Saturday 28 February 2015

Beer's Team Syntegrity, Information and the Politics of Decision

In the early 1990s Stafford Beer developed a protocol for problem resolution called Team Syntegrity. It involved an agenda-less meeting for 30 people over three days over which time, an agenda emerged from a series of initial Statements of Importance which would be honed down (through a process of a 'problem jostle') into Topics which would then be discussed, finally resulting in 12 final Statements of Importance. The tensions between different positions would be resolved by use of a geometric device, the Icosahedron.  This facilitated the organisation of combinations of encounters between the 30 people whereby each person became a member of two teams within which they would perform roles of supporting different positions under discussion whilst being a critic of opposite teams, and observing other team discussions. These teams were termed by Beer "Infosets" - effectively a 'discourse': he explains
"What makes a group out of a random assortment of people? It surely has to do with motivation, and with what I had earlier been calling morale. I proposed that what brought people into cohesive groups was the shared infomration that had changed them into purposive individuals"
This appears to me to be similar to Luhmann's concept of a social system.

In conceiving the idea, Beer talks about his experiences in Chile and says that President Allende had asked him to "reconsider the tenets of the government's political philosophy  [Marxism] in cybernetic terms" He says:

"My idea was to replace the Marxist 'classes' (where the ruling class exploits the proletariat) with a richer and less tendentious categorization based on shared information. 'Exploitation' then becomes the deprivation of information; and the text [Beer's submission to Allende] points out that what are (laughably) called 'the mass media' very often carry:

'not zero, but negative information - insofar as they take away the opportunity to acquire positive infomration. (The concept is the same as 'opportunity cost' in capitalist economics)
Now information, in cybernetic term, is negative entropy; the infosets operate in terms of selection entropy, which absorbs information. If the information is not there, the selections are not possible - that is obvious. What is less obvious is that to feed the people what is effectively negative information, is to feed them negative negative entropy, which is to say 'pure' entropy. 
If follows that the exploited and alienated classes, with which we began, will lose any sense of revolutionary ferment - because their entropy as a class is rising to the limit of unity... The new sets, however, identified as they are by their informational characteristics, are negentropy pumps - which is to say, by cybernetic definition, potentially revolutionary forces in society'"
Here we should reflect on 'social media'. Negative negative entropy? I fear it might be: indeed it is worse - it increases entropy on the individual, but may feed information (negentropy) to the powerful controllers of the network!

So what about the geometry?

Fundamentally, Beer's rationale for the Icosahedron concerns the balancing of limits. He drew on Buckminster Fuller's idea that "nature exists in an equilibrial balance between the forces of compression and tension", It should be said that Beer has a tendency towards cosmology, and admires other cosmologists like Teilhard de Chardin. However, the intricacies of the Icosahedron are fascinating. First of all, its relationship with the golden section is something I had not before appreciated. Secondly, the notion of limits is something which category theorists have been considering since the 1940s, and the geometric structures of the Icosohedron look not unlike the limits and colimits of category theory (what would Badiou make of the Icosahedron?).

What Beer is searching for in this structure (indeed the whole point of the process) is what he calls 'reverberation'. In effect this is the same idea as Von Foerster's 'eigenform':  the identification of stabilities in a recursive function. The point of the exercise is to identify the reverberation points among a group concerning issues of importance to that group.

Fundamentally the issue that concerned him was Decision. We might read Team Syntegrity as a way of trying to address the problems that Cohen and March identified in their description of the garbage can ( : where problems were rarely resolved, but instead either avoided, or a solution was produced (from the garbage can) which did not fit the problem  concerned. Beer's Syntegrity is precisely about identifying, digging into and solving problems.

In his description of the process, Beer emphasises the importance of redundancy. He refers to the concept of "redundancy of potential command" which was first used by Warren McCulloch. McCulloch in characterising the brain argued that it is redundant in the order of 20000:1. Beer says "neurons are organisationally redundant - highly redundant. This is not to disparage individual worth. It is only to say that graveyards are full of indispensable people" He goes on to say:
"It interested McCulloch, and me in turn, that the most successful human organizations, be they never so hierarchical in appearance, operate on an understanding of the redundancy of potential command. He analysed old battles, particularly those of Nelson, to demonstrate this. Sea mists and the smog of cannon fire made direct orders impossible to convey by signal flags and Nelson's [...] ship's captains took command of whatever local situation they could actually see and interpret in terms of the strategic pre-battle briefing"
I think I might rephrase this a bit. I think the dissipative dynamics of waste are the fundamental organising principle in the tensioning of positions: or rather, the tensioning of positions gives rise to redundancy, and this in turn gives rise to growth which can either be encouraged, managed or suppressed. If growth of redundant capacity is properly ordered, then the situation of Nelson's ship's captains can arise: they act independently in accordance with the ethos of the Navy under Nelson's leadership. If it is suppressed, the tension between positions can only increase, and will eventually break the structure.

If we want to characterise how broken our politics is, what a dangerous period we are living through, and how dysfunctional our institutions are, there is no better metaphor. Our institutions suppress individual growth and our society suppresses redundancy with austerity. Our structures will soon break.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Statistical Rank Correlation and the Measurement of Political Ecologies

I'm working on an EU bid at the moment which is concerned with creating a platform for researching the social and political ecologies in institutions, companies and societies. Slightly ironically my department has been experiencing first-hand some of the pathologies which result when the ecologies of an institution get unbalanced or it becomes monocultural. However, this seems to be the order of the day in many Universities these days. Our job is to make sure that we put ‘these days’ behind us and hand on a more healthy, diverse and better-governed education system to our children. Anyway, rhetoric is fine, but what about the practicalities?

First of all, I think that in understanding political ecologies we have to understand the dynamics between people who are fundamentally different in all sorts of ways, and yet who find ways of working together and making decisions. In more technical language, this is the difference between the mutual information between people (the “working together”) and the flexibility, or dissipations whereby energy and information is lost to the environment - apparently wastefully. Whilst most universities seem to want to turn themselves into efficient bureaucracies, encouraged by government bureaucracies like the QAA, the best things in education (like the best things in life) are exuberant, playful and superficially wasteful. The key message of ecology is that waste isn't wasted: dissipations drive ecological dynamics because they are where growth comes from. Moreover, the most important analytical element is not the individual, but the relationship.

In a political ecology, dissipations are more prevalent in a diverse environment. This is partly because it is more wasteful to devote time and energy in maintaining one’s identity in the face of those who would challenge your identity. It highlights the fact that the relationships in a diverse environment are the driving force, not the attributes of individuals. I have been interested in finding analytical methods for identifying this kind of situation.

