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Governance for sustainability: learning from VSM practice

Espinosa, Angela


Angela Espinosa


Purpose – While there is some agreement on the usefulness of systems and complexity approaches to tackle the sustainability challenges facing the organisations and governments in the twenty-first century, less is clear regarding the way such approaches can inspire new ways of governance for sustainability. The purpose of this paper is to progress ongoing research using the Viable System Model (VSM) as a meta-language to facilitate long-term sustainability in business, communities and societies, using the “Methodology to support self-transformation”, by focusing on ways of learning about governance for sustainability. Design/methodology/approach – It summarises core self-governance challenges for long-term sustainability, and the organisational capabilities required to face them, at the “Framework for Assessing Sustainable Governance”. This tool is then used to analyse capabilities for governance for sustainability at three real situations where the mentioned Methodology inspired bottom up processes of self-organisation. It analyses the transformations decided from each organisation, in terms of capabilities for sustainable governance, using the suggested Framework. Findings – Core technical lessons learned from using the framework are discussed, include the usefulness of using a unified language and tool when studying governance for sustainability in differing types and scales of case study organisations. Research limitations/implications – As with other exploratory research, it reckons the convenience for further development and testing of the proposed tools to improve their reliability and robustness. Practical implications – A final conclusion suggests that the suggested tools offer a useful heuristic path to learn about governance for sustainability, from a VSM perspective; the learning from each organisational self-transformation regarding governance for sustainability is insightful for policy and strategy design and evaluation; in particular the possibility of comparing situations from different scales and types of organisations. Originality/value – There is very little coherence in the governance literature and the field of governance for sustainability is an emerging field. This piece of exploratory research is valuable as it presents an effective tool to learn about governance for sustainability, based in the “Methodology for Self-Transformation”; and offers reflexions on applications of the methodology and the tool, that contribute to clarify the meaning of governance for sustainability in practice, in organisations from different scales and types.


Espinosa, A. (2015). Governance for sustainability: learning from VSM practice. Kybernetes, 44(6-7), 955-969.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 25, 2015
Publication Date 2015-06
Deposit Date Feb 4, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Kybernetes
Print ISSN 0368-492X
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 44
Issue 6-7
Pages 955-969
Keywords Governance; Action research; Sustainability; Self-organization; Complexity management
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: Kybernetes, 2015, v.44, issue 6/7


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