles is that they are infinitely malleable. I’m happy to accept advice from anyone.

Because of this, I am not as meticulous as my ex-supervisor Professor SA Barnett would want me to be, but I do still feel his presence looking over my shoulder and I try harder.

Despite, the success of the Voices campaigns inspired by Indi and the success of Independents at the last Federal Election we do need to try harder. Independents are still a long way from ensuring that Australia’s governments do politics differently.

3 My Own Interest

My involvement (a minor one) over the past eighteen months was with an organisation called proACT and its endorsed ACT candidate David Pocock for the Senate in Australia.

As with Cathy McGowan in Indi, his key opponent was unpopular, but the window for success was tiny and its achievement amazing — with a lot of hard work by many people in between.

Continue reading “Cathy McGowan Lessons in Activism”

McQuitty Causal Path Statistics

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McQuitty Feature


ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  2 September 2022

McQuitty Causal Path Analysis

This article is a necessary preliminary to the articles which follow and define organisational thermometers. An organisational thermometer is a tool to measure staff satisfaction in any largish enterprise in an ongoing way. The article is also related to all the Fred Emery associated articles, two of which precede it. These are 1 Causal Texture Paper and 2 the Search Conference

Main Points

  • My background with Fred Emery and in statistics
  • A general overview of statistical analysis
  • Fred Emery’s consulting work for TIHR on consumer products
  • McQuitty causal path analysis and how to do it explained
  • Examples of McQuitty causal paths or roadmaps

1 My Background

I mentioned in Causal Texture and in the Search Conference that I met Fred Emery when employed at the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) at the Australian National University (ANU) in 1979.

I was finishing up my PhD in Zoology at ANU at the time and was slightly dissatisfied with some aspects of inattentive reductionism in science at the time. When I discovered Fred’s ideas on systems thinking, it was as if I’d suddenly discovered what I was looking for and had to pursue it.

I got into Fred’s theoretical ideas and search conferencing quite quickly, which annoyed at least one person on the CCE staff. I became quite conversant with Fred’s theoretical ideas and reasonably competent at running search conferences in the next 18 months or so. Continue reading “McQuitty Causal Path Statistics”

The Search Conference Fred Emery

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Featured Image: Merrelyn Emery Ed. Searching: for new directions, in new ways for new times, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University 1976.

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  4 August 2022

The Search Conference Fred Emery

Fred Emery, was an amazingly perceptive and prescient systems scientist, who was, without a shadow of a doubt, the father of the systems movement down here in the antipodes, to which he returned in the 1970s after a very distinguished career at the Tavistock Research Institute in London. (Richard Bawden, 1999)


My previous article an annotated version of Emery & Trist’s famous Causal Texture paper may have been too academic for some. To make amends I will try to make this description of the Search Conference much simpler.

I covered Fred’s biography in overview in my previous article. Fredrick Edmund Emery (1925-1997) first went to the Tavistock Institute in London 1951-52 as a UNESCO Research Fellow. He returned to the Tavistock in 1957 where he remained until 1969. He collaborated with Eric Trist, Russell Ackoff, Charles West Churchman, Einar Thorsrud and others during this immensely fertile theoretical and practical period of action research.

In 1969 he returned to Australia and remained in residence in Canberra until his death in 1997, whilst still collaborating widely in Australia and travelling regularly overseas. Richard Bawden (pers. comm.) remembers Fred for his boundless energy and undeniably forthright manner, as do many others.

Whilst in the UK, Fred’s ideas though diverse were integrated into a strong framework or discipline that was internally consistent.

These areas of concentration were the discovery and analysis of industrial democracy underground in the Elsecar Collieries by Trist and Bamforth. The development of the theory of sociotechnical systems based on this and on insights from psychology and the social sciences. The Norwegian Industrial Democracy experiments. Ideas on open systems and their environments. A developing understanding of the necessary and sufficient criteria for semi-autonomous and self-managing groups. Preliminary ideas on participative design. Approaches to the study of organisations with West Churchman and purposeful systems with Russell Ackoff. And, work on values, ideals and planning options based on this, which barely scratches the surface.

