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.

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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”


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

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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)

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Postcard from Lake Tabourie, Australia

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Crampton Island at Twilight
Crampton Island at Twilight

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  16 January 2018

A postcard from coastal Lake Tabourie, NSW, southeastern Australia

We spent five days at New Year at Lake Tabourie with Judy, Neil and other friends. It was a wonderful time with good food, wine and friendship in a relaxed and delightful atmosphere. A great beginning to 2018.

I realised that I have been going to Lake Tabourie for 52 years, a frightening thought.

When I was much younger the family began to go to Lake Tabourie in summer for a few years. That is, until we refused to go anywhere with our parents any more. We stayed in a converted garage on another property then.

Since, I have been privileged to use Judy’s house regularly. Judy’s father bought the house in the early 1950s. The house continues to have a 1950s character but with 2017 facilities. Judy and Neil have done an enormous amount of work to achieve this. Continue reading “Postcard from Lake Tabourie, Australia”

Secret City Trilogy Steve Lewis Chris Uhlmann

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ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  21 November 2016

Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis’s novels, The Marmalade Files, The Mandarin Code and The Shadow Game (Secret City)


I have been thinking that I should write something about cybersecurity and the slow moving tragedy of what is happening to the Internet. But there is so much, the task seems daunting and I know I’ll just keep tinkering about the edges.

It’s trying to navigate between Scylla and Charbydis — superficiality versus getting bogged in detail.

I’ve at least begun in The Last Days of Osama bin Laden 2 and even with some insight in William Gibson’s The Art of Prophecy. I’ll keep on trying to sneak up on the issue. Remember, also that this enormous task is about the Internet, which to my reckoning (i.e. becoming functional and useful) is barely 21 years old.

On the way back home from Spain (three days late, another story) I purchased Luke Harding The Snowden Files 2014 in Singapore. Finishing it stirred up my need to write about cybersecurity. Whilst in Spain, I also read the Secret City Trilogy: The Marmalade Files, The Mandarin Code and The Shadow Game by Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, 2012, 2014 and 2016, on Denise’s ipad.

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Sean Dooley: The Big Twitch

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Sean Dooley The Big Twitch, 2005

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  17 January 2015

Sean Dooley The Big Twitch, 2005

Occasionally, you read a book that you wouldn’t normally and it surprises you. The Big Twitch is such a book. We were staying with Denise’s mother in Cowra a week ago and I picked up The Big Twitch and began to read it. I found it hard to put down.

Continue reading “Sean Dooley: The Big Twitch”