E 2. Participative Design for Participative Democracy: The Emerys approach to TD
Born on: September 25, 1997

SUMMARY of TD2: PDPD stands for Participative Design for Participative Democracy. It is the work of Merrelyn & Fred Emery Sociotechnical Systems
Similarities to other TD methods:
  • a 4. SEAM Socio Economic has ties to early

Dissimilar to other TD Methods:

  • f 3.  non-Emery Search Conferences
  • ? Reengineering 

We are less concerned here with organization models of change and more focused on multi-organization approaches implemented in communities and entire industries. Merrelyn Emery conducts workshops calls "Search Conferences" relying upon the pioneering work of the late Fred Emery. Throughout this presentation we will examine ways this TD approach is different from others on the TD Gameboard.

At the beginning level, you need to learn some basic terminology and some of the history. If you are familiar with basic concepts please proceed to the Masters Level of this Gameboard Square. There is also an advanced Ph.D. level for those who want to move to more cutting edge issues and concerns.


Learning Organization - Participative Design for Participative Democracy (PDPD) focuses upon building a learning organization (1993: 2).

A learning organization is one structured in such a way that its members can learn and continue to learn within it. The organizational structure itself is an environment for continuing education (Emery, M. 1993: 2).

The Emery approach to learning organization, however, differs from the stakeholder learning models presented in TD Gameboard Square 10. Participants in the Emery TD approach build a democratically-participative "learning planning community" (M. Emery, 1993: 242).

Organizational Democratization - First, the Emery method focuses on creating learning organizations that center around concepts and practices of organizational democratization, as a way to break out of the vicious cycle of deskilling, apathy, and dissociation. Dissociation is the opposite of association; apathy comes from not being in charge of the work you are responsible to perform; deskilling is a result of the over-application of the division of labor, such that each person is responsible for only a very narrow and repetitive task (thereby not being able to multi-skill or to be knowledgeable of the big picture).  Industrial democracy experiments by Emery and Thorsrud in Norway between 1969 and 1975, applied the results of experiments by Trist and Bamforth (1951) where the relation between the social system and the technical system of coal mining were studied. In Norway industrial democratization took placed at the national level. fred Emery applied the result of the Norway experiments to Australia, beginning in 1969.

Design Principle 1 and Design Principle 2 - Second, the methodology centers on training stakeholders to a multi-organizational system in two design principles known as DP1 and DP2 (Emery, M. 1993: 3).

Search Conference - Third, the Emery approach is rooted in the early experiments with Search Conference participative planning designed by Fred Emery and Eric Trist in 1958, and to democracy experiments in Norway and Australia in the 1970s (Emery, M. 1993: 11). 

In the first phase of a TD change, participants learn DP1 and DP2, open systems theory and other strategies for redesigning participation for a more participative democracy.  Here we concerned with multi-organization change approaches of the Emerys, not with single organization work. At the community or industry level, the first phase includes nominations (Jury System) to the main Search Conference. "The jury system is expected to yield a valid representation of what the community feels and thinks or wants in terms of justice, fair play and decency" (F. Emery in M. Emery, 1993: 207). As in the American tradition of the jury system, a cross section of the community is assembled, and it is these people that engage in the main TD Search Conference.  It is the Search Conference participants who design and implement the actual change projects in the network of organizations (and for large programs, networks of communities).  While the procedures differ, the assembly of a cross section of the community, that has a stake in bringing about change is similar in some ways to the TD community development approach. Both focus on social justice.

There are several differences. First, in community development (as practiced by Alinsky followers), the point is to disrupt the target system and bring them into negotiation. Second, the jury system of the Emery approach, is sampling of people is more stratified, and less a matter of who is willing to pay the consulting fee to bring in the community development activists. Third, the community development approach has a wider focus on what constitutes participative democracy. For example. for F. Emery, governance of the firm is outside the board room: "I do not think" says F. Emery, "that the functions of the board are best served by increasing management participation on the board. That sort of participation (by workers) threatens too many other wider and longer term social interests" (additions mine, F. Emery as cited in M. Emery, 1993: 190).  Emery looked at workers councils and other forms of worker control, and decided they were a failure.  I need to point out that other approaches, particularly the more postmodern (e.g. Theatrics and Spectacle) and critical theory ones, do not share this view. Views on what constitute democratic action and participation vary. Sol Alinsky, for example, would march a band of poor people, church and non-governmental leaders into a corporate board meeting, or onto the font lawn of a CEO's home, in order to get them to negotiate. Finally, the Emery approach, more than the community development approach takes an ecological approach, looking at infrastructure, ecology, and community.