As part of this process early on Fred Emery designed the search conference in 1959 and further developed it in the early 1960s at the Tavistock Institute.

According to Bawden (1999) via Merrelyn Emery, the Search Conference process was not formalised until the mid-1970s. I also think that Merrelyn’s role in this later development should be acknowledged fully (see M Emery Ed., 1976).

The Search Conference



Fred Emery was involved in industrial democracy, socio-technical systems and other participative methods with groups.

He designed the Search Conference in 1959 for values-based participative planning by groups wanting or requiring organisational change. The Search combines normative planning (values) with strategic planning and active participation.

In part this was because of defining ‘turbulent environments’ as a dynamic new type of environment that organisations faced in the post-war. Much of this is explained in the annotated paper cited above. The salient characteristic of a turbulent environment is complexity and uncertainty. New ways of planning were needed.

The design was based on innovative research in behavioural psychology, group behaviour, social science and organisational planning from the 1930s to 1950s, amalgamated into an integrated framework.

Richard Bawden says:

Weisbord and Janoff (1995) … emphasized [that] Emery was quick to acknowledge the importance of social psychological theories, as well as system theories in informing his understanding of the dynamics of the work groups that he studied. In particular, he and his colleagues explicitly drew upon the consensus research of Solomon Asch (1952) and the group dynamic theories developed by Wilfred Bion (1961). Continue reading “The Search Conference Fred Emery”

Annotated Emery and Trist Causal Texture Paper

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Featured Image: FE Emery Ed. Systems Thinking, Vol 1 Penguin, 1981.


Feature Fred Emery Systems Thinking Vol 1 1981


ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  12 July 2022

FE Emery & EL Trist The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments Annotated


I’ve been going back to Fred Emery’s ‘Search Conference’ methodology and my own ‘Search-based’ focus groups recently and thinking about my distant past.

This has brought me republish this classic paper online, as it is fundamental to participative planning. Participation and community engagement may be re-emerging, particularly at the moment in Australian politics.

Many people may not be aware of how participative planning emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and why open-systems thinking was the intellectual base to these activities.

I republished JBS Haldane’s 1929 paper on The Origin of Life in 2015, with some annotations and have been surprised at its reception and ongoing popularity.

Fred Emery & Eric Trist’s classic paper The Causal Texture of  Organizational Environments Human Relations 18:21-32, cited 6356 times (according to Google & others), is longer and slightly more difficult than Haldane’s but also very readable. The annotations should provide a context and perhaps an explanation of some ideas.

I worked alongside Fred & Merrelyn Emery whilst at the Centre for Continuing Education from 1979 and more peripherally in the late 1980s and 1990s. I also followed up on much of Fred’s research and visited Einar Thorsrud in Norway for nearly two months in 1981.

Biographical Notes

Fredrick Edmund Emery (1925-1997) was born in Narrogin in the wheatbelt of WA. He obtained his PhD in social psychology in 1953. During 1951-52 as a UNESCO Research Fellow to the Tavistock Institute in London. He worked with Eric Trist and became aware of the industrial democracy system that Eric Trist and Ken Bamforth had discovered in the Elsecar Collieries, using the Longwall method of coal mining.

