One can distinguish between transactional and contextual environment, both inner and outer.
A system can influence the stakeholders in its transactional environment, but has to adapt to changes in its contextual environment. Thus the distinction is one of control. (Ackoff, 1974)
There is a transactional and contextual part in both the outer and inner environment of a system. For example, the customers of an organisation are part of the outer transactional environment, while society and the climate are part of the outer contextual environment. The staff members of an organisation are part of its inner transactional environment, while the cellular functioning (e.g. physical health) of each staff member belongs to the inner contextual environment of the organisation.
By cooperating with the systems (i.e. stakeholders) in the outer and inner transactional environment, a system can extend its influence. It can shift the boundaries between its transactional and contextual environments and assume influence over parts of what was previously regarded as its contextual environment. Examples are aligning with competitors to change industry regulation or providing a gym and healthy food to encourage staff members to become healthier.
Humanity’s challenging problems (e.g. poverty, climate change, finance crisis) are perceived as being beyond the control of a single nation and organisation and are therefore in their contextual environment. In order to dissolve them, they need to become part of humanity’s transactional environment. This requires the alignment of the relevant stakeholders (i.e. functionally organised society and their members – ultimately all of us) in a coordinated effort (the Biomatrix courses and programmes provide a methodology for this).
The survival of humanity could depend on global cooperation.
relevance for the change manager
In order to respond flexibly and in time to contextual environmental changes, a systemic learning organisation needs to entrench environmental scanning for the organisation as a whole and each of its functional parts. It also needs to practice stakeholder analysis and cooperative stakeholder management in its transactional environment.