The Search Conference approach took shape in the 1970s (M. Emery, 1993: 15) and includes an environmental of such facets as current and most desirable future for the network of organizations (and stakeholders). Data is collected by participants on changes taking place in the environment (extended social field) of the network of organizations.   The Search Conference by the 1970s became a way to teach participants a tool kit of concepts (e.g. DP1, DP2, open systems, environmental scan, future scenarios, PDPD, 6 psychological requirements for effective work, etc.). Participants also learn to do their own qualitative research, learn skills in large and small group dialog, and how to operate without (bureaucratic) hierarchy according to democratic not laissez faire scripts (See Genotypes below). 

The main phases of the participative design workshop are (1) analysis, (2) redesign, and (3) implementation.

A jury system is used to determine who becomes part of the main Search Conference. A Jury System is constructed by having Emery-trained consultants conduct introductory workshops to teach the basic principles of PDPD. A steering group is formed that collects nominations of people from various organizations and groups in a community who will be invited to become the participants in the Search Conference.  A "deep slice" team of stakeholders is systematically selected to represent a cross section of the entire transorganizational system of stakeholders. This is done to break away for dependency on the status quo (usually bureaucratic) pattern of relationships (M. Emery, 1993: 19, 21).

Genuine democracy requires widespread and contextualized conceptual and practical understanding if it is to stand a chance against the force of autocracy (p. 21).

Genotypes - Fourth, the Emery approach to TD traces its own roots to the early leadership experiments in group genotypes that carry unconscious group assumptions and consequences, as first studied by Lippit and White (1939) and summarized by M. Emery (1993:12) and adapted below:

Trist and Bamforth (1951) applied this genotype to the English coal mining operations, by showing how the fashion of industrialization had redesigned the work system such that miners were working according to DP1, using one-man, one-skill per job designs.  This path to industrialization destroyed what Trist and Bamforth believed to be a more productive system of multi-skilling that miners had traditionally used. Replacing DP2 with DP1 resulted in greater absenteeism (i.e. withdrawal) and more accidents.

Sociotechnical Systems (STS) - Fifth, STS


MBA LEVEL to EMERY'S approach to TD

Now that you have some basic Emery TD terminology and a some of the history, here are some of the finer points.  At this level you can begin to compare and contrast the Emery approach to TD with other Gameboard methods, noting similarities and differences.

Exert or Participative STS - First, in the early days of STS, the focus was on DP1 versus DP2, and in moving away from Laissez-Faire and Bureaucracy.  The move to Participative Design came with the recognition that early versions of STS were based upon bringing in expert consultants to assess the social and technical systems and make recommendations to the clients (M. Emery, 1993: 14). This is analogous to what people had done in the Scientific Management movements since Frederick Taylor in the early 1900s. As we will see in the non-Emery approaches to TD, the expert model of doing STS analysis, while tempered with participation from an action research tradition, remained a less democratic and more expert-oriented alternative (Please familiarize yourself with the Action Research and Non-Emery TD methods for contrasts to the Emery TD approach).  Emerys have stayed focused upon disabusing participants of the idea that social scientists know more about the systems than the people who work in them. Consistent with the stakeholder model of TD (learning organization), the Emerys want to pool the knowledge and ideas of participants together in ways that facilitative transformation of the network of organizations (Compare TD Emery with TD stakeholders/ Learning Organization). This is the definition of participative design, to move away from expert-dependency.

Democratic participation in the Emery model relates to the Jury System. 