In 1957 he returned to the Tavistock Institute where he had a close intellectual relationship with Eric Trist and others further refining the concept of sociotechnical systems, including Einar Thorsrud in Norway, with whom he conducted the large-scale Norwegian industrial democracy experiments. Later, he worked closely with Russell Ackoff at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He probably met Ackoff in the UK in 1961-1962, while Ackoff was based at the University of Birmingham. Continue reading “Annotated Emery and Trist Causal Texture Paper”

Clive Purcell WWI Soldier

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Feature: Frank Hurley, Infantry Marching in Single File to the Front Line, Western Front 1917, State Library NSW
Feature: Frank Hurley, Infantry Marching in Single File to the Front Line, Western Front 1917, State Library NSW

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 March 2022

Clive Purcell WWI Soldier, Gallipoli and France/Flanders, 1915-1919

Main Points

  • What was the Australian Infantry Force (AIF) in World War I (WWI)? What role did it play in Gallipoli and in France?
  • Why did Australians sign up? What was their experience? How did they differ from British soldiers in WWI?
  • What role did venereal disease play in the AIF? Was it greater than in other allied forces? Did pay rates have something to do with it?
  • Why was A.W.L. (absent without leave) rife in the AIF? How was it treated by Australian Officers?
  • What sort of war experience did my maternal grandfather have in WWI? What sort of war experience did a hero such as Captain Percy Lay have? Both served the entire war and survived.
  • What relevance does the First World War have today? Why is WWI jingoism dangerous? Why do today’s politicians use WWI to promote nationalism and patriotism? Why shouldn’t we forget what actually happened?


Australia joined the hostilities in August 1914. Three siblings James Osmond Purcell the youngest (b 4 July 1893; age 20), William Clive Purcell (b 3 October 1889; age 24) and Annie Watkins Bennett Vize Purcell (b 3 April 1887; age 29) joined the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) in 1915. James joined first in February, followed by Clive in April and Annie in May by joining the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS).

Clive and James were assigned to the 23rd Battalion raised in Victoria to provide reinforcements for the Gallipoli campaign. They left for Egypt on 10 May, ten days later Annie signed the AANS enrolment form. She embarked for Egypt with a group of nurses to reinforce 1 Australian General Hospital on 17 June 1915.

Annie’s career during the war was covered in a previous article Auntie Nam WWI Nurse a lightly edited version of the excellent article by Janet Scarfe for the Eastern Melbourne Historical Society entitled Biographical Notes: Annie Watkins Bennett Vize Purcell (1887-1941).

After a time of training in Egypt, Clive and James embarked for Gallipoli. The 23rd Battalion endured severe Turkish fire at Lone Pine and Browns Dip for weeks. Acting Sergeant Major James Osmond was killed by a ‘bomb’ on 6 November 1915. Clive wrote to Annie:

…poor dear old Jim, who was more than a brother to me, was killed by a bomb on Saturday evening inst. at about 7 o’clock, in a dug-out at the rear of the firing line. He was fixing up some details with an officer and two non-coms, when he met his death. The officer and the others were wounded, and cruel fate . . . our darling Jim was killed almost instantly. When I heard the sad news shortly afterwards I hurried round, but before I reached him Jim’s soul had gone to God. In death he looked very peaceful and happy, but God alone knows how I miss him. He was always so bright and cheerful and loved his work…

He died a soldiers death and full of honours. He was most popular in the Company and at his burial next day, all the officers (including officers from other companies) were present to pay their last respects… (Letter 7)

Continue reading “Clive Purcell WWI Soldier”

Annie Purcell WWI Nurse

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Clive and Annie Purcell, Studio Portrait, Clive & Annie Purcell, Sandhill Camp, England, June 1918

Featured Image: Clive and Annie Purcell, Studio Portrait, Sandhill Camp, England, June 1918

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 2 February 2022

Auntie Nam,  Annie Watkins Bennett Vize Purcell, WWI Nurse (1887-1941)


My mother called her Auntie Nam. She liked and admired her greatly. She was the sister of my mother’s father William Clive Purcell. Both Annie and Clive died relatively young. My mother adored her father.

(My mother Anne-Enid Frances Stewart (née Purcell) and related family, including her father Clive, were remembered by my sister in one chapter of Our Mothers by Robbie Henderson, Austin Macauley London, 29 October 2021.)

Auntie Nam was born Annie Watkins Bennett Vize Purcell in Yea, Victoria, Australia on 3 April 1887.

