Systems Thinking, Systems Design – Day 5 – Service Systems and Generative Pattern Language

This week was a little different because I have already had some exposure to Service Systems because I am taking INF2313 Introduction to Service Science with Kelly Lyons.  By no means am I an expert, but I have begun to form a solid grasp on the various core theories and concepts that make up service science as a discipline. However, I cannot say the same of generative pattern language (GPL) – even when I was doing the readings and watching the presentation, there was something about this systems approach that was just not ‘clicking’ in my mind. Therefore I want to begin by spending some time exploring GPL to see if I have developed enough of an understanding of it.

From my understanding, Christopher Alexander wrote a book called pattern language from the perspective of an architect. Within his book, he was able to use pattern language as a methodology to come up 253 rules to follow. On his website ‘The Pattern Language Sampler’ he gives examples that range how to cluster houses to natural and windows. If we look at the pattern language of cities and more specifically house clusters we see that there 8-12 households around some common or paths.The idea of communities being built using pattern languages to ensure that enough people who live in those homes and communities have a say into how they are created which is definitely a break away from how we currently design homes and neighborhoods.

I came across another example that hit closer to home that was of a good cafe – something with open windows, outside seating that allows people to watch life pass by, that does fundamentally sound like every good cafe. So I sense that patterns are not something you create but find, they typically are very latent (and right now seems somewhat obvious) as well as a layered and exist almost outside of the very structure being discussed. I see how the previous point is kind of true (but still slightly confusing) since generative pattern language is used as a methodology for software development – so there must be something about how pattern language exists that allows it to be used in such a way.  I think this is how the idea of ‘context-problem-solution’ was discussed in the presentation showcases the underpinnings of how pattern languages can be applied outside of architecture.  So within a certain context, there will be a certain problem that can be addressed by a pattern that already exists within that given context – it is up to us to essentially mine for that pattern.

To be quite honest, even after going over various articles and watching certain videos, I am still a bit confused about pattern languages – I understand how they exist at the architectural level and how they exist in design but I am still having a hard time making the jump from the design level to the software development level in terms of the methodology is applied, I hope this may be discussed briefly in class. Regardless of my ability to fully comprehend this methodology, I definitely see the value of being able to identify pattern languages at a level which enables greater systems thinking because again like many of the other methodologies it does require a shift in perspective – much like understanding what I consider a paradigm shift from good dominant logic to service dominant logic.


I find Service Systems very interesting in terms of how this discipline focuses on services rather than goods, something I find extremely important in our current service-dominated economy. The one thing that I struggled with in 2313, that I think was a common struggle for other people in the class, was the shift from good dominants logic to service dominant logic. I feel like this would have been something helpful if it were to have been mentioned in the presentation. I say this because when I was working on the first two assignments for 2313 I was unwittingly making the mistake of framing Service-Dominant Logic within a Goods-Dominant Logic paradigm (2016). It is not to say that these two modes of systems are mutually exclusive, but personally, it helped foster a better understanding of Service systems by looking at them as if they were their own paradigm in relation to service dominant logic and its coinciding framework.

I honestly do believe it does take a certain shift in thinking, very similar to the shift that occurred for many of us in this class, to begin to understand service systems. A service system is broadly defined as a dynamic relationship that allows for the co-creation of value through configuring resources (again broadly defined as essentially anything of value that allows one entity to function) through value propositions between entities (2009). The broad frameworks in which we understand a service system or resource are both strengths and weaknesses in my opinion. From my assignments, I know I personally struggled with how broad some things were defined; to the point that I had a difficult time differentiating between what is and what is not a service systems – at one point raising my hand in class and asking “is everything a service system?” and in an abstract way you could argue yes but in reality that is not the case.  This is when the value of frameworks comes into play, coincidentally I had completed my last assignment using the Lyons & Tracy framework, having spent a number of hours analyzing and pick it apart, I have become familiar with it. It is essentially a literature review of all others works on service systems that attempt to aggregate all factors of a service into one framework. Lyons & Tracy do this effectively while also applying it to an academic library which is must different in comparison to typical examples of service systems which are IT or Business dominated. It is a useful analysis to see how other types of organizations can be considered service systems but the broad definitions and interpretations that are relied on for that application can make it difficult to sometimes differentiate between the various factors of the framework.

