Initiating anticipatory action in the Ministry of Defence through the use of systems methodologies to assess organisational health

  • David Lowe

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisEngineering Doctorate (EngD)


The vast majority of organisational decisions are made in reaction to poor performance. In this thesis I establish the potential for organisational health assessments to highlight the key issues underlying an organisation’s performance so that it can take the anticipatory action necessary to maintain strong performance. In particular I establish how the use of these assessments can bring the enhanced levels of ‘mindful organising’ associated with High Reliability Organisations through integration with existing business processes.

My findings are based upon three years of Action Research conducted within the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MOD) where I led internal consultancy teams focused in the areas of infrastructure, acquisition and operational management. This thesis provides detailed accounts of how I developed innovative organisational health assessment methods in each of these areas. This thesis also describes how I conducted cross-sectional and longitudinal
evaluations to reflect on the efficacy and effectiveness of these assessments.

In this thesis I make three main contributions against knowledge gaps in the published literature. First, I highlight methodological lessons for how to leverage system methodologies in assessing organisational health in complex, multi-stakeholder settings. Second, I provide empirical evidence for how organisational health assessments can be used to initiate action in anticipation of issues that have yet to manifest themselves – or at least not fully manifest
themselves – in ways that can be readily observed. Third, I offer insights for how repeating organisational assessments in a process of monitoring can sustain the anticipatory behaviour needed for organisational resilience.

I also make a significant contribution by increasing the accessibility of the Viable System Model that provides a powerful framework for diagnosing organisations. In this thesis I describe how I developed and demonstrated a set of constitutive rules – including an explicit epistemology that is expressed as a performative model – to guide its use.
Date of Award24 Mar 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorStuart C Burgess (Supervisor)

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