See Prajateerpu E-Forum on Participatory Processes for Policy Change

Discussion Themes

  1. Issues of representation

  2. Issues of evidence

  3. Issues of engagement

  4. Issues of accountability

Traditional STS or Democratic Governance - Second, the work in Norway and Australia to be more democratic, deviated from the work in other parts of Europe, Canada, and particularly the U.S. Building upon the Lippit and White (1939) experiments, Emerys advocate moving immediately away from Laissez-Faire, and helping participants make a choice between Bureaucracy and Democracy (and between DP1 and DP2). Since the 1970s, the Emerys have distanced themselves form the Norway (and Sweden) experiments in industrial democracy, because of what M. Emery (1993: 15) calls the the bandwagon effect of "offering a grab bag of competing ideas, speculations and practices sometimes drawn indiscriminately form the academic melting pot and flung back into the fire beneath." Emerys prefer more rigor, cohesion, and scholarship that they believe other TD approaches are undertaking.  Industrial Democracy included everything form advisory committees, joint works council, to co-determination. Emerys preferred to take a more limited approach to democracy focusing on participation in the Search Conference, making the participants the experts in the analysis of problems and choices, and limiting democracy to choices on how the work got done (not on policy, investments, and overall strategy). In short the focus was more on multi-skilling (with self managed groups) instead of the fashion since Taylorism, and reignited by reengineering (and even TQM) of deskilling (i.e. see TD reengineering, for summary of finding one best way and downsizing to remove all flexibility and adaptive potential and other democratic alternatives developing in the US). In short, PDPD reduced industrial democracy to "the more that a group manages itself the more it is democratic" (M. Emery, 1993: 16). Participants use the Search Conference design to develop and implement ideas to improve the social and to a lesser extent the technical system.

What is Open Systems Theory? One of the main divides between the Emery and non-Emery approaches to TD, has been disagreement of the question of "open systems theory, what is it?" U.S. organization and management theory, for some reason, adopted the Katz and Kahn (1966) approach to open systems theory, while the Emerys stayed with one pioneered by W. R. Ashby, L. von Bertalanffy, and F. Emery's work with E. Trist.  Katz and Kahn (1966: 23 - 30) list 10 characteristics of open systems:

1. Importation of energy from the environment (resources, people, etc.)
2. Throughput (transform resources avialable to them).
3. Output (export some resources to the environment).
4. Systems as cycles of events
5. Negative entropy (through input of energy/resources)
6. Information input, negative feedback, and a coding process. (to maintain steady state).
7. The steady state and dynamic homeostasis (and a tendency toward growth to ensure survival).
8. Differentiation and specialization.
9 Integration and coordination
10. Equifinality (many paths to same end).

Katz and Kahn (1966) was more compatible with Talcott Parsons structural functionalism and the readers of Administrative Science Quarterly, at the time Terreberry (1968) published her interpretation of Emery and Trist for the U.S. audience. I can tell you that by the time I was teaching at University of Illinois in the mid-1970s and UCLA in the late 1970s and 80's the focus of the U.S. STS field was on Katz and Kahn.  Both dealt with equifinality and negative entropy, but diverge in incommensurate ways:

The controversy between the Emerys and the Katz & Kahn approach to defining "open systems theory" centers on how to interpret von Bertalanffy (1956). Katz and Kahn (1966) limit their focus to an organic metaphor (opposed to the mechanistic) that looks at inputs, throughputs, outputs, and feedback loops as defining qualities of open systems. Emery ant Trist (1965) focused on how it is "the causal texture of the environment" that is changing under the impact of technological change and at an ever-increasing rate, resulting in what they call "turbulence" as the "ground moves."  Another reason for the marginalization of the Emery and Trist approach to open systems in mainstream and traditional organization theory work, was the Katz and Kahn approach fit more neatly with Terreberry's turbulent environment interpretation of the "dynamic- complex" environment dimensions popularized by Duncan (1972), the interorganizational (dyad) work of Levine and White (1961), and the "environmental uncertainty" legacy of Thompson (1967).  The Katz and Kahn approach was more metaphoric allowing for more focus on symbolic aspects of the environment such as complexity and uncertainty measures popular at the time. You did not actually have to enter any "real" environment and look at ecosystems, communities, infrastructure, racial and ethnic demographics. For example, the Katz and Kahn open system is mostly about exchange and energy, where the system aims to, maximize its ratio of imported to expended energy. There is also a stronger focus on differentiation and integration which fit more closely with the Lawrence and Lorsch model of organization and environment. Katz and Kahn presented a more psychological (social psychology) theory of the firm than did the Emery and Trist model of open systems, which was more of a learning model, where there was a material condition, called an ecosystem.  For many generations organization theory avoided looking at animals, plants, seasons, and other aspects of ecology (and with it those pesky ecologists). Environment in organization theory became defined as uncertainty, complexity, etc. but it was not about Nature. The Emery approach, by contrast,  to open systems became normative, seeing most organizations and environments as L22 or turbulent, and in need of more democratic processes of governance. The organic metaphor of Katz and Kahn allowed organization theory to avoid dealing with the whole thorny issue of democratic governance embedded in the Emery TD methodology and still stay with the STS analysis of work flows, transactions, and reducing variances and costs. The organization theory pundits never read authors such as Steve Pepper or Charles Sanders Peirce (see Ph.D. section).  For the Masters level, we need to define differences in the environment that emerge from the Emery and Trist approach.

