SCAN and Causal Layered Analysis

How do we make sense of story – the stories and narratives and anecdotes that people tell each other and themselves about their world? How can we link between the layers of story to help us make sense of some broader picture, or to derive a clearer view of some desired future?

(This is a post I’d promised a colleague a long time back – this is me at last completing on that promise! 🙂 )

One of the tools I often use for this purpose is Sohail Inayatullah’s Causal Layered Analysis (CLA). Sometimes described as ‘poststructuralism as method’, the original paper on CLA shows that it was originally intended as a context-assessment and action-learning technique for strategic-foresight – which is where I first learnt it – but it has much broader applications in sensemaking and suchlike.

CLA describes narrative in terms of four distinct layers:

– At the surface is the litany, the world of the tabloid-newspaper, the everyday of ‘the world as it should be’ – or, more often, the ‘litany of complaint’ that it’s not ‘as it should be’. That’s one of the classic signals here: whenever we see a key-phrase such as “they should…” or “they ought to…” or suchlike, that narrative is at the level of the litany. “My truth is the truth” is another theme we’ll see asserted here – and often that’s all that people will see, hence why CLA is sometimes depicted as an iceberg, with only the Litany layer visible above the surface. (The Wikipedia article adds that the litany is “the official unquestioned view of reality”.)

– Beneath this is the systemic layer, the layer of social causation. Here we’d shift from personal-story to shared-story, and to the common-themes and supposed certainties – “just the facts, ma’am…” – that underpin that shared-story. (Wikipedia: “The data of the litany is explained and questioned at this level.”)

– Beneath this again is the worldview layer – the stories and narratives through which we decide what is ‘relevant fact’ and what is not. These stories last much longer than those of ‘the litany’, but they do still change over time: look at the history of science, for example, the changing stories that underpin the structure of scientific revolutions. (Wikipedia: “The way in which different stakeholders construct the litany and system are also explored.”)

– And beneath that is a core of deep-myth and metaphor – “the unconscious emotive dimensions of the issue”. These are the culture’s creation-myths, those deep, subtle, somewhere-in-the-background stories that underpin assertions such as “we hold these truths to be self-evident” and suchlike. It’s here that we find the foundations for different ‘ways of knowing’: for example, the very different deep-stories that underpin what we’d see in the layers above as a ‘scientific’ worldview versus a ‘religious’ one.

(If you don’t mind coarse language, these differences between the CLA layers are illustrated well in this brief annotated-video of a Louis CK comedy-routine.)

And in all of these layers, and between the layers, there are conflicting or competing narratives. So, given these layers of story:

The challenge is to conduct research that moves up and down these layers of analysis and thus is inclusive of different ways of knowing. Doing so allows for the creation of authentic alternative futures and integrated transformation. CLA begins and ends by questioning the future.

In other words, the kind of tool that we do need for ‘questioning for the future’ in many of the aspects and applications of enterprise-architecture.

Also interesting (to me, at least 🙂 ) is that that dynamic-layering also lines up well with the SCAN framework:

There’s a crucial transition in CLA between the Social-cause and Worldview layers that almost exactly mirrors the Inverse-Einstein test in SCAN. The Social-cause layer reviews the detail (and endless complaints) of the Litany layer, and in some cases re-informs, re-affirms and guides the Litany, but does not question the assumptions on which the Litany is based. (For a real-world illustration of this, compare the various descriptions of the same event in different newspapers or other media-channels: each describes and reviews the event from their own unquestioned worldview.) It’s a description of a presumed-unambiguous world: in essence, it assumes that the Litany is ‘true’, rather than as if ‘true’ – a perhaps-subtle yet very important distinction. The transition to the Worldview layer, and, deeper, the Mythic layer, requires a willingness to let go of the assertion that there is just one single view of the world that is ‘true’ – a requirement that in practice can be extremely challenging for many people, even though it’s the only way that works in building a viable sense of the whole-as-whole.

