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Systems Thinking

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In systems thinking, an object is considered as a set of interrelated and/or interacting elements. The functions, properties and structure of elements, even the way of system segmentation onto elements, may depend on the goals of studies of the object.(Theory of Classification)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_thinking

This way of thinking is no different from conventional Systems Theory, should be attributed and discussed there, as a branch of systems theory.

Due to the numerous unsuccessful attempts of Transferring Systems Thinking into Systems Acting, Systems Thinking paradigm is proposed changed from "thinking ABOUT Systems" to "thinking AS a System", as a whole, as a single organism. Feeling of The Truth is thought being a "system building" factor uniting all the participants of a project around a selected goal, scaling from as local as individual up to the Global scale.


Handbook of Sustainability Literacy

Systems ThinkingSystems Thinking: the ability to recognize and analyse the inter-connections within and between systems. Glenn Strachan

http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/stibbe-handbook-of-sustainability/chapters/systems-thinking

Systems Thinking

Figure 2    The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, Arran Stibbe. Supported by University of Brighton, Faculty of Arts: Sustainability Network.

Glenn Strachan    The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, Arran Stibbe. Supported by University of Brighton, Faculty of Arts: Sustainability Network.

Figure 1    The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, Arran Stibbe. Supported by University of Brighton, Faculty of Arts: Sustainability Network.


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Systems Thinking: the ability to recognize and analyse the inter-connections within and between systems. Glenn Strachan, International Research Institute in Sustainability, University of Gloucestershire

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The formal education experience of most learners could be summarised as moving from a multi-disciplinary approach in their early years, grounded in their limited experience of the world, through to an increasingly reductionist experience in which they become more specialised and less prepared for the inter-connected complexity of the world in which they have to live and work.  This is a gross generalisation, but it does partly explain some of the unsustainable activities that have had such a detrimental impact on the natural systems of the Earth.  In particular it helps to account for the large catalogue of examples of good intentioned solutions to problems having unforeseen consequences and resulting in greater problems than the one that was trying to be solved.  

Click for pdf download of the full chapter 'Systems Thinking' from the Handbook for Sustainability Literacy

