The Viable System Model

  • Patrick HoverstadtEmail author


The Viable System Model (VSM) is a conceptual model which is built from the axioms, principles, and laws of viable organisation. It is concerned with the dynamic structure that determines the adaptive connectivity of the parts of the organisation or organism; what it is that enables it to adapt and survive in a changing environment. It can be used as a comparison against an actual organisation in order to identify weaknesses, mismatches or missing elements in diagnosing a problem and then as a framework for organisation design to resolve a diagnosed problem. Also it can be used for purposes of design from a clean-sheet. At the foundation of the model is the concept of variety, the number of possible activities of the parts and the necessity to limit these to those required for survival. The breakthrough in developing the model was the understanding that this could only be achieved with a fractal (recursive) layered structure. Furthermore at each level the pattern of the regulation of the variety of possible activities must be fractal. The chapter takes the reader through the development of the model and shows how the VSM supports autonomy and adaptability.

This chapter, written by a highly experienced practitioner, Patrick Hoverstadt, describes the model and its elements from a practitioner perspective supported by practical advice and helpful recommendations on its use.


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Copyright information

© The Open University 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.FractalCheshireUK

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