My first starting point was to look at ‘big data’. Big Data takes rather shallow snapshots of the behaviour of individuals (those aspects of behaviour which are exposed in brief engagements online) and aggregates them. Although what happens in this process is a homogenising of the individual, if we take enough homogenised individuals it appears that we can begin to identify the ‘important things’ or the ‘things that matter to (some) people’. When we see the results of techniques like Topic Modelling, we are amazed because they accord with the things that we individually believe really are important! Big data is a bit like the mirror on Snow White’s Stepmother’s wall: it will tell us what we want to hear. Despite being able to identify trends, Big Data can’t really expose the deep interpersonal dynamics because it abstracts away so much of the individual.

Can we get further if we assume that people know what’s important to them? Why don’t we just ask them, rather than trying to algorithmically calculate it (clever though it is!)? However, when we think about what’s important, what’s striking is that it is not a single thing, but a structure which connects the most important thing to the least important things via things which are semi-important. What’s important is an ordered list. Now, when we look at the relationships between people, and we look at the different things that matter to them, what we are really doing is comparing two ordered lists.
This is relatively easily done using statistical measures for rank correlation like Kendall’s Tau and Spearman's Rho. With each of these techniques (and they produce different results in different situations), we can calculate an index of the ranking of ‘important things’ between different pairs of individuals. What the index tells us is effectively how much people have in common. However, it also indicates something else: what the biggest point of dispute is.

For big disputes between individuals (i.e. priority rankings which are fundamentally different – particularly at the extremes), there will be considerable defence by each individual of their position. This effectively is a dissipative activity. What will the result be of these dissipative dynamics? Individuals will seek new opportunities to either reinforce their position within the institution, or look to move into a different social context where they might be more effectively integrated.

I'm thinking about this as I'm looking at what’s happening to my department. The mutual information between us and our host university is decreasing rapidly. The priority lists of “things which matter to us” are increasingly divergent. The dissipative dynamics cause growth beyond the bounds of the native habitat. Sometimes that can be a good thing - but it's natural and unnatural at the same time.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Rethinking peer-to-peer (and revisiting the PLE)

All technological development tends towards functionalism - even if we intend it to be critical. There's something critical and potentially transformative in FedWiki for example (see, and there certainly appeared to be something critical and transformative in the web itself. But now we have become rather cynical about it all. The web ended up as a Pandora's box (Edward Said, on experiencing online communication in the early 70s quickly came to the conclusion that the future would be determined by those who control the network). FedWiki has a sexy user interface; it's like Github, and that's cool... Yet it seems that we've grown tired of endlessly seeking solutions divorced from problems, in the hope that the solution we invent will eventually find a really important problem where everyone will be glad we invented it! Too often our solutions in search of problems create more problems! It's a symptom of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are very bad at thinking about what their real problems are.

Universities have become bureaucratic on the back of technologies. Increasing efficiencies have left little space in the lives of academics to think. If we only paused for breath, we know what really matters, what we ought to be doing with the few years that we live on this planet. I was very touched by what Oliver Sachs - revealing that he will soon die from cancer - said in a letter circulated on the internet last week:
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
That should give us all pause for thought. Does scrabbling around looking for solutions to imaginary problems fit with this thoughtfulness?

I don't want to rule it out. Which is why I want to talk again about technology; but I also want to talk about the problems we face. Functionalism is the real devil: it manifests as managerialism, bureaucracy, technocracy and the credo of every naked emperor, tin-pot dictator, bully and zealot. Yet functionalism is part of the world - our civilisation has flourished because of it. But it must be brought into continual contact with those things - like death, beauty, art, love and politics - which remind us of its folly. What is our problem today? It is that this dialectical encounter between functionalism and its opposites is not happening in our boardrooms, parliaments, councils - or universities. It is not happening because, I believe, functionalism has leveraged technology to impose 'compliance' and to stifle debate. We have no capacity for politicising technology.

Functionalism exploits technology by using it to amplify what Searle calls the 'status functions' surrounding technologies. New technologies not only declare their own political legitimacy (without voting) but also the legitimacy of the power-brokers and designers who made the technology in the first place. Learning technologists have been particular guilty of this: making declarations about tools that all-too-often nobody wants. So here's a question: How do we create a situation where new technologies are created but where individuals are not forced to accept the declarations by the powerful? Actually, this is a question we've faced before: it is the question behind the Personal Learning Environment! But hang on... the PLE didn't work for exactly the reasons I've just mentioned - status functions about things nobody wants.

There is a central problem with the status function around technology: it is always directed at the individual user. It is the individual user who has to comply with the technology. The status function becomes a tool for atomising individuals. So what if it didn't focus on individuals? I was very interested a while ago in technologies for groups - particularly those based around the Real Time Web. Socrative can be a great tool in the classroom, for example. But it's not between groups and individuals - it's about focusing on relationships rather than individuals: it is about looking at the betweeness of people rather than individual functions. So don't start with an individual user; start with a pair of users. (I like Douglas Hofstadter's idea of the 'Pairson' in his "I am a strange loop").

I think that means that we need to conceive of activities between pairs of people before we think of technologies. In conceiving of relationality rather than individuality, we can start to identify some of the deeper problems of our society. Suddenly, the managerial rhetoric fades away (wishful thinking?): it cannot be about individual compliance and performance; it's about relational ecologies. Decisions are not about coercing behaviour but about nurturing growth. Measurement is not about identifying efficiency but monitoring diversity. What relational things can pairs do which are usefully measurable to them and to those observing them?

Some pairs have rich compatibility with complementing skill-sets; some pairs have no compatibility or exhibit pathological master-slave relations. But what if pairs could explore their relationships through playing games with each other, and then release the ecological structures they have mutually discovered to be embellished by other pairs? A peer-to-peer network can arise from the pair to the team to the department to the company.

Is there any need for any central status declaration?  Probably not. It could all be done on a peer-to-peer basis: "find a game to help you discover about your relationship with each other: here are some suggestions". It is no longer about compliance of the individual; it is about discovery of the other person. It is, fundamentally, a learning exercise.

Technically, this is straightforward: Dropbox, Google Drive or many other such tools have storage APIs (such as the rather cool which is just built on DropBox). It reminds me of an early attempt at a serverless VLE developed by Oleg Liber called Colloquia. In Colloquia, everything was handled by email; now we have individual cloud storage. It is also interesting that this is a very different approach to 'big data': Big data attenuates human complexity, atomises individuals and aggregates these 2-dimensional people to identify 'trends'. It's all a bit like sub-prime mortgages! A relationship-focused, peer-to-peer activity would look in depth at individual attributes and be able to measure the richness of the ecologies within organisations.

That might give us a way of addressing the real problem of our plague of functionalism. 

Wednesday 18 February 2015

The Scarcity of Diversity: Towards a Political Ecology of Education

This will become the last chapter of my book on "Education and Information". The job is to tie everything together as far as possible. In essence my argument has been based around the different 'paradigms' of thought in education: the functionalist, the critical and the existential. I have argued (in previous chapters) that higher learning is effectively an ecology where paradigms of thought interact: the engineer with the artist, the psychotherapist with the firebrand politician, the economist with the educationalist. This chapter argues that managing the ecology of paradigms is what educational managers ought to be about (but never are - the functionalist meta-narrative has grown over education like blue-green algae!)