Also notable in that crossmap is the implication that in real-time action the options get squeezed right down to either the Litany, or the Mythic: there simply isn’t time for anything else. And if we don’t have access to the Mythic, then all we have available to us is the Litany, the Simple and Belief-based view of the world – which often doesn’t align well with the real-world at all. Yet since the Belief is always purported to be ‘the Truth’, it’s therefore presumed that it is the world that is ‘at fault’ whenever any mythquake of misalignment occurs – not the beliefs. Hence, all too often, the Litany as ‘litany of complaint’…

Given that crossmap between CLA and SCAN, we can then play with some of the other SCAN crossmaps, such as mapping to the sensemaking/action modes of ‘swamp-metaphor‘:

And yes, it’s a fairly close match – though as usual, it’s the areas where the mappings don’t seem to align that deliver the most useful insights.

The Believer tends to sit in the Litany, and often not much else – as we may have noticed… 😐 By contrast, the Artist might perhaps spend too much time in the Mythic space, and not enough in getting things done – or at least, done in a way that can make sense to anyone else.

Yet the Scientist and the Technologist will often swap around between their respective spaces. Their respective ‘default-positions’ might well be as in that crossmap; but in practice the Technologist will often move across to the more certain side of the Inverse-Einstein boundary – otherwise known as ‘go back to theory’, or ‘applied science’ – whereas the Scientist (or at least, someone who actually does real science, as per Beveridge’s The Art of Scientific Investigation) will need to be able to face the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty of experiment.

The Technologist uses beliefs as tools, as per Gooch‘s Paradox that “things have not only to be seen to be believed, but also have to be believed to be seen”; and we do see somewhat of the same in the real Scientist’s willingness to accept some degree of inherent-contradiction, such as in wave- versus particle-theories of light and suchlike. The archetype who’s often seen to be ‘the Scientist’ – the extreme-‘Scientist’ who never crosses the Inverse-Einstein boundary – is actually a recursion of the Believer (‘Scientist-within-Believer’), otherwise known as the Priest: we see a lot of that not only in religions of almost every flavour, but also in para-religions such as most political parties, many social-activist groups, the ‘science-as-religion’ so vigorously promoted by the Skeptics Society, and the ‘rational-actor’ myth so beloved by so many self-styled economists. Oh well.

Anyway, something else to play with, perhaps? And I’d certainly recommend CLA as another useful tool for enterprise-architects to include in their ‘soft-systems’ toolkit.

Over to you, if you wish?

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4 comments on “SCAN and Causal Layered Analysis
  1. I have read a lot of documents on your website the last hours. I have read them because I was very curious about the application of “your” framework in them. I am writing “your” because i don’t know if you “own” it. I was curious because your framework looks a lot like the framework of Will McWhinney that he described in his book Paths of Change (1992). Paths of Change shows that the same concepts were used for thousands of years to describe change. You can classify these concepts of change with a 2×2 matrix with a fifth point at the center of the matrix. This fifth point is the observer. Will McWhinney named the four Worldviews Sensory, Unity, Social and Mythic but in other theories they are named differently. I believe you could simplify your theories if you have a look at Path of Change and especially if you identify your fifth “worldview” as the observer or consciousness. In other books were you use the five chinese elements as a model the same comment applies. One of the five elements represents the whole. I hope this helps you. If you want to know more please send me an email.

    • Tom G says:

      Hi Hans – thanks for the comments!

      I’m not quite sure which framework you’re referring to when you talk about ‘”your” framework’ (i.e. something nominally ‘mine’)? I haven’t previously come across the book ‘Paths of Change‘, but from your description it certainly looks one I ought to know. 🙂

      CLA (Causal Layered Analysis) was developed by Sohail Inayatullah: I don’t know his original sources, but they’ll be documented somewhere in the CLA papers – if he knows them, of course, which many of us don’t, since so much seeps in unconsciously or via parallels.