I remember mentioning in the introductory blog post that I was taking the 2313H course and Dr. Ing said to me that you may find that service systems thinkers are not systems thinkers and I was not sure what he meant by that – mainly because I didn’t know the difference between them at the time. Six weeks have passed has made his distinction much clearer (I believer). Another student in the class brought up a question asking how service systems, particularly the ecosystem in which operate account for economic externalities. No answer was given, which I thought was very interesting because I had a similar thought in terms of how service-dominant logic and service systems operate within our current economic models. There seems to be something I cannot reconcile when it comes to value co-creation (as well as value propositions) within an economic model where many organizations still rely on profit maximization as their ultimate goal. Would this be an example, Dr. Ing, of what you meant? To me, it seems that service systems thinkers are not considering the whole when writing about specific service systems (the parts) and this could be a reason that some of these issues remain irreconcilable currently?



Alexander, Christopher, Randy Schmidt, Brian Hanson, and Michael Mehaffy. 2005. “Generative Codes: The Path to Building Welcoming, Beautiful, Sustainable Neighborhoods.”

Coplien, James (1994). A Development Process Generative Pattern Language.

David Ing, “From Environmental Structure to Service Systems Thinking: Wholeness with Centers Described with a Generative Pattern Language”, Proceedings of the 2014 Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs.

Katzan, H. (2009). Principles of service systems: An ontological approach. Journal of Service Science, 2(2), 35–52. Link:

Lyons, K. & Tracy, S. (2013). Characterizing organizations as service systems. Human Factors and Ergonomics in Manufacturing, 23, 19–27. doi: 10.1002/hfm.20517 Link:

Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2016). Institutions and axioms: an extension and update of service-dominant logic. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 44(1), 5-23. Link:



One thought on “Systems Thinking, Systems Design – Day 5 – Service Systems and Generative Pattern Language

  1. Ritchie, let me try to address some of your questions.

    Firstly, most of pattern language work in software development is non-generative (sometimes called Gamma patterns, in reflection of 1994 Gang of Four “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software”). Crossing over to service systems, perhaps non-generative is more like transactional arrangements, whereas generative would be value co-creating for both parties. We could describe this INF1005 section as co-creative: the presentation-facilitation isn’t just about the exchange between two parties, but has lots of emergent properties. If the same curriculum were to be repeated with another cohort, there’s no way of predicting whether the outcomes would be better or worse. The co-creation is situational, and depends on a lot of factors. (If my ankle wasn’t in a cast, would the classroom dynamics be different)?

    Is everything a service system? I tend to contrast a service system from a production system, but then perspectives come to play. I was at a cooperatives meeting, and credit unions came up as a topic. Apparently, few members show up at the annual meeting of the credit union, so they are filled with credit union employees who think they’re representing the interests of members who don’t show up. Are the decisions then made in the interest of the customer? Maybe, may not. The mandate of a worker cooperative is “to provide employment for its members”. That sounds less like a service-oriented entity — which isn’t necessarily good or bad. It would be hard for a worker cooperative to continue to exist if it wasn’t serving some external customers who would provide funding for continuing existence. A credit union isn’t organized as a worker cooperative, so it has to serve its members. Maybe the level of representation is wrong, and there should be a quorum on the number of customers that should attend an annual meeting.

    Is an academic library a service system? If we take a systems approach, there are multiple containing wholes to consider. Maybe for some containing wholes, it’s more service-oriented, and for some others, it’s more production-oriented.

    My experience with the service science literature is that there has been a shift so that customers are recognized as being INSIDE the system, so that exchanges and relationships are better appreciated. But then, if we’re looking for the containing whole, do both parties bear the ambiguities and uncertainties of change, or does one party have to bear the brunt alone? An “externality” — I’m looking at the definition at — is generally considered something outside of a system … but then, isn’t that what we’re trying to embrace with systems thinking recognizing a containing whole? For honey producers, “the pollination of surrounding crops by bees kept for honey” might not be economically recognized, but they should be systemically recognized.


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