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”



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The Zion Canyon camping area at Watchman on the Virgin River where hummingbirds flew over the river
The Zion Canyon camping area at Watchman on the Virgin River where hummingbirds flew over the river

Featured Image: The Zion Canyon camping area at Watchman on the Virgin River where hummingbirds flew over the river

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 July 2020



The featured image shows just how adaptable specialist hummingbirds who migrate to North America are and have to be in the habitats they migrate through and to.

Hummingbirds are feisty and assertive out of all proportion to their size. They will chase off much larger birds from desirable flowers.

Fiery-throated metaltail hummingbird, Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, Wikimedia, Francesco Veronese
Fiery-throated metaltail hummingbird, Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, Wikimedia, Francesco Veronese

They remind me of a little Maltese terrier of my sister’s. A white ball of fluff who had no idea that he was only a small dog. I stupidly took him up in the bush on Black Mountain one day and for a kilometre and a half with the dog in my arms had to fight off the frightening attacks of a pair of swamp harriers, who thought he was close enough to a rabbit for dinner.

I’d like also to use the word aggressive for the hummingbirds but in ethology (animal behaviour) ‘aggressive’ is not to be used, as it is both too vague and anthropomorphic to boot (putting human traits, emotions or intentions onto animals).

As a young person, I thought hummingbirds were incredibly exotic and I wanted to see one. I failed when I went to Canada and travelled through America, Mexico and South America in my early twenties (see Winnipeg and International Peasant Foods). I didn’t see a single humming bird.

Consequently, I was excited when we went to the USA and Canada from May to July last year, at the hope of finally seeing hummingbirds in the wild.

I saw my first hummingbird at the back of the commercial camping area in Zion National Park, flitting and hovering over the stream — the Virgin River. Steve our guide said that he’d seen them there on previous trips. It was adverse circumstances entirely — almost dusk and cold. It hailed while we had dinner half an hour later, up to six inches piled in drifts around our tents. And it snowed overnight.

The hummingbirds — there were two — must have been catching insects. They were midstream. And there were no blossoms nearby.

Continue reading “Hummingbirds”

Winnipeg Center of the Food Universe

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Featured Image: Front of La Vielle Gare Menu
Featured Image: Front of La Vielle Gare Menu

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 21 February 2020

Winnipeg Center of the Food Universe, 1973


I moved to Winnipeg as a PhD student in zoology at the University of Manitoba in 1973 and lived there for about 14 months. I have many memories of this time, but memories of food are particularly strong though the details are vague. Preliminary contact with Winnipeg newspapers and historical societies to verify my memory of restaurant names were fruitless. No helpful strangers. Memory is unreliable as I showed in False Memories & the Mill on the Floss, an article also set in Canada in 1973.

I’ll therefore take the Christopher Isherwood approach from Lions and Shadows 1937.

To the Reader, Christopher Isherwood, Lions & Shadows 1937
To the Reader, Christopher Isherwood, Lions & Shadows 1937

Christopher Isherwood’s autobiography of his school and university years is perhaps reminiscent of my situation in Canada. My recollections are not indiscreet and perhaps not entirely true.

Author, Manitoba Stampede, Morris 1973
Author, Manitoba Stampede, Morris 1973

Why was Winnipeg the Center of the Food Universe?

I use ‘was’ rather than ‘is’ because it was a very long time ago and entirely personal.

Winnipeg in 1973 had a population of around half a million. It has grown very slowly since. The population in 2019 is 808,419. Winnipeg has more restaurants now but they don’t look unique on the net. One feels that they’d be typical of any English speaking small-city anywhere, nowadays. They were perhaps more culturally distinct then. Continue reading “Winnipeg Center of the Food Universe”