      I’ve documented the known sources for most of my work in various places on this site, but again, I’d need to know which model you’re referring to before I could give you the correct details. If you mean SCAN, probably my main source for that would have been some first-principles thinking, around modal-logic versus time-available-before-action (see the post ‘Domains and dimensions in SCAN‘) linked to the ‘swamp-metaphor’ model (see the post ‘Sensemaking and the swamp-metaphor‘) which comes from my 1986 book Inventing Reality, and – as described in that post – has its roots in a Jungian-derived model developed by a pseudonymous colleague ‘Lemuel Johnstone’ in his 1978 (I think?) book SSOTBME. In both cases this predates Paths of Change, so I think it’s just a case of parallel development: not unusual, of course.

      Although it’s not a 2×2 matrix, the nearest equivalent of a “2×2 matrix with a fifth point at the center” would be Cynefin, where the fifth point is not ‘the observer’, but ‘Disorder’, the core-source – a fundamentally different concept.

      The Five Elements model I use is a combination of the classical wu xing and Bruce Tuckman’s ‘Group Dynamics’ sequence (‘forming, storming, norming’, etc). In neither of those models is one of the elements specifically assigned to an observer – so again, a rather fundamental difference. In both cases a recursion can apply, hence each of the five elements can also represent the whole – but again, that’s not the same as just one of the elements representing the whole.

      In that sense, I’m not quite sure of the point you’re making? – advise me on this, if you would?

      Thanks again, and I hope this helps, anyway.

  2. Tom G says:

    Hans – one additional point on ‘ownership’ of models (to quote your comment above, “I am writing “your” because i don’t know if you “own” it”).

    There are two fundamentally different approaches to ‘ownership’: possession-based, and responsibility-based.

    In essence, just about everything in the mainstream economy is possession-based (or tries to be, with varying degrees of sense). More precisely, a concept of possession enables a concept of ‘right’ to exclude others from possession, which then leads to a notion of ‘right’ to ‘compensation’ for opening the barriers of exclusion and permitting others to use or possess the item.

    For physical (‘alienable’) assets, a possession-based model can be kludged to make it look as if it will almost work. (The practical problem is that all trails of provenance ultimately dead-end in an expropriation – otherwise known as ‘arbitrary theft’ – but most people seem willing to turn a blind eye to that fact in return for a kludged ‘economy’ that almost-works.)

    For any other type of asset, however, a possession-based model is not not valid, because there is either no means to establish alienability at all, or no means to establish a trail of provenance through which any notion of ‘fair exchange’ and ‘compensation’ could be established. In essence, models and suchlike fit into that latter category: they’re not actually alienable, there’s no way to establish an explicit trail of provenance, and – as Bohm proved in his work on dialogue – there’s no way to claim that a model is solely the product of any one person. The so-called ‘knowledge-economy’ and the concept of ‘intellectual-property’ is a crude and ultimately futile attempt to apply physical-asset ‘possession’-economics to assets that are fundamentally different in nature: to be utterly blunt, the whole thing is a hollow fraud held together with wishful-thinking, misuse of metaphor, lawyers’ bluff and outright theft: it’s not a viable basis for any kind of economy…

    The alternative approach to ownership is responsibility-based: I ‘own’ something because I acknowledge my responsibility for it, advise others on how it should and should not be used, and ensure its appropriate use. A classic business-example was Phillips’ use of their patent on the CD disc-format: they published it (literally, making it ‘patently obvious’) for the purpose of ensuring interoperability across all manufacturers, content-providers and users – and defended it against misuse by people wanting to make non-standard versions of it to create proprietary lock-in, usually around some form of DRM (‘Digital Rights Management’ – the ‘possession-economy’ again).

    Responsibility-based ownership also implies responsibility towards ‘the ancestors’ and ‘the successors’. In this context here, of ownership of models, this implies respect and acknowledgement towards those whose ideas were used in the models (the ‘ancestors’, both explicit and implicit/unknown), and towards those who will use and apply and adapt the model (the ‘successors’).

    So yes, I would say that I probably do ‘own’ various model-types such as SCAN and Enterprise Canvas – but it’s in terms of a responsibility-based model of ownership, not a possession-based one.

  3. Ric says:

    Hi Tom, interesting as always.

    I’d have gone with jeremiad instead of litany – but that’s just me.

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