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SYSTEMS THINKING
the ability to recognize and analyse the inter-connections within and between systems
Glenn Strachan, International Research Institute in Sustainability, University of
Gloucestershire
____________________
The formal education experience of most learners could be summarised as moving from a
multi-disciplinary approach in their early years, grounded in their limited experience of the
world, through to an increasingly reductionist experience in which they become more
specialised and less prepared for the inter-connected complexity of the world in which they
have to live and work. This is a gross generalisation, but it does partly explain some of the
unsustainable activities that have had such a detrimental impact on the natural systems of the
Earth. In particular it helps to account for the large catalogue of examples of good intentioned
solutions to problems having unforeseen consequences and resulting in greater problems than
the one that was trying to be solved.
Increasing numbers of analysts writing about the crises facing the world are identifying the
inter-connected nature of the crises and the need for inter-connected and inter-disciplinary
solutions. For example Jeffrey Sachs in his latest book Common Wealth comments that ‘The
problems just refuse to arrive in the neat categories of academic departments’ (Sachs
2008:14). The established structures of the formal education system are resistant to change
and nowhere in the formal system is there a coordinated attempt to bring together the array of
knowledge, skills and attitudes which learners gather through their educational career so that
they can use them to make better sense of our complex world. Developing the ability to think
systemically gives learners of all ages the potential to maximise the application of their
diverse learning experiences and contribute to how we can better understand our complex
inter-connected world.
Ray Ison provides the following concise definition of the term system which leads us into the
area of inter-connectedness: ‘A system is a perceived whole whose elements are “interconnected”’ (Ison in Reason and Bradbury 2008:140). Systems thinking has developed a
substantial body of knowledge, drawn from a number of areas of study including cybernetics,
ecology and complexity theory. References to resources which provide some of the
theoretical underpinnings of systems thinking are offered at the end of this chapter. The
purpose of this chapter is to focus on one aspect of systems thinking, which is the ability to
recognize inter-connections and understand the relevance and the importance of the
relationships represented by these inter-connections. This is essential for understanding the
nature of the sustainability crises we face and therefore essential in finding solutions.
The use of pesticides on crops is one example of how a solution to one problem has created
further and greater problems. While trying to combat a pest or disease to improve food
production, pesticides in many cases have disrupted ecosystems, some of which indirectly
support the crop being grown, and have had adverse health effects on people from pesticide
residues on food crops. Place the use of pesticides into the context of the ‘Green Revolution’
of the 1970s where they were part of a package with artificial fertilizers, financial credit,
irrigation and increased mechanisation, and the inter-related social, environmental and
economic consequences become complex.
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According to Ison (2008), most people have some degree of systemic awareness, the question
is how can educators develop and increase that awareness? In the same way that we need to
understand unsustainability in order to fully grasp sustainability, so by highlighting an
obvious lack of systems thinking in an example it is possible to demonstrate to learners the
nature of systems thinking in a practical way. One way of approaching this is to look for
examples in everyday life that illustrate a lack of systems thinking through an inherent
contradiction that may not be obvious to many people. Advertisements can be a rich source
of these examples; for instance in a recent Sunday newspaper an advert for a large 4x4 SUV
pictured the vehicle driving down a flooded street and promoted the vehicle as a solution to
living in adverse weather conditions. When the connections have been made in one’s mind
that the adverse weather conditions may have been the result of climate change and that CO2
emission from vehicles contribute to climate change, then suddenly the incongruity of the
image leaps out. Once these types of connections have been demonstrated to learners, some of
them (but as Ison rightly says, not all) will start noticing similar examples, developing a
perspective that highlights connections and will be thinking more systemically. As Fritjof
Capra puts it ‘Systems theory entails a new way of seeing the world and a new way of
thinking known as systems thinking or systemic thinking. It means thinking in terms of
relationships, connectedness and context’ (Capra 1999: 2).
This approach enables learners to discover an understanding of systems thinking for
themselves and this can be reinforced if they are given the opportunity to apply that
understanding to a context with which they are familiar. In so doing they can become more at
ease with the inter-connected nature of the world and less overwhelmed with its complexity.
A simple exercise for learners to apply systemic thinking and discover how everything is
linked involves them selecting an object with which they are very familiar and investigating it
by asking a series of questions. (Questions can be simple e.g., What is it made of? Where has
it come from? Who made it? or more searching, e.g. What needs does it fulfil? Is it necessary?
What will happen to it in the future? Could it be redesigned to have a smaller environmental
footprint?). Learners record their answers to the questions on a large sheet of paper and then
start identifying connections between their answers, producing a web-like diagram. This
activity can extend almost indefinitely depending on the enthusiasm of the learners and it will
lead them across economic, social and ecological systems.
Developing an understanding of the relationship between elements within a system is a
building block in learning towards appreciating the relationships that connect systems to each
other. The concept of ‘nested systems’, where there is a hierarchy of inter-connected systems,
is an aspect of systems thinking that has particular relevance for conceptualising sustainability
from a systems perspective. Educators can explore this with learners, and gain an insight into
the perspectives held by learners, by presenting the two most common diagrammatic
representations of sustainability and asking the learners to describe the ‘messages’ that the
diagrams convey to them, particularly about the relationships between the three sets of
systems.
Having used this activity with a range of learners I have found that there are a number of
common areas that usually emerge for discussion. The response from learners with regard to
Figure 1 (at end of chapter) usually generates discussion around the idea that the relationship
between the systems in the three circles is one of ‘balance’ or possibly ‘trade-off’. There is
3
often the suggestion that the relative size of the circles could be changed and that a much
larger economic systems circle would be more representative of the three sets of systems
when it comes to decision-making in the world of today. Learners recognise that there is a
strong connectivity between the systems represented by the three circles, but are much less
clear about the relationships associated with these connections.
The response to Figure 2 (at end of chapter) often generates a dichotomy in terms of
responses from learners, illustrating the different perspectives they hold. Some see the
ecological systems as representing a known fixed boundary inside which all the human social
systems must exist, and economic systems existing within the boundaries of social systems
since they are one of those systems. Others see economic systems as being at the centre of
everything and therefore being the most important.
Systems thinking has much to contribute to sustainability literacy; it can provide a perspective
that enables learners to engage with the complexity of sustainability and the complexity of the
world around them. Recognising the inter-connections within systems and between systems,
and exploring the relationships which these inter-connections represent, is a learning pathway
to a systems thinking perspective.
___________________
Capra, F. (1994) From the parts to the whole: systems thinking in ecology and education.
www.hainescