System engineering and politics – The “Another Now” and DiEM25 use case | Nikos Larisis

Can system engineering principles and methodologies be applied to politics?

To begin with, it is typically the other way round, as systems are/ought to be engineered considering i.a. the political implications and ramifications of the context in which they were first conceived. A good example is the steam engine that was first invented around 100BC. It took 1800 years for the relations of production to advance enough and transform the same concept from an “aeolipile” toy into a means of production.

According to [1], the four main system architecture methodologies are:

  1. normative, the system architecture is prescribed in handbooks and standards authored by acknowledged masters,
  2. rationale, employs scientific and mathematical principles
  3. cooperative, depends on consensus between all involved stakeholders,
  4. heuristic, is based on common sense that stems from collective past experience.

It is rather the latter that is being often considered as the driving vehicle for the conceptualization of complex systems and ideas, especially in fields where the former three have not yet been applied, let alone solidified.

In the context of the upcoming Greek elections, I was intrigued by the campaign message of DiEM25 “Everything can be different” (contra Maggie’s TINA). Being accustomed to such political statements and propositions, I was skeptical about the applicability and direction of the ideas that were brought forward by DiEM25 and I quickly ended up having in my hands Prof. Yanis Varoufakis’s book, Another Now.

It was quite a challenge absorbing 468 pages of an alternative reality, deeply subversive in its conception and potential implementation at a societal, economic and political context. But I seldomly come across with such a detailed narrative, so I was more than intrigued to challenge it by employing political heuristics and fundamental system engineering principles.

The complexity of the proposed socioeconomic model and the meticulous and exhaustive narration left no room for second thought. I had to start decomposing the proposed model, firstly in the form of the block diagram, otherwise I would have gotten lost in a maze of novel notions. Later, it become even more apparent that the block diagram had to be enhanced to capture the level of interrelationships and inter-dependencies between its various subsystems and components. A system map (according to friendly feedback) or architectural flow diagram was thus created, for which I had the honor to get it published (in Greek [2], attached the English .pdf version) by MetaCPC.

Pivoting back to our opening question, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, principles such as abstractionencapsulationmodularityseparation of concerns and synthesis, i.a. [3], that are essential for any conceptual model decomposition, are seldomly taught or cultivated in academia or industry (quite a gloomy situation considering the irrevocable advent of AI). It then falls down to heuristically applying the “art of achitecting“, which according to [1] enable us to “move from a vague concept and limited resources to a satisfactory and feasible system concept and an executable program“. The only difference is that in this use case we are dealing with a political program.


[1] Maier & Rechtin, “The Art of Systems Engineering“, CRC Press, 2009