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)

Background

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

Overview

Introduction

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 Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe

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Featured Image: WC Piguenit Flood in the Darling 1890, Oil on Canvas, 1895, 123 x 199 cm

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The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe

Don’t sugarcoat it like that, Kid. Tell her straight. (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, 1969)

It is long past time for sugarcoating. We should be sick of the obfuscation and lies of politicians, policy makers, agribusiness and other vested interests in the Murray-Darling Basin and of the dodging of responsibility by those with the power to act. It is time to act decently in the interests of the whole community. It is time to tell it straight.

This is not a large dams issue in particular but it should be linked to my three large dams articles Large Dams 1: An Introduction, Large Dams 2: Aswan High Dam, Large Dams 3: Oustees India, and is the reason for my claim to expertise in this area. There are several large dams and many smaller ones involved in the Murray-Darling Basin, but these are not the main cause of the catastrophe. However, because of the current drought, new dams are mooted which will exacerbate the tragedy.

One must mention the Snowy Mountains Scheme (begun in 1949 and finished in 1974) a series of linked dams and tunnels, which was the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia and became a national icon. Its purpose was to divert the waters of the Snowy River into the Murray River for agriculture and to provide hydro-electricity. The latter was successful, but the diversion of water for agriculture never really lived up to expectation. One consequence of dams on the Murray River, however, was that it became in effect a series of long pools and never had its scouring pre-colonial flows and overflows. The Murray provides more water than the other rivers in the basin or river system.


Photographs

The photographs included are part of my involvement in the Murray Darling Basin. They relate exclusively to my favourite areas and are not representative of the basin as a whole. Consequently, the photographs are mostly the semi-arid areas of Western New South Wales around the Darling River. I have other favourite places but not the photographs to go with them. Much of the basin is in the semi-arid zone, but the eastern strip primarily on tablelands receives much higher rainfall. Continue reading “The Murray-Darling Basin Catastrophe”

What Travel Costs 7: Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Meat Stall, Muang Mai Markets
Meat Stall, Muang Mai Markets

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  27 April 2016

What Travel Costs 7: Chiang Mai, Thailand (& Hyderabad, India)

The main purpose of my trip was to go to India to undertake a promised visit to my friend Rukmini to catch up. I chose to fly via Bangkok rather than take a cheaper trip with another airline through Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. There were two reasons:

  1. To visit my nephew’s new baby in Bangkok for the first time, and
  2. I wanted to end up in Chiang Mai and this way was the least hassle.

I left Australia on the evening of 18 February with Thai Airways and arrived Bangkok at 3.30 am on the 19th (9.5 h flight). This was a really stupid idea on the basis that coming from Canberra, if I caught the 10am flight I’d have to spend an expensive night in a Sydney hotel. I’ve since found a cheap alternative near the airport and the saving wasn’t worth it!

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The Colour of India

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Lambada Woman, Gramya, 2005
Lambadi Woman, Gramya, 2005

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 23 March 2016


Introduction

Having just visited India in February/March 2016. I’m inspired again by the wonders of India, even though the NGOs I’m aware of despair at the the excesses of the current central government.

In mid-2010 the South Coast Pastel Society (New South Wales, Australia) got in touch with me because of a contact with PhotoAccess to help inspire their artists about India. The theme for their major exhibition of the year was on India or more specifically: works that reflect or respond to in some way, the culture, history, environment or art of India.

Continue reading “The Colour of India”

Rukmini Rao Woman of the Year 2014

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07Rukmini7673WPsmall

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author: Tony 22 June 2015

Rukmini Rao has been my friend for a very long time. I have been travelling to India on and off for many years. Since 2004 I have worked with Rukmini and Gramya for up to two months each year as a volunteer.

Continue reading “Rukmini Rao Woman of the Year 2014”

In praise of Indian mangoes

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ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, December 2011

Movie poster at Jubilee Hills Check Post, Hyderabad
Movie poster at Jubilee Hills Check Post, Hyderabad

They gave me a mango at breakfast in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, in the boutique hotel where I was staying. The mango was beautifully presented in Thai style: two halves on the plate with the seed removed. The halves were cut into even bite-sized slices. The mango was not too ripe but full of flavour. Each firm portion tasted identical to the last one, and I had to restrain myself from eating too quickly. The mango was mouth-wateringly delicious.

Continue reading “In praise of Indian mangoes”