The chapters beyond the presentation of the characteristics of the paradigms (Chapters 1 - 5) deal with decision-making from various perspectives. Following this, I cover rationality and decision (Chapter 6), the evolution of paradigms as habits of thought (chapter 7), the ecology of higher learning (chapter 8) through to relationship between education and economics (chapter 9). This focus on decision-making identifies the overall topic that concerns me as 'Political ecology': that the implications of imbalances in education have profound social and environmental consequences, and these ultimately boil down to the ways in which decisions are taken in all kinds of institution - not just educational institutions.

As with any period in history, we must ask ourselves about the profound problems that face us, and the resources available to us for dealing with them. Computer technologies are part of the problem (they have amplified the functionalist dominance), but they may also be an important part of the solution. Whatever recommendations for action (here I use Ostrom's institutional analysis framework), there must also be ways of measuring effectiveness. I think that statistical ecology is important. Whilst part of my argument has been that information declares scarcity, it is a political decision to determine what we ought to regard as scarce. I am becoming convinced that the principal scarcity we should be concerned is diversity itself.


Notwithstanding the significant social advances in the 20th century, the early 21st century has revealed new threats to social justice. Income inequality - to which much attention has been recently drawn - is only one example (the various statistics indicating the relative wealth of the top 5% as opposed to the rest of the world). Yet for all these startling statistics worry us, the deeper problem lies underneath in the difficulty of mustering any political force to do anything about it. The sound and fury of movements like Occupy are easily sidelined by the establishment: nowhere has there been a single concession made to the protesters of globalisation and inequality. There has at least been some concession to the environmental protesters - but these appear as hollow victories carved out of political expediency (and expensive conferences) with few teeth to actually enforce national targets. Not surprisingly, political apathy - possibly the most dangerous trend of all - sets in. Politics is about making a difference; but increasingly the differences made by the political class serve the interests of the few, and everyone else can do little about it. The questions at the root of these problems concern the ways in which human beings learn about the problems they face and make decisions about what to do in addressing them: there is a "knowledge problem" and a "decision problem". The knowledge problem is one of higher learning: what is it to collectively come to know the nature of the world? The decision problem is a problem of action: how do we act to create the conditions for the wise actions of others?
That the problems of environment, economics, technology, social justice and education are deeply interconnected is the concern of what has become known as 'Political Ecology'. Illich was one of its early champions pointing out the importance of politicising decisions about technology:
"Ecology, during the last ten years, has acquired a new meaning. It is still the name for a branch of professional biology, but the term now increasingly serves as the label under which a broad, politically organized general public analyzes and influences technical decisions. I want to focus on the new electronic management devices as a technical change of the human environment which, to be benign, must remain under political (and not exclusively expert) control."
His demand for political control of technology echoes similar (later) statements by Feenberg, Beck and others. The question to be addressed is "What does a political ecology look like?" In addressing this, there are some critical issues to examine in Illich's own work. Illich provides a useful target for inspection because whilst his appeals for a "convivial society", the limiting of the power of technology, and his polemic against institutionalised health, education, transport and so on, most of what Illich railed against has happened: the two big 'growth industries' which many economists see as being vital to the wealth of nations are education and health. Schooling at all levels of learning has exploded into a global industry (and we have exported what he regarded as a failed model of education to Africa and other parts of the world). Meanwhile the health industry extends life at an economic cost which simultaneously increases inequality. Illich's work speaks of the problem of 'coming to knowledge about the world': if his polemic has failed to have an impact beyond the intelligentsia, it is because he fundamentally underestimated the knowledge problem that he was dealing with. Yet his critique of education points towards a convivial society where education serves to "heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring", he asks a deeper question about knowledge and higher learning - not as some abstruse academic pursuit, but as something fundamentally connected to political agency and social emancipation. If there is a problem of making decisions and creating conditions for wise action, there must be a concern for understanding the relationship between the sociomaterial and historical context of rational argument and the actions that are then taken.
In Illich's work these problems of knowledge, being and learning exist as dimensions at the interface between the concepts of information and education. Confusion about both information and education underpins much of the pathology of thinking in economics and education, and indeed there remain ambiguity in Illich's own conception of information and education. In his later work (from Gender onwards) Illich became aware of aspects of idealisation of the individual which had crept into his work on education and health. He comments in Gender of “the main weakness of Medical Nemesis, published in 1975: its unisex perspective.” Illich’s critique of Gender, which is really an economic critique, poked at the deeper nuances of identity and being of real people. Whilst his central thesis, common to his approach to all his work is his opposition to “regimes of scarcity”, he gradually painted a richer picture of the continually shifting constellation of limiting forces on action, leading his eventually to speak of Political Ecologies: it isn’t simply about looking at things from different perspectives; it is more to do with inspecting the interconnections and relationships between perspectives and revealing their deep dynamics. Each perspective brings with it its own declarations of scarcity; each perspective brings with it its own politics: the politics of the schooling system, the politics of energy, the politics of gender. Yet the point is that political battles are related – not in their opposition between one another, but in their operating at different levels. More importantly however is the fact that each level of perspective carries with it much more that simply a particular branch of discourse. The political limits of education, health, energy, welfare, literacy and gender each have a bearing on the material constraining forces of the environment, economic conditions and individual liberty. This is because each dimension of discourse entails institutional structures, professionals and decisions. At the heart of decision is information. If Illich’s main concern can be summed up concisely, then it is a fundamental concern for the actions of professionals within institutions, or rather the means by which decisions are made at different levels of society.
Illich’s wish that society should become more convivial, that technologies should be restricted in their power, and that we found new ways of living together are in contrast to the fact that instead we have become increasingly atomised, neutered and ruled by the scarcity that technology, education and institutions engender. By the same token, the wish for conviviality must entail consideration of information and the role it plays in decision-making.
Illich critiques information as an entity rather than to inquire after the concept of information. Pointing out that:
“When centralization and specialization grow beyond a certain point, they require highly programmed operators and clients. More of what each man must know is due to what another man has designed and has the power to force on him. The city child is born into an environment made up of systems that have a different meaning for their designers than for their clients".
In a later talk he writes:
"Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed."
Illich's instincts remain reliable: he makes the connection between the form of tools and the conviviality of the society, and this connection is couched in talk of 'information' and 'knowledge':
"In limited and well-integrated tribes, knowledge is shared quite equally among most members. All people know most of what everybody knows. On a higher level of civilization, new tools are introduced; more people know more things, but not all know how to execute them equally well. Mastery of skill does not yet imply a monopoly of understanding. One can understand fully what a goldsmith does without being one oneself. Men do not have to be cooks to know how to prepare food. This combination of widely shared information and competence for using it is characteristic of a society in which convivial tools prevail."
There is a connection then between conviviality and information; in fact there appear to be two different kinds of information at work in Illich's critiques. The negative critique presents information as the go-between stuff connecting individuals unequally; the positive critique presents information as deeply embodied and entwined within community, culture and history. The former view is a gender-neutral, transcendental subject view of information and the interactions of individual decision-making. The latter view is a kind of 'forming information' (rather like genetic information) at work in at the very core of social being.
The question concerning the nature of information and its relation to education is precisely a question about people, decisions and institutions. It is not just about the institution of education, but institutions of government, institutions of commerce and industry, of religion and so on. It is not just about decisions affecting learning and scholarship, but those affecting individual liberty, policy, supply and demand, war and peace, and the environment: each case has its place in an ecology of limiting forces each of which is conditioned by information and educational processes. Illich’s challenge for a convivial society can then be framed as a discourse about information which in turn concerns the uncovering the ecological dynamics of limiting forces that bear upon human life.
Political Ecology

