Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Reflection-in-Action: Modeling a specific organization through the Viable Systems Model


The purpose of this project is to explore a way for systems practitioners to learn the skills necessary to employ a particular systems model in practice. Reflection-in-Action is one way to embark on a double-loop learning cycle and, thus, develop the tacit skills and inarticulate knowledge needed to employ a particular systems model. Through Reflection-in-Action, a Viable Systems Model (VSM) of the San Francisco Zoo was constructed. This project involved three phases of research; for each, a VSM using the data available was constructed. During each phase, the questioning of current assumptions and operating norms led to changes in the direction of the research. This led to the construction of significantly different VSMs for each phase.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Beer, S. (1979).The Heart of the Enterprise, John Wiley, Chichester.

  2. Beer, S. (1981).Brain of the Firm, 2nd ed., John Wiley, Chichester.

  3. Beer, S. (1985).Diagnosing the System for Organizations, John Wiley, Chichester.

  4. Bernard, R. H. (1988).Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology, Sage, Newbury Park.

  5. Bryant, D. D., and Merker, S. L. (1987). A living systems process analysis of a public transportation system.Behav. Sci. 32, 293–301.

  6. Bryman, A. (1988).Quantity and Quality in Social Research, Unwin Hyman, Boston.

  7. Checkland, P. B. (1981).Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, John Wiley, New York.

  8. Clifford, J., and Marcus, G. E. (1986).Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, University of California Press, Berkeley.

  9. Espejo, R., and Harnden, R. (eds.) (1989).The Viable System Model: Interpretations and Applications of Stafford Beer's VSM, John Wiley, Chichester.

  10. Flood, R. L., and Carson, E. R. (1988).Dealing with Complexity: An Introduction to the Theory and Application of Systems Science, Plenum, New York.

  11. Flood, R. L., and Jackson, M. C. (1991).Creative Problem Solving: Total Systems Intervention, John Wiley, Chichester.

  12. Forrester, J. W. (1986).Principles of Systems, Wright-Allen, Cambridge.

  13. Lilienfeld, R. (1978).The Rise of Systems Theory: An Ideological Analysis, John Wiley, New York.

  14. Lofland, J., and Lofland, L. (1984).Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis, Wadsworth, Belmont.

  15. Merker, S. L., and Lusher, C. (1987). Research Note: A living systems process analysis of an urban hospital.Behav. Sci. 32, 304–314.

  16. Merker, S. L., and Ruscoe, G. (eds.) (1981).Application of Living Systems Theory Process Analysis to Critical Activities of the U.S. Army Battalion: Personnel and Logistics, U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Alexandria, VA.

  17. Miller, J. G. (1978).Living Systems, McGraw-Hill, New York.

  18. Miller, J. G., and Miller, J. L. (1991). Introduction: The nature of living systems.Behav. Sci. 36, 157–163.

  19. Morgan, G. (1986).Images of Organization, Sage, Newbury Park.

  20. Polanyi, M. (1958).Personal Knowledge, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  21. Schön, D. A. (1983).The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, Basic Books, New York.

  22. Schein, E. H. (1973).Professional Education, McGraw-Hill, New York.

  23. Wagner, R. K., and Sternberg, R. (1986).Practical Intelligence, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dickover, N. Reflection-in-Action: Modeling a specific organization through the Viable Systems Model. Systems Practice 7, 43–62 (1994).

Download citation

Key words

  • Reflection-in-Action
  • tacit knowledge
  • Viable Systems Model