VSM in needs analysis - Bryan Hopkins

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Using Viable Systems Model in needs analysis

The Viable Systems Model (VSM) is a cybernetics-based systems approach. Based on work by Stafford Beer, it is inspired by the way biological organisms interact with their environment in order to remain viable.

VSM sees organisational activity as requiring ongoing flows of information distributed across five systems:
System 1 comprises all those activities where the system of interest provides a service to its environment.
System 2 comprises those activities which coordinate the different Systems 1.
System 3 is the system which provides information and resources to Systems 1 and 2. System 3*is the reporting system, passing information back up to other systems.
System 4 is the system which gathers information from the environment in order to make sure the whole system stays up-to-date.
System 5 is the policy system, which make sure that the whole organisation stays true to its values and the all purpose.

The power of the VSM lies in the fact that it is recursive, and each individual System 1 must be viable in its own right. So, for example, at an organisational level System 1 may be about sales, but then if we examine the sales function more closely, it will be comprised of its own specialist functions, which are Systems 1 at that lower level.

To use VSM in a needs analysis, we can analyse the information flows and relationships between the different systems at relevant levels, and from that identify problems, where training or non-training interventions would be useful.
You will find further information about this and other systems thinking methodologies in my book "Learning and Performance: A Systemic Model", (2017), published by Routledge.
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