Political Ecology as a movement is an intellectual confluence involving geographers, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, biologists, ethologists and many others. The aim of this effort is to focus attention of the political forces whose interaction collectively reveals the corporate and state mismanagement  contributing to urban and rural environmental degradation, or local and regional choices, or synthesizing political economy with the distribution of power and ecological analysis. In each case, there is scarcity, and in each case there are boards, meetings, decision-makers and decisions. Political ecology places the focus on human action and decision-making. This is in contrast to what Robbins identifies as apolitical ecology, whose fundamental feature of apolitical ecology is ‘eco-scarcity’. The ecoscarce approach tends to an objectification of ecological process, removing them from political decision-making, placing the burden of responsibility for decline on what are seen to be run-away natural problems, which usually occur in developing countries rather than the developed world. Deforestation, explosive birth rates, and so on become the focus for apolitical ecology, in a certain amount of ignorance of the deeper connections of these processs to global economic forces and corporate decision-making in London, Berlin or New York.  
Decision-making involves knowledge which in turn is dependent on various sources of data and information. In short, education and learning (which does not strongly feature in the political ecology debate) plays a fundamental role in the formation of the ecologies of decision-making. There are of cource paradigmatic views on these connections. The functionalist perspective which sees decision as rational, and information determining equilibria for identifying solutions remains the dominant perspective among decision-makers. The emotions of actors, and the way that even ultra-rationalist problem solving gives rise to paradoxes tends to be ignored in the decision-making process: although of course 'rational' decisions which restrict the freedoms of individuals and groups often result in apparently irrational behaviour of those individuals and groups: Agarwall, for example, highlights the behaviour of colonialists in demarcating tribal lands, which resulted in protests by tribes buring down the land. 