I am republishing a lightly edited version of the research undertaken by Janet Scarfe on behalf of the East Melbourne Historical Society (a link to the original is provided). The photographs are from a collection of family photographs.

Scarfe’s depiction of my maternal grandfather Clive Purcell’s war record is slightly unfair (from a 21st century feminine perspective) but I will deal with this in a separate article about him and his First World War (WWI) experience. Continue reading “Annie Purcell WWI Nurse”

Investing in Shares 101: My Experience 2

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Dr Tony Stewart is a scientist and analyst by training. He has run a strategic market research business and has an extensive background in statistical analysis. At the beginning of his investment career, he read widely and undertook courses on investing run by the Securities Institute of Australia. He has invested in the Australian stock market for thirty years.

John Rothfield 1987 Feature 3

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  1 December 2021

Investing in Shares 101: My Experience Part 2 — Overview, Building a Portfolio, Banks

1 Introduction

In my experiences Part 1, I covered the golden age of floats, successes, luck, my education in shares and my one major systemic mistake. Because of the last, I argued passionately against diversifying and recommended you concentrate on a few shares only. My take homes were to stick to the value investing approach and to concentrate rather than diversify and the reasons for this. The nuts-and-bolts advice and investing methodology are covered in 1 Basics and in 2 Value Investing.

In Part 2 I begin with an overview of my thirty years of investing in shares not covered in part 1. I talk about why understanding a woman’s approach to investing is useful.  I extoll the virtues of DRPs (Dividend Reinvestment Plans) or forced investment in small lots and the general advantage of growing one’s portfolio in small parcels. I explain why I thought early on that the banking sector in Australia was a good bet and why I have been constantly disappointed. This is a useful case study that can be generalised and is worth pondering upon.

I conclude with a take home summary that encapsulates everything I have been advising in these four articles.

I hope you’ll remember this advice fondly in thirty years time, but also that you’ll review it annually and compare your investing experiences with the advice. You can always correct when you divert from sensible action!

2 Overview of My Thirty Years

I was very lucky starting out when I did. I was very lucky investing in CSL (see My Experience 1).

I had a good time buying and selling shares. I did seriously try to be contrarian (buying when the market was down, selling when it was up). I learned a great deal buying and selling many shares, hopefully not too regularly. However, I regret that I spent so much time trading in mediocre companies. From the early 2000s, I spent much time trying to get rid of shares that I shouldn’t have bought in the first place.

Continue reading “Investing in Shares 101: My Experience 2”

Investing in Shares 101: My Experience 1

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John Rothfield 1987 Feature 2

Dr Tony Stewart is a scientist and analyst by training. He has run a strategic market research business and has an extensive background in statistical analysis. At the beginning of his investment career, he read widely and undertook courses on investing run by the Securities Institute of Australia. He has invested in the Australian stock market for thirty years.

ORT_Logo Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  1 November 2021

Investing in Shares 101: My Experience Part 1 — Beginnings, Floats and My Major Error

1 Introduction

I have broken this into two parts because it became too long. Part 1 is about successes, luck and one major mistake. I give a minor take home, but leave the major conclusions to Part 2

Part 2 is an overview, a suggestion of the best ways to build a portfolio slowly, a shareholder’s view of investing in Australian banks (which is also relevant to investing in banks anywhere), some conclusions and final take homes.

Neither parts of my experience give a prescription of how you ought to invest that information was contained in 1 Basics and 2 Value Investing. I did not fully understand the answers to value investing and to being a contrarian at the beginning. Although I quickly grasped the principles, it took me years to really understand them and to understand where I’d gone wrong. Hopefully the nuts-and-bolts approach: outlining what I experienced and where I went wrong, will help you to avoid some of the things I went through and to concentrate on others.

When I began to do some statistical analysis of my share experiences, I began to get depressed at the shenanigans I went through in the first phase of my share investing. Some of my minor losses early on were through stupidity and hubris.

Continue reading “Investing in Shares 101: My Experience 1”