Components of a Rural System Group

Rural System is planned to be a corporation with over 150 diverse Groups, or small business enterprises. The Groups would work separately and together to generate stable profits on rural lands and waters over a long-term planning period. While the Groups would be highly cooperative and inter-dependent, they would also necessarily work to optimize their activities to meet objectives, including profits.

General Systems Diagram by Dr. Robert Giles

Click to view larger image.

If you are interested in starting a Rural System Group, or even in applying Rural System principles to your small business venture, there are ten necessary components to include. A Rural System Group…

1) Is objectives-oriented. No systems work can effectively be undertaken without objectives, the ends in mind. The objectives allow the systems manager to apply feedback to adjust practices in order to more accurately or fully meet the objectives. Without objectives, the feedback is meaningless and/or disorganized. Before objectives are set, Group founders should engage in standback, an activity of researching what similar enterprises already exist, whether others have been attempted in the past, and what their outcomes were. Standback also involves determining the relevant context for the system. (For a Group, standback would include market research.)

2) Is for-profit, and profitable. While some Rural System Groups are expected to be more profitable than others, no one Group should be entirely subsidized from the others. All Groups should find ways to monetize their activities in order to bring long-term stability and employment, as well as profits and benefits to the total system over time.

3) Is diverse in activity. Even within a Group, profitable and benefit-producing activities should be extremely diverse, so that if one or more do not work (perhaps a rise in costs of operation, or instability in the market), the others will continue to produce stable profits.

4) Is feedback-sensitive. The Group needs ways to continually measure the efficiency of its processes and activities at working toward achieving the specified objectives. For example, weekly or bi-weekly assessments of employee conduct combined with quarterly internal reports will allow managers to steer the Group efficiently toward objectives. Continual adjustments should be added to all parts of the Group over time.

5) Uses long-term planning. While Rural System has a 150-year planning period, individual Groups might have their own, shorter planning periods (e.g., annual) in addition to the corporate one (e.g., 20 or 50 years). Longer planning periods are made possible through prescriptive software, and provide for greater stability within the business.

6) Applies latest knowledge. Science is always advancing, and new knowledge may transform or refine practices to be more efficient. Rural System emphasizes the application of scientific research as it advances.

7) Uses prescriptive software. While it is potentially unrealistic for some small businesses to purchase or develop prescriptive software to guide business practices, Rural System holds that only computers can truly assimilate all of the data that must be considered to choose one of the best pathways to achieving objectives. (Equifinality is the concept that there are many paths to equivalent ends.) The software itself may be sold for people to use under contract for their own businesses.

8) Has backups. Every business must have multiple copies of work backed up in different places to prepare for situations in which data or other resources might be lost. In cases of essential resources, such as computers or staff-training materials, having a backup resource is recommended to prevent interruptions in Group activities.

9) Engages in futurism. A longer-term process of estimating trends in technology, economics, climate, etc., futurism involves making informed decisions based on likely futures, or best-available prognoses.

10) Uses feedforward. Like feedback, feedforward is a corrective process. Feedforward uses the results of futurism work to adjust practices to try to match outcomes with desired objectives.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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