Illich presents Political Ecology as a distinction betweenthe environment as commons from the environment as resource. On our ability to make this particular distinction depends not only the construction of a sound theoretical ecology, but also - and more importantly - effective ecological jurisprudence” At its heart is the distinction between “the commons within which people's subsistence activities are embedded, and resources that serve for the economic production of those commodities on which modem survival depends.” In diagnosing the difficulty in realising an effective balance, Illich identifies a cause which gives agency to a particular tool: language. English he argues is "a language that during the last 100 years has lost the ability to make this distinction”. In response to this, it might be argued that the inability of English to express the distinction between the commons and resources is not a fault of language: it is a fault of higher learning. For this reason, Illich's political ecology would seem to also need to be an educational political ecology.
Illich’s Problem and Conflicting Concepts of Information
The irony facing the political ecologist today is that, as with so much in academia, the creation of a subject is itself a declaration of scarcity. Illich's critique itself became scarce: a critical voice hidden away in within the walls of the institution, not even penetrating the management of education, let alone broader society. As Everett Hughes observed many years earlier, education has a remarkable ability not to inspect itself. Illich has become a Cassandra-like figure – who warns what is likely to happen, but whose words – even when they are acknowledged, whose words acknowledged, and then somehow ignored as the functionalist addiction continues. Even his devoted students found themselves in positions where they could listen and agree, but then act to do the opposite of what he advocates. One of Illich’s most prominent students, three-times governor of California, Jerry Brown (who was also a student of Gregory Bateson), admits that for all Illich’s pleas about energy, transport and the need to limit technology, he remains the firm champion of America’s first high-speed rail link. Why is this?
In addressing this, the obvious place to start is to look at political decision-making. How is it that decisions are made? So often decision-makers find themselves facing paradoxes, as Nigel Howard identified. Decisions to solve deep problems are simply too difficult – it is for this reason that decision-makers seek to flee from a problem, pass the buck, or to instead find a solution to a different problem. There are many ways of characterising the decisions and choices made by people in corporate situations (Cohen and March, etc). How does the articulation of orders of expectations and the double-contingencies of communication affect everyday life of the decision-maker, the project do-er, the policy writer, and so on?
Each model of decision-making concerns information. What is Illich’s view of information? In Tools for Conviviality, there is a revealing passage where he talks of the power of technology and its relation to conviviality. The know-how of using the tool is different from the convivial usage of the tool that is shared in communities. On the one hand, Illich articulates a vision of information as connecting-stuff between individuals (a kind of Shannon information), and on the other hand, Illich appears to accept a forming-information viewpoint which actively shapes social structures. It is here that Illich’s impotence lies: that a fundamental contradiction arose in his own thought about information which in turn underpinned, and undermined his thinking about education.
To what extent does lack of clarity about information translate into social consequences? Would Illich's critique be different with a more coherent critique of information? To explore this, I will draw on a social satire from the 1950s which has been remarkably accurate in its predictions as to who the world would develop from the the time it was written to the present. Michael Young’s “The Rise of the Meritocracy” gave the world a new word, which – divorced from its satirical roots – became the mantra of those political champions of the knowledge economy, including Tony Blair’s UK government, Clinton and then Bush’s US administration and the EU commission. In particular, it formed a key role in the formation of education policy, taken together with other key economic policy advisers including Anthony Giddens.
From Meritocracy to Social Disaster
The fundamental mechanism Young highlighted in his ‘meritocratic society’ was the issue of the testing and measurement of intelligence. In Young’s fantasy nightmare (which bears uncomfortable resemblance to today’s educational practices) societal advancement depended on increasingly sophisticated methods of ensuring that the most able in society rose to the highest status. All children were subjected to IQ tests and their education advancement depended on their success in these tests. With irony, Young points out that this advancement was achieved through the radical social policies of schooling. Through the ambition to widen participation to the working classes, there was a growth in those classes in managerial jobs. However, the new managerial elite who had working class origins, wanted better for their children than they had themselves. They fought to get their children into the best schools (which were available to them, and generally unavailable to those with disadvantage). Consequently, meritocracy as measured through the intelligence tests, became the preserve of the first generation of working class meritocratic advancement. Society atrophied into a division between rich and poor, high skilled and low skilled, where the poor had little chance of advancement because the meritocratic system legislated against them.
Whilst a parody, Young’s ‘Rise of the Merticracy’ highlights a mechanism for creating deep social injustice on the back of social progressiveness: it sits alongside Hayek's "The road to Serfdom" as a classic example of 'paving one's way to hell with good intentions". Where did Young's society go wrong? Among the principle errors we might list:
  1. The assumed connection between individual human behaviour and mental process (what is commonly called ‘mentalism’)
  2. The hubris of scientific measurability of mental processes and their efficacy
  3. The blindness of any methodological practice to its own social context
  4. The hard-wired power of educated elites inherent in the process of utopian social design
  5. The separation between individual educational process, intellectual development and societal organisation
  6. The confusion of economic rationality (itself an educational construct) with societal reality
In response to the above points, a critical response might list the following problems:
  1. The connection between behaviour and mental process is metaphysical and unprovable. This quality makes it ideal to deploy as a means of declaring learning and the brains within which it occurs to be scarce and dependent on institutional stewardship.
  2. The measurability of mental process through testing is a chimera which is targeted at epiphenomena generates information which upholds scarcity, creates new scarcity in the interests of established elites.
  3. Critique of the enterprise is constrained to the usage of the same techniques: so critique becomes an argument over which practices produce the best results in testing. The metaphysical nature of the questions deems deeper inspection too difficult. In the end, people are told to be realistic – which means sticking to the available ‘scientific data’
  4. Those who get to determine the good and the bad in science have the power to assert their authority. The process enhances their own status.
  5. The survival of education requires its separation from society
  6. The survival of economics requires that it ignores the reality of social life; were it to acknowledge the reality of social life, the discipline of economics would disappear. Elites see to it that this doesn’t happen!
Perhaps in short, Young's society illustrates the fundamental problem that Illich identified in education: that universal education is not feasible. Making an argument whose tenor has striking similarity to the anti-planning economic arguments of Hayek, Illich goes on to say that education
“would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education.”
However, unlike Illich, Young paints in some detail the pathology of education and its result. Illich, by contrast, never actually spells out what he means by 'education'. Painting the collapse of the comprehensive schools, the welfare state, the health system and so on was a powerful 'corrective' exercise for Young, since he was one of the major architects of those institutions. Depressingly, many of the predictions have come true. Comprehensive education has fallen victim to a creeping privatisation, privatisation has infected the health service, and the apparatus of welfare has been steadily dismantled. Fundamental to Young’s satire however is not a description of institutional organisation, but rather an idea of progress as a measurable Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’: this was the essence of the intelligence test. The neuroscientists delivered what the politicians wished for, and widespread intelligence testing became the norm. Today we have had multiple kinds of tests and metricisation of human performance. Children face examination throughout their schooling, teachers’ performance is measured according to how well the children perform, international comparisons are made of the educational performance of each country with economic indicators of educational advancement being used in the same way as GDP. Learning itself has been metricised, with new means of identifying learning outcomes and measuring the performance of individuals according to learning outcomes. In a similar process at a wider level, competency criteria have been defined by bureaucrats across Europe as a way of creating a professionally oriented curriculum with institutions certifying the meeting of specific skillsets.
In both Young’s satire and in the reality of what has transpired in society, testing produces information and information frames decision. The Pisa statistics on school performance, or the University league tables are effectively ratings of academic credit: indexes of trust and worthiness that might be unevenly accorded to different institutions according to their relative place in league tables. Meanwhile, all institutions – irrespective of their place in the league tables – get on with the job of teaching and learning: they teach clever students, dumb students, students from good middle-class families and students from disadvantaged families, students with disabilities, mental health problems, and those who are considerably more brilliant than their teachers. Yet, the information served up by league tables has a powerful bearing upon the status of the qualifications ultimately are awarded to students irrespective of their relative achievements in their learning. The information of testing, of league tables, of performance metrics are all declarations of scarcity.
The university league tables declare the scarcity of high quality learning and high status institutions. The school league tables declare not only the scarcity of good schools, but the scarcity of good places to live. Performance metrics declare the scarcity of good workers, and finally Young’s intelligence testing declared (in his story) the scarcity of potential. But most importantly, the information revolution declares the scarcity of information itself: that information should only be provided by official channels – the Times Higher Education Supplement, the Pisa association, the various other educational foundations which produce league tables of various sorts. For those thousands of parents who send their children to expensive private schools (how many can only barely afford it?) the hope is to mix with a better social group, that the connections of the social group will ‘rub off’ on the poorer kids, that those educational experiences will somehow enable children to survive more effectively in the world: all this is the result of information declaring scarcity of opportunity. The information of scarcity feeds the processes of social reproduction on the wishes of the poor, taking their money, and ultimately benefiting the rich. In Young’s satire, having achieved a more equal social division with the creation of the comprehensive schools (which is where the story starts), the newly established political classes (who were once working class) now believe the scarcity declarations of the education system, and not wanting their children to be as deprived as they were, send their children to better schools. In this way the pathology of the Bourdieauian reproduction of social class takes a new twist based around aspiration and scarcity. To whose benefit is this?  
