Béla H. Bánáthy

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When it comes to the design of social and societal systems of all kinds, it is the users, the people in the system who are the experts. Nobody has the right to design social systems for someone else. It is unethical to do so.

Béla Heinrich Bánáthy (December 1, 1919September 4, 2003) was a Hungarian-American linguist, and Professor at San Jose State University and UC Berkeley. He is known as founder of the White Stag Leadership Development Program, and was co-founder of the General Evolutionary Research Group in 1984.


  • Talcott Parsons, the "incurable theorist" in his own words,... brought together, in a systematic and generalized form, the main outlines of a conceptual scheme of social action and systems (e.g. 1951). His frame of reference focused on the description of the system of institutionalized roles, motivational process, economic exchange, political power and other Issues that according to his view should be included in a general sociological theory.
    • Béla H. Bánáthy (1985) Proceedings, Society for General Systems Research international. Vol 1. p. xxv
  • Faced with new realities, our systems have to transform — as the society has transformed. They have to learn to co-change (co-evolve) with their constantly changing environments. Thus, it is imperative that we understand what these transformations and new realities are. We have to grasp their implications for systems, and apply our understanding of these implications to the transformation of our systems. We need to learn how to recreate our systems, how to redesign them so that they will have a “goodness of fit” with the emerged new realities. No small task by any means!
    • Béla H. Bánáthy (1994) Creating our future in an age of transformation. p. 1; Cited in: Sherryl Stalinski (2005) A Systems View of Social Systems, Culture and Communities: The Legacy of Bela H. Banathy. Saybrook Graduate School. p. 11.

Systems Design of Education (1991)[edit]

Béla H. Bánáthy Systems Design of Education: A Journey to Create the Future (1991)

  • If solutions could be offered within the existing system, there would be no need to design. Thus designers have to transcend the existing system. Their task is to create a different system or devise a new one. That is why designers say they can truly define the problem only in light of the solution. The solution informs them as to what the real problem is.
    • p. 20
  • Systems inquiry has demonstrated its capability in dealing effectively with highly complex and large-scale problem situations. It has orchestrated the efforts of various disciplines within the framework of systems thinking. It has introduced systems approaches and methods to the analysis, design, development, evaluation, and management of systems of all kinds
  • Systems theory pursues the scientific exploration and understanding of systems that exist in the various realms of experience, in order to arrive at a general theory of systems: an organized expressing of sets of interrelated concepts and principles that apply to all systems.
    • p. 31
  • Systems philosophy brings forth a reorganization of ways of thinking. It creates a new worldview, a new paradigm of perception and explanation, which is manifested in integration, holistic thinking, purpose-seeking, mutual causality, and process-focused inquiry.
    • p. 31-32
  • The learner is the key entity and occupies the nucleus of the systems complex of education.
    • p. 96
  • When learning is in focus, arrangements are made in the environment of the learner that communicate the learning task, and learning resources are made available to learners so that they can explore and master learning tasks.
    • p. 110
  • The vision and the core values inspire the creation of the image, but the core ideas are the "stuff" of which the image is made. The core ideas that designers generated in the course of using the framework will have to be arranged in sets that enhance the creation of the image and the design of the system.
    • p. 126
  • Participation is empowering and design is empowered by it.
    • p. 174

Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (1996)[edit]

Béla H. Bánáthy (1996). Designing social systems in a changing world. New York: Plenum

  • Science focuses on the study of the natural world. It seeks to describe what exists. Focusing on problem finding, it studies and describes problems in its various domains. The humanities focus on understanding and discussing the human experience. In design, we focus on finding solutions and creating things and systems of value that do not yet exist.
    The methods of science include controlled experiments, classification, pattern recognition, analysis, and deduction. In the humanities we apply analogy, metaphor, criticism, and (e)valuation. In design we devise alternatives, form patterns, synthesize, use conjecture, and model solutions.\
Science values objectivity, rationality, and neutrality. It has concern for the truth. The humanities value subjectivity, imagination, and commitment. They have a concern for justice. Design values practicality, ingenuity, creativity, and empathy. It has concerns for goodness of fit and for the impact of design on future generations.
  • In sharp contrast (with the traditional social planning) the systems design approach seeks to understand a problem situation as a system of interconnected, interdependent, and interacting issues and to create a design as a system of interconnected, interdependent, interacting, and internally consistent solution ideas.
    • p. 46; as cited in: Charles François (2004), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics. p. 164
  • We cannot improve or restructure a horse and buggy into a spacecraft regardless of how much money and effort we put into it.
    • p. 121; Banathy is self-citing a 1991 publication
  • When it comes to the design of social and societal systems of all kinds, it is the users, the people in the system who are the experts. Nobody has the right to design social systems for someone else. It is unethical to do so. Design cannot be legislated, it should not be bought from the expert, and it should not be copied from the design of others. If the privilege of and responsibility for design is "given away," others will take charge of designing our lives and our systems. They will shape our future.
  • The degree to which they are a community is marked by the degree of effort they devote to attain their purpose, the degree of their commitment to it, and the degree of their commitment to each other.
    • p. 231; About the essence of the design community

Quotes about Béla H. Bánáthy[edit]

  • For Banathy (1996) the crux of systemic change is found in systems design, which is a process that engages stakeholders in conversations on their visions, ideals, values, and aspirations with the goal to intentionally create their ideal educational system.

External links[edit]

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