by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
The case of the Homeless Charity uses a 4-quadrant/4-colour model for describing the ‘being’ of the enterprise. What does this mean?
The behaviour of the enterprise reveals assumptions that are built into its structures and processes – ‘theories-in-use’. What we are doing with this model is trying to characterise the nature of these assumptions.1
- First come assumptions about ‘primary task’. On the supply-side, these are assumptions about the way the work of the enterprise needs to be organised if it is to be viable. In this example, these are assumptions about the way it is possible to help people who are street homeless to bear their own histories. On the demand-side, these are assumptions about what particular forms of demand need to be asserted if the needs arising in the overall situation are to be satisfied. In this example, these are the assumptions that the street-homeless person is making about what will enable them to cope with their particular history.
- Next come assumptions about ‘primary risk‘. These are assumptions about the relationship dynamics the enterprise needs to sustain between the supply-side and the demand-side if it is to sustain itself over time. In this example, these are assumptions about what can be done for the street homeless within the funding and time constraints created by the way the enterprise works.
- Finally come assumptions about the ‘domain of relevance’. These are the ontic2 assumptions the enterprise is making in the way it engages in what it is doing – assumptions built into what information it tracks, how it uses its resources, how it accounts for what it is doing, and so on.
The 4-quadrants/4-colours are therefore ways of speaking about the effects of these assumptions about task, risk and relevance on the way the enterprise ‘is’. These form the backcloth against which any attempt to ‘intervene’ on the enterprise will be played out.3
 An ‘espoused theory’ emerges along the speaking-and-listening axis described in The ‘Plus-One’ exercise. What we are trying to describe with the 4-quadrants/4-colours is the ‘theory-in-use’ implicit in the ‘wigo’ behavior of the organisation that is being spoken about. This wigo will itself be being organised by the (more or less) implicit assumptions built into its structures, the relationship between which is represented by the ‘other’ dotted line axis.
 The Oxford English Dictonary defined ‘ontic’ as follows: “Of or pertaining to knowledge of the existence or structure of being in a given entity.” Thus ontical inquiry is concerned with the ontology of particular entities. Thus any ‘realist’ assertion of ontology is mediated by the ontic assumptions being made by the observer-entity making the assertion i.e. an ontology is built by an entity making ontic assumptions. The 4-quadrant model gives us a way of thinking about what kind of ontic assumptions the entity is making. (For an example at another scale, see ‘why critical systems need help to evolve‘). The concept of the strategy ceiling further elaborates on the way these ontic assumptions are held by an entity in the form of stratified relations between the enterprise and demand.
 In the case of the Homeless Charity, the learning cycle it is capable of supporting is defined by the author’s relationship to the charity. This cycle is a way of describing a reflexive consultation within an ecosystem defined by 4 relationships between 5 layers of engagement:
The 4-quadrant/4-colour model describes the way the bottom two layers of this ‘stack’ are held in relation to each other.