Information as a scarcity declaration is what Illich critiques when he talks about the advanced society’s technology: when everybody is better informed, but each become less understanding of the other’s informedness. More importantly, the dynamics of this ‘informedness’ is a desire for being informed in specialised ways: on the back of scarcity sits aspiration. Each person’s “being informed” they have interests in guarding their information. Intellectual Property Rights reinforce the scarcity declaration with economic and legal structures.  
Ecology, Information and Deliberative Government
Illich sought an educational system which did not create a separation between itself and society. It did not create scarcity. But can education be education if it does not create failure? Both the failure of admittance, and the failure of the examinations to which it subjects individuals create separation between education and society at the same time as assertions are made about the benefits of education on the ‘learning’ of the individual: their own individual cognitive abilities. Whilst it is appears clear that the skilled performances of individuals are fundamental to their advancement in society (their own acquisition of status and their own ability to make status declarations about society), it is also clear that processes of emancipation require awareness of social conditions as much as cognitive examinable content. The issue of separation rests of resolving the split between the learning needs of individuals and the needs of society.  
The convivial society that Illich envisages carries with it a view of information as a constraining force on social relations. In today’s society information is a divisive force which upholds scarcity. This is not necessarily the fault of technology: it is a question about the role of government and the nature of society. In Young’s satire, government sought used information about individual ability to maximise opportunity and grant to those who were most able the greatest riches. If the original information that government acts on is a declaration of scarcity, then the function of government is here to act as positive feedback: Government reinforces the scarcity declaration of information. Government ‘regulation’ becomes positive feedback. Consequently, one would expect inequality to grow.
With what criteria, with what rationale might government act in a way so as to mitigate the declared scarcity in society? What would a society look like if it did? Such a move would mean that data would be treated as a signal for more research – that one particular declaration of scarcity would need to be balanced with other measures. Government would continually act to defer decisions and amplify deliberation. Government would be continually deliberative. In other words, government would regulate the constraints for decision-making: it would ensure that no single constraining factor in the decision-making fabric would outweigh any other. So an intelligence test would invite new data made a scarcity declaration of artistic ability (say). The result is a multi-perspectival consideration of information as constraint within a society. In this process, government’s role is to ensure that sufficient variety of viewpoints, data perspectives, questions, positions and so on are maintained. So instead of closing down the paradigmatic viewpoints available to people, and therefore turning everything into a functionalist perspective, government acts to coordinate and consolidate different perspectives. In other words, the role of government is to maintain a Political Ecology.
Two questions emerge from this: How could a political ecology be envisaged? And What would it do? The setting of limiting forces between different individuals, positions, identities, and issues would appear to be an important objective. In the network of political ecologies, there are information flows – between the different perspectives, agents, positions, and the environment. Additionally, there is loss and waste within the political ecology within each agent, position, and perspective. If a declaration of scarcity is reinforced by government or some other agent, then it threatens to obliterate opposing views. This would result in a loss of deliberative capacity within the political ecosystem: the issue would be ‘settled’. In the economics of innovation, such a picture might be characterised as the ‘lock-in’ which stifles new kinds of innovation – in effect, what happens is a loss of flexibility to adapt to new challenges.
Science, Ecology and Education
No social or scientific revolution has not redefined what is scarce. At the heart of all science is the relation between objects, perception and discourse. Whilst scientific practice might necessitate a degree of loss of relationality in the process of what Bhaskar calls “referential detachment” of scientific laws and the objectification of scientific facts, this loss of relationality then feeds scarcity declarations about scientific achievement, truth and progress. Education systems support this process whilst remaining in the social realm where objectification is challenged by everyday life.  As a process of making nature meaningful - of creating discourses whereby the meaningfulness of nature can be codified and shared across history and across peoples – science gives individuals license to identify things that are scarce. In the process, science can be emancipatory: a powerful tool for usurping regimes of scarcity backed by elites, and replacing them them with new social orders. Whether this is through paradigm shifts, or other means (there have been many descriptions of how science works), the business of pursuing knowledge, of revealing defensible narratives about the world challenges power relations, and in so doing leads to hope – particular among the oppressed. It might not appear immediately obvious that scientific endeavour is directly related to political expression, but this is achieved through critical engagement. Critical discourse in the meaning of the world gives each member of a society possibilities for making their own contribution to that discourse: for asserting their own ‘status declarations’. The relationship between material reality, rationality and discourse produces demonstrable forces for transformation of the status quo. Science and technology amount to political action. New meaningful discourses switch ecologies of communicative flow between individuals. In particular, new discoveries about the materiality of the world reveal new possibilities for social coordination. The relationship with materiality, skilled performance, critique and argument produces new opportunities for acquiring new rights, responsibilities, obligations and commitments. With this comes not only the rise in status of individuals, commercial opportunity, and political power.
The University, as a space of deliberation, is the home of scientific endeavour. But scientific activity does not just mean the parroting equations of mathematics and physics, or the number crunching and computer visualisation of the biotech lab. It also means the activity of artists and musicians: they too render new meaning in physical artefacts and psychological process. It also means the university itself: its activities, organisation, management and the market forces to which it is subject. Each activity contributes to the deliberative scientific endeavour. Each concern, among the many, has the power to exclude the others, because each discourse, each activity makes a declaration of scarcity of its territory. Narratives which carry risks of ecological imbalance include:
  1. The narrative of the University as an Instrument for granting social status
  2. The narrative of the University as specialist in a domain
  3. The narrative of the University as a business
  4. The narrative of the University as a Training provider
  5. The narrative of the University as Innovation Factory
  6. The narrative of the University as an Employment Service
  7. The narrative of the University as Monastery
When the institution becomes an object of association, when the others will seek association with the university as a way of establishing their own status in society, then universities fail in their mission to maintain a critical and scientific discourse. Whilst providing a home for critical science, they must not drive a wedge between themselves and the society in which they serve. Here, the massification of education, and with the knowledge of the relationship between the mechanisms of critique and the mechanisms of science become better understood, uncritical education presents its greatest threat. What happens here? Actually, what happens is that somebody says “We are a business! We have to make money!” – in other words, there is a declaration of scarcity of viability. The same is true of the art college that determines that a certain isn’t art; the University which deems that a students isn’t suitable for its status recommendation – either because they don’t fit the required standard, or they haven’t paid their fees; or the University that dismisses knowledge for not being in the textbook; or the University that ignores those activities which do not lead directly to work; or the University that dismisses activities because they are not spiritual!
The challenge is to find a way in which none of the above is able to establish itself to the detriment of the others. How would managers know? What might they do about it? How might educational managers judge if they are doing a good job? The criteria for ‘good educational management’ currently are vague and feed at least some of the ‘deadly sins’ to which the University is prone. Most common amongst these is “the university as a business”.
The “university as a business” has become the dominant paradigm to view the nature of the university. It is a functionalist meta-narrative governing the other activities of the University. Its principal criterion for success is income, good student satisfaction and strong performance in international league tables for research and teaching. The University as a Business conforms to and confirms the scarcity declarations produced by informational measures dictated by government. Typically, the institutions which do best are those which are most closely connected to government. Declarations of scarcity in this way become declarations of the uniqueness and value of those who attend these institutions. Aggressive pursuit of the University as Business rhetoric will produce negative consequences for other parts of the sector.
The University as a specialist in a domain wouldn’t immediately appear to be a problem. Yet this kind of institution declares the scarcity of the domain within which it sits. One only has to look at where such institutions declare failure. The specialist art college determines what does and doesn’t count as art. The specialist technical university declares what does and doesn’t count as a technical design. The specialist medical institution declares what does and doesn’t count in medicine. In each kind of institution there are different flavours of narrative, and different paradigms of thought – but each is held to be closed.
The reasons which drive the wedge between education and society are economic: educational institutions must maintain their separation so as to feed the scarcity of their product and to maintain its price: the more the separation between themselves and society, the greater the value that is accorded to the university.  But the economic model upon which the university sits appears broken.
Measurement and Government
If there is a salutary lesson to be learnt from Young’s meritocracy it is the tendency to measure the wrong things. Measurement is a process of upholding scarcity through information. The measuring of intelligence upholds the scarcity of brains which can do intelligence tests; the measuring of GDP upholds the scarcity of production; even the measurement of happiness - a trendy topic in economics today - upholds happiness as scarce (which makes me rather miserable!). Whilst it would appear that in education the onus falls to the measurement of the experience and ability of the individual there is no way in which the experience of the individual can be apprehended and codified even by the individual themselves. The measures taken to ameliorate the experience of the individual usually involves taking measures (determined by a committee) which bear upon the experiences of other people with the aim of changing the experiences of learners (or 'customers'). Yet there is no way of looking into peoples’ heads, and no way of knowing exactly what their experience is. There is only a test against which such measures can be taken. 