L means lawful connection; 1 means the organization and 2 refers to the environment (what follows is based upon Emery & Trist, 1965; Terreberry, 1968; M. Emery, 1993):

What are the Four Types of Causal Textures in Environments? Emery and Trist (1966) developed a model of four types of environment (See M. Emery, 1993: 236-237). Emery and Trist (1965) postulate four "ideal types" of environment (what follows is based upon Emery & Trist, 1965; Terreberry, 1968; M. Emery, 1993):

The assumption of the emery approach is that organizations can evolve to deal with the more turbulent field, but many remain stuck in strategies and forms suited for an disturbed reactive environment which is long gone. Emery and Trist (1965)conclude that hen all the members of a turbulent field work together they can effect control mechanisms to tame the chaos and relevant areas of uncertainty. Individual organizations, not working in networks of relationships, have difficulty adapting successfully.

(Press Here) for the following:
  1. Participative design: effective, flexible and successful, now! Fred Emery
  2. The search for effective strategic planning is over! S. Cabana, F. Emery & M. Emery
  3. The power of community search conferences Merrelyn Emery
  4. From dependency to development... Community planning in the Torres Strait John Paton & Merrelyn Emery
  5. Learn Open Systems applications from Merrelyn Emery
  6. Fred Emery remembered in pursuit of ideals... Fred, the Western, ideals and the hero Merrelyn Emery
  7. Books about Open Systems Theory & Applications

Ph.D. Level Emery approach to TD

Any serious study of the Emery approach to TD would include a review of the works of Charles Sanders Peirce to understand abduction theory, and the work of Steven Pepper to learn the differences between contextualism and other world hypotheses.

Emery theory is Rooted in Pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and contextualism of Stephen C. Pepper (1942: 232-279). Press here for summary table of four world hypotheses (orgnaicism, mechanism, formism, and contextualism) plus one more that is not part of Emerys' approach (press here) and consult TD squre for more on this.

The Emerys and colleagues describe themselves as contextualists and use abduction as opposed to deduction/induction (See M. Emery, 1994: 2; 1997: 11). Deduction/induction both begin with a priori hypothesis.


Emery theory is rooted in Contextualism - Emery and Trist's (1965) work and the work of the Emery's since has been storngly influenced by Steven Pepper's (1942) concept of contextualism. For Pepper, contextualism is the historic event in the present. Events are to be explained within the context of their occurrence. Organizational life is complex, with interconnected events and continuously changing patterns. - To see chart  (press here). Source: "Narratology and the Death of Stories" - David M. Boje. Paper for presentation to the Ohio Discourse Conference. May, 1999;  "A Postmodern Perspective on Narrative Research of Organization Life" - John T. Luhman & D. Boje - paper under review.

I elaborate because there is a strand of connection between the Microstoria (Italian) work I am doing in postmodern storytelling and the Emerys' since both rely on Peirce for abduction and a related theory of contextualism (from William James)- See Boje (2001).

