The VSM Guide

An introduction to the
Viable System Model
as a diagnostic & design tool
for co-operatives & federations

Jon Walker

Version 3.2 (2020)

Section 0: Cybernetic Eyes
Section 1: The Quick Guide to the VSM
Section 2: Case Studies
        Hebden Water Milling 1985
        Triangle Wholefoods 1986
        One Mondragon Co-operative 1991
Section 3: Preliminary Diagnosis
Janus interlude
Section 4: Designing Autonomy
Section 5: The Internal Balance
Section 6: Information Systems
Section 7: Balance with the Environment
Section 8: Policy Systems
Section 9: The Whole System
Section 10: Application to Federations

Appendix 1: Levels of Recursion
Appendix 2: Variety

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This is a Manual.

Its objectives are:

  • firstly, to provide you with a set of tools which will enable you to deal with any problems concerning your organisational structure, and

  • secondly, to show you how to use these tools.

It offers an alternative to the usual approach which depends upon hierarchy, authority and obedience, and is of particular interest to enterprises which are looking for ways of becoming more efficient and of encouraging participation and democratic work practices.

As the manual unfolds, you will gradually acquire a new vocabulary. This new language is the basis of the Viable Systems Model approach: it will enable you to think about your organisation in a fundamentally different way.

The methods described will enable you to

  • Diagnose your own organisation

  • Prescribe ways of dealing with inadequacies

  • Design a healthy organisation from scratch