Government, committees, and other corporate bodies cannot legislate for the experience of the individual: there are too many exogenous variables to take account of. Actually, there may be no variables at all, whether endogenous, exogenous, independent or dependent! What there are are decision-making processes in institutions. In recent years, the analysis of institutions and their decision-making processes has come under increasing scrutiny. In the institutional analysis frameworks of Ostrom, the study of the action situation of decision-makers in institutions provides an approach to identifying the rules and conditions that frame decision-making. Whilst Ostrom's game theoretical perspective potentially places too great an emphasis on rationality, her study of the constraints within which actors operate is a useful starting point for conceiving of the types of action that might be undertaken. Individuals will always behave differently and whilst experiences cannot be known, the conditions within which good experiences, personal growth, financial success, innovation, etc can be known.
Ostrom's explicit focus is on decision, and her empirical work highlights the efficacy of self-organised management of commons resources as opposed to centralised management. This finding would appear ot be in line with Illich's notion of self-limiting social systems which are essentially convivial. The dynamics of these social peer-to-peer groups raises a question about the dynamics of information. Self-management depends on the ability to monitor the information dynamics: in essence, they are the dynamics of the diversity and health of an ecology. Yet information measures are declarations of scarcity. Even an ecological informational measure is a declaration of scarcity: but scarcity of what? What is the connection between the convivial society, ecology, decision-making and information? What is it that is scarce which threatens the political decision-making process? It is the scarcity of diversity.
The scarcity of diversity