Best Application of Emery model to TD situations - It was my privilege to chair a dissertation by Rosanna Alvarez (1999), and to have Merrelyn Emery serve on that committee. Out of their collaboration cam a paper (2000) which i think is a breakthrough in qualitative methodology for deriving a quantitative picture of the relationships between an organizational and its environment, based upon collecting Search Conference data. The sample was a series of 13 searches to plan the USDA-Forest Service regions. The research assumes that the Forest Service operations in a Type IV or turbulent environment in which networking of stakeholders using a Search Conference method would effect more control. The Search Conference participants learned the basic tools, such as DP1, DP2, open systems, the causal texture of environment, etc. In addition they were taught the F. Emery ideal values of Homonomy, Nurturance, Humanity, and Beauty and how these are applied in passive maladaptive or active maladaptive ways. Data from the Searches was collected to analyze the occurrence of adaptive and maladaptive strategies in the future planning scenarios the participants constructed (desirable future and most probable future scenarios, and most probable task environment).

The method of taking qualitative texts and converting them to causal path numbers through content analysis, building typologies, and developing ways to measure the Geisser index on concomitance. The index of concomitance is similar to a correlation, but derived from patterns in the qualitative data, rather than from numeric scales. Causal linkages are identified and assembled, by hand, into clusters using frequencies as a guide. Each of these clusters is then translated into a scale using the common occurrences of each variable in the cluster. I saw Rosanna doing this analysis, and believe me it is not for the faint hearted; it is a highly logical rigorous and exhausting method. The results revealed a set of active adaptive, passive, and maladaptive scenarios constructed in the searches.  The analysis suggests that there were still DP1 outcomes in the more maladaptive scenarios. There was also a maladaptive scenario of Dissociation within a globalized economy that was thought to contribute to the post probable future scenario of a bureaucratic (DP1) technological fix. A more positive result is the Nurturance for natural resources, and the focus in the scenarios on Humanity that is not sustain at the system levels, and what could be done to derive less bureaucratic organization.

MORE to come...


Moving Beyond Open Systems and STS:

Critiques of STS and Open Systems Theory

  1. DP2 seems to be the main recommendation for all (or most) situations.
  2. STS says J.C. Spender "is unsuitable as the basis for a theory of the firm because it adopt[s] too naive a view of social systems and ignor[es] economic interactions" (p.55). (press here). Reference: Spender, J.C., "Making Knowledge the Basis of a Dynamic Theory of the Firm," Strategic Management Journal 17, Winter (1996): 45-62.
  3. David Collins (1998) Book - see Deprogramming below: "Systems think as one of the dominant models in organizational analysis represents a unitary modeling of organizations"
  4. Systems theory depends upon an "organic" metaphor imported from biology, but not as rigorously worked out and applied in less exact ways.
  5. Czarniawska (1997) System becomes a gross metaphor.
  6. Open systems metaphor of input-throughput, output, feedback cycles, differentiation, and integration is a reductionist set of categories.
  7. Assumes it is systems, not people who do things and are purposive
  8. System becomes a conflict-exclusion ideology (with harmony and coherence)
  9. Environment is rather disembodied and benign (abstract rather than live). It is not about "living systems."
  10. System, particularly in Katz and Kuhn (1966) is abstract analytic construct, a metaphor that displaces/simulates "real."
  11. Open systems theory is a gross simplification of multiplicity of incoherencies, fragmentations, and pluralities.
  12. People programmed/scripted by their assumed system role in fictive system.
  13. REIFICATION- treating human subjective creation ("system") as abstract object.

Finally, Open Systesm theory, does not move "beyond the open systems" approach (Pondy, 1976; Pondy and Mitroff, 1979) to get at higher levels of complexity that Ken Boulding  (Boulding, 1956 p. 200-207):

1. Frameworks -- systems comprising static structures (crystals,animal anatomy)
2. Clockworks -- simple dynamic systems with pre-determined motions (clocks, solar system)
3. Cybernetic Systems -- capable of self-regulation with an externally prescribed target (thermostat)
4. Open systems -- self-maintenance through exchange of resources with environment (cell)
5. Blueprint-growth systems -- reproduce through sees or eggs
6. Internal-image systems -- systems have detailed awareness of environment (animals)
7. Symbol-processing systems -- self-consciousness and language (humans)
8. Social systems -- actors at level 7 who share common order and culture
9. Transcendental systems -- "absolutes and inescapable unknowables"



New Directions


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