Saturday 16 October 2010

Organisation in Proportion

I'm making progress on creating a 'flight simulator' for the University. The idea is to create an agent-based simulation which allows for the realistic modelling of the dynamics between diverse individuals and the social and material structures they inhabit. This would allow for the dry-running of interventions and observation of likely effects, which would in turn allow for deeper planning for mitigation for those effects.

The simulation is based on proportionate balancing of different 'modes' of intervention: disruptions, exhortations and coercions. Management is a process in time, and perhaps the greatest challenge is to develop a feel for concurrent processes and trends and to move with them. I think this requires an understanding of the appropriateness and proportionality of an intervention in the context of what is judged to be going on at any particular moment, what the goal is, and how the deep structures of the organisation at any point are configured and may interact.

With conventional management thinking, proportionality is a tricky concept: how are proportions to be judged against one another? In its place, we tend to find idealised notions of optimal organisation or managerial effectiveness. Whilst acknowledging that some of these ideas are very valuable (the Viable System Model is such an idealisation), I want to get away from ideals a bit and deal with the time-flow reality of management and intervention.

At the back of my mind, I'm wondering where idealising organisations (and particularly universities) is leading us. The suggested savage cuts in university budgets, argued for on the grounds of optimal organisation and economic necessity, lie on this theoretical foundation. As with the monetarist experiment in the 80s, it may take catastrophic mistakes to reveal the deficiencies of existing theory. As in the 80s, it will not be particular institutions that cost society dear, but the values of government that lie behind the critique of their viability.

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