Whether it is the scarcity of natural resources, or ecological, the scarcity of social wellbeing, the scarcity of safety and distance from threat, the scarcity of equality, the scarcity of good democratic government, the scarcity of rationality, the scarcity of good management. In the light of an environment of continual scarce declarations decisions have to be made within institutions: whether it the European Commission, the World Wildlife Fund, the IMF or a University. Decisions taken at key moments in the light of opportunities presented require being able to draw on solutions to problems. The problem is that most decisions in organisations do not solve problems, but rather side-step them, or pass the buck. The idea that decisions are informed depends on three types of information: information about problems, information about solutions and information about opportunities. Technologies are at the heart of each of these kinds of information. The creation of new technologies is the creation of new scarcities: that technologies become the only route through which one might achieve certains aims, when such aims might be achieved in many ways. Denying and defying the scarcity declarations is what sits behind unwillingness to take up new technology.
Problems are presented in informational terms; solutions are often presented as technologies; and opportunities arise through complex social processes which result in the opportunity to make a decision. Technologies are presented as solutions looking for problems (more than a few EU projects have this quality!) Technologies are also artefacts and theories: it is both an object and a means of engaging with a theory. So the first challenge is:
How might it be that a University manages the competing descriptions of itself so that no single description obliterates the others?
Here we can do a thought experiment. Imagine that the different positions of the University are represented as being in some way co-dependent. Each contributes information about the other. In this way, a graphical representation might look like:
Each of these nodes is a declaration of scarcity. One might imagine a series of homeostatic connections existing between the different nodes: in other words, each node contributes to the stability and identity of the other which in turn contribute to the stability of the whole representing the University. Each node is dependent on those nodes whose concepts oppose it. However, each position contributes to the existence of the others at a cost of creating a continual need to justify the existence of each position. This might be regarded as a waste of time – the waste of deliberation and uncertainty over legitimacy of existence. Each node wastes energy in defending its position, or in deliberately guarding against alternatives, or ignoring important data.  
The scarcity of diversity in the system can be measured through analysing the dissipations generated in the system which drive the dynamics of the whole. To illustrate this, we can consider the emergence of the functionalist narrative of the “University as a Business” which gradually subsumes other narratives. The University as a business is perhaps most opposed to the “university as a monastery”. With emphasis on introspection, ritual and esoteric study, the University as Monastery is probably the most ‘wasteful’ of all the positions represented. The university as a business needs to establish more efficient links with other ideas of the university in order to establish itself as the dominant idea of the University. It does this by seeking initiatives and solutions which enable it to increase the efficiencies of other parts of the network. Technologies provide an excellent way of doing this. For example, the connection between the University as a business and the The university as an employment service, and the university as a training provider in partnership with employer links, employability curriculum changes, professional body engagement, and so on – together with CRM tools and other changes to working practices change the topology of the interrelationships. Gradually the business ethic forms the centre of the network, supported by various activities geared around employment. The connections between these activities is less dissipative: the University is more efficient, but it has lost some of its diversity and flexibility. Disputation becomes replaced with learning outcomes, the relationship to which become increasingly limited, to the point that the ecology loses the spiritual dimension.  Gradually, the dissipation of the original narrative is lost and replaced by bureaucratic process. Effectively, one element of the ecology is able to determine rules of engagement for other elements. This process of realigning organisation can be seen as a set of ‘rule changes’. Following Ostrom, these rule changes can be characterised into:
  • Boundary rules: who is able to enter a particular position in the institution
  • Position rules: The set of actions role holders are permitted to make
  • Choice rules: The set of constraints bearing upon an individual in a position when making a decisions
  • Information rules: the level of information available to each participant
  • Aggregation rules: The extent to which cooperation is required to make a decision
  • Payoff rules: rewards and sanctions for particular actions taken, or for particular reading of state variables
  • Scope rules: the determination of a range of outcome responses in a known variable
Each rule in this case is effectively a declaration of scarcity. With the rule changes such as this, greater efficiency of the ecological network entails more bureaucracy: rule changes of this sort involve the relationship between learning outcomes, assessments and educational progress, quality regimes and so on. However, despite increased efficiency, in any distinct bureaucracy there is always some aspect of dissipation. Primarily the dissipation of any bureaucratic unit is the effort expended in maintaining the identity of that unit. This can take the form of departmental meetings, documents, inspection process and disputation about how well a department might perform. Bigger dissipations will drive further rule changes, and further declarations of scarcity.
Ostrom’s work on the commons indicates that centralised rule-management is less effective than self-organisation in determining the ecological balance between the different forces. The problem is that managers are left with trying to change rules relating to different parts of the action situation about which they do not have complete information. However, the situation is worse for managers since any rule changes cause shifts in emphasis and evolution which then create a new critical and dissipative narrative. This critical situation is effectively a reflection on the unfolding events, and the creation of a new narrative which accounts for it.
The switch from one focus to another can introduce new inefficiencies in the system as individuals deliberate and speculate on what is happening to the institution, to the things they care about and so on. Identities can be challenged, privacy threatened, and so on. It is not uncommon to see interventions with technology in education producing this effect. Whilst the introduction of new technology may increase efficiency at one level, at another the decrease in diversity of the ecology, and the dissipative dynamics produced by the changes can introduce unforeseeable consequences. The problem then becomes not the particular consequences, but the successive behaviour of management as it seeks to reinforce rule changes and discard those parts of the organisation which do not conform. What emerges is a runaway process of destroying the commons of the institution.
There is plenty of evidence for self-organised education processes of learning (Mitra) but little work on the self-management of institutions. If Ostrom, Agarwall and others are right, and that a self-organising process of management is more effective, how might this be realised? In response to this, we have to consider:
  1. the role of information in the system;
  2. the nature of the self-organising situation;
  3. the ways in which self-organising action might take effect;
  4. the relationship between self-organisation and political expression.
Agarwall’s analysis of the management of forests indicates that the commitment by members of the community in protecting the environment, and being clear about what it is they are protecting is paramount. The creation of guards, the creation of a council, and so on are declarations of scarcity by the community which then shape the declarations of scarcity by others. Robbins argues that “this concession to local control, was accompanied by a concomitant institutional change, a kind of “technology of governance”, which obligated local committees to track and categorize the forests of the region, to work with thousands of residents to establish rules, and to launch an ongoing census of forest resources.”
What might the equivalent of a census of forest resources be in education? In terms of statistical ecology, the measure of the diversity of the ecosystem would amount to similar kinds of measures. In the ecosystem of the forest there are components and there are information flows between the components, and there are respirations. In education, there are components represented by competing discourses, rules, paradigms of understanding and positions. The census of the forest is a declaration of scarcity of the resources, but it is also a coordinating and focusing the self-organising process. To identify changes in rules and conditions and the loss of complexity in the environment is to consider changes to rules as a way of maintaining effective balance within the institution. What is necessary for this are indicators of the Universities ecology and diversity.
The diversity of the ecosystem is information which everyone understands. Whilst Illich’s characterisation of the specialist technical knowledge is inevitably going to part of any society (there will be specialist domains of knowledge which are understood as being distinct), the political limits on the society ensure that no particular specialist domain subsumes others. Agrawal’s “technology of governance” is a similar mechanism by which the growth of one domain may be managed against others. Limiting governance concerns the recognition of the changes occurring in the environment within which everyone exists. Statistical measures become both an indicator of ecology whilst the techniques of the statistics themselves become an element in the ecology. Self-organisation of the biology, psychology and the information available through statistical analysis of the ecology of the institution comes together. The question then is how collective recognition then leads to action, and how actions might be determined.
If the problem identified and recognised is one of loss of diversity, there are two objectives:
  • identify those positions which appear to be thriving at the expense of what is lost;
  • to identify the rules within which those positions are operating.
The increasing march of the “university as business” rhetoric is clearly a position which grows in strength in the University, and now allies itself with an array of practices that have helped it subsume many other positions within the University. The obvious thing to do in the first place is to raise the critical challenge to the view. In the years following the process of marketization, there has been a concerted effort to challenge the managerial view. However, this approach has led to the marginalising of critique, and within the institution itself little has changed. The problem here is that the debate becomes polarised, with one side seen to be in line with conventional economic thinking. In other words, the critical challenge to the status quo in universities is a job not just of challenging a managerial approach, but a critique of economic norms, educational thinking, rationality, objects, and fundamentally a personal critique the agendas of different individuals involved in education.
On each of these levels of critique, and between them, there are powerful questions to be asked which expose contradictions. The contradictions may be listed:
  • The contradiction between professing to nurture higher learning and instilling a monocultural climate of fear within the institution
  • The contradiction between fetishistic marketing and emphasis on discourse and deliberation
  • The contradiction between innovation, productivity and bureaucracy
  • The mereological fallacy in mistaking parts for the whole
However, powerful questions and critique is no good without measurement. The dissipative dynamics of the University involve conflicts between different paradigmatic viewpoints, different roles, attributes and positions. Within each distinctive unit there are dissipations as individuals seek to identify themselves in distinction to others. There are also subsumptions between different perspectives. The simplest thing to identify the nature of the diversity of the institution is to ask people what they think.
The technologies of ‘big data’ have produced powerful facilities for ordering, searching and manipulating heterogeneous data. While the quantity of data has driven these technical developments, and the analytic capabilities have been developed from the quantity of data, the heterogeneity of data and ease with which structures may be manipulated can be used to create and explore simple structures. One such structure can be created by asking individuals the extent to which they agree or disagree with particular propositions. Such proposition may relate to political views, current events, institutional policies, and so on. Also, they may relate to artefacts including music, photographs or games. It is relatively simple to create webs of qualities which relate individuals to different items. Furthermore, whilst a web of relationships with heterogeneous elements is complex, the aggregate of heterogeneous mappings can be associated with single words or concepts: a photograph, an opinion, a game or a song may collectively be ‘about’ something. Consequently, structures can be identified. Moreover, structures can be shared, with multiple agents participation in the formation of structures and identification of relationships.
Relational structures produce indicators of disposition, and (more importantly) indicators of deliberation, conflict and contradiction. The dynamics between different perspectives on a relational mapping between heterogeneous elements indicates the extent to which contrasting elements are co-dependent in an ecology: the extent to which information from one element feeds into another, and the extent to which there is a dissipation through deliberation, uncertainty, or the need to defend a position or identity. Relational structures may be explored individually, in pairs or in larger groups. In particular, there is an indicator of the extent to which individuals relate to objects, individuals are able to declare their own objects, and so on.
Positions upheld by a minority are calculated to have the highest dissipative factor. Additionally, the relationship between different positions can be calculated for their mutual information. The degree of predictability of positions between stakeholders can be a measure of ‘surprisingness’ of communications between the different nodes and hence a measure of mutual information. Some positions create conflict and debate within the institution, whilst others contributed little. From these measurements, some indication of the nature of the ecology of the institution in question is can be created.
Ecological self-study is a peer-to-peer activity. Operating as an exchange of direct messages between individuals, once patterns are identified and agreed, the nature of ecologies can be articulated and defended. The peer-to-peer nature of the activity helps units identify their relation to one another.  Units with high dissipation could seek out other units with lower dissipation. The information that emerges from the statistics identifies the diversity of the make-up of the social situation; it does not privilege any one position over any other.
Towards a Conclusion...

Knowledge depends on diversity, on the clash of paradigmatic ways of thinking, on the encounter with different embodied ways of being in the world. Diversity is threatened by the education system and our institutions of Higher learning as we now know them. Whilst an important component of the educational problems sits in the classroom, in the curriculum, in pedagogy, by far the more serious problem is in the management of institutions, the governance arrangements, and the government regulation of the education sector. Through the pathologies of these managerial mechanisms, diversity is under threat. It is not simply about representation of different viewpoints; it is about intellectual challenge, higher learning among managers, and ensuring that a balance is struck between functionalist rhetoric (with its accompanying economic attributes), critical challenge and opposition, and reflexivity. Universities as monocultures threaten diversity not just within themselves but within the societies they profess to serve.
Young’s dystopian society declared knowledge and ability to be scarce. In doing so, a radical split emerged in society between those with knowledge, skill and opportunity, and those without. In the end this ended explosively. This is the path we are currently on. The job to do is to measure the scarcity of diversity in our institutions and their managements and to model its inevitable pathology. Higher learning can be self-regulating if the tools are available to monitor its own diversity and the scope of action to adjust rules and regulations within a scholarly community can be deployed. The sole job of educational management is to uphold the ecology of higher learning.