Jon Li Releases Final Report on Viable Systems Model

Jon-LiAnyone that has seen a candidates forum or come across Davis City Council candidate Jon Li has not been able to avoid talk of his viable systems model, which he believes will improve the city’s ability to analyze its current budget, its operations and other its structure in real time and then be able to make adjustments and plan accordingly.

Jon Li announced earlier this week that he has released his final report of his campaign, “A System That Works: Building a decentralized Global Political Economy using the Viable System Model.”

Mr. Li told the Vanguard in a previous interview, “It’s a map of what an organization needs in order to be able to succeed in the short run and the long run.  In the short run you need to be able to do well at whatever it is that you do.  In the long run you need to be able to adapt to a changing environment.  Most organizations that are successful are good at the first one.   Many are not good at the second one – they’re not good at adapting.”

According to his release, “”A System that Works” focuses on how the Davis City Council and the City Manager can set up a process during the next eight months in preparation for a concluding week of focused discussions in January, to prepare a final report for revision and adoption by the city council by the end of January.”

Mr. Li wrote, “Based on five months of extensive research and discussion, “A System that Works” is a handbook on how to use the Viable System Model, applied to any sized community, focusing on current and future needs.”  He continued, “The outcomes of the public analysis include new strategies to: better meet human needs, enhance the local economy, improve government effectiveness, reduce environmental damage and encourage natural healing processes.”

“”A System that Works” sets the stage for a Davis community examination by outlining the environments and the subsystems for key layers of our local society: the Davis community as a whole, the UCD campus, a family with four middle school children, an isolated senior, the local economy, and the Davis Food Co-op,” he wrote.

Jon Li told the Vanguard earlier that the process has been implemented in Austria using 120 different daily measures of success in the city.

As he told the Vanguard, “The best example I can give you is a town in Austria went through exactly the proposal, the process that I’m proposing.  They came up with 120 sensitive indicators to measure daily.  Out of that 120, and I haven’t seen them yet, I’ve emailed the people that did the process – I’m trying to find out more, but probably 20 of those 120 indicators would have to do with fiscal and economic issues.  Probably another 20 or 30 would have to do with quality of life and environmental issues.  All of which are very sensitive concerns to the citizens of Davis.”

He continued, “So those would be the kind of things where – if for example we said, unemployment currently or underemployment in Davis is currently ten percent, and we want to drop it to nine percent.  How can we do that?  That becomes a different policy question than oh we’re at ten percent unemployment and lord only knows where you go from there except to complain.”

“We need to talk about the retail sector; we need to talk about creating jobs, and creating new employment particularly for college graduates,” he said. “Those are not easy answers.  But the point is the viable systems model will give you a context where you can reach agreement about what the issues are and about what the lay of the land is.  Then you can actually talk about some options that maybe people can reach agreement on.”

In his release this week he added, “The city of St. Veit, Carinthia, Austria conducted a weeklong process on the future of the city.  Without exception, all the city’s influential people participated. It resulted in defining 120 daily measures for the sustainable, successful and, in energy matters, self-sustaining development of the city.  It also resulted in the conviction of all the participants to have found the key to the future.  Implementation started immediately and is ongoing”.”

How will this process play out in Davis? 

According to the release, “The Viable System Model could be applied to monitor and report on the management of critical variables in the social economy and the natural environment.  We might ask what measures would be analogous to temperature and blood pressure in the human body that would provide requisite variety?  Such a VSM would not arrive full-blown, but it could be outlined and made widely available even at an early stage of development.     It would be possible to put up qualitative if not quantitative flow charts to identify indices to populate a basic Viable System Model for each community at several levels of recursion.  People or groups could be invited to fill in the blanks describing the current state of affairs as they know them.  Members of the public could contribute their local knowledge, ask questions, identify anomalies – or simply add their perspectives.”

Moreover, “Since the VSM typically identifies around ten indices per recursion, the design requires hard thinking but running it is easier.  A key is to think in real time.”

“The federal, state, county and city budgets are in real trouble, and it is only getting more problematic”, according to Mr. Li.  “The VSM transcends the limits of the annual budget process, and it allows local officials to resolve communication confusions, clarify their intentions, and look to the present future.”

Will this type of approach work in Davis, we shall see.  “A System that Works” is available at the free stand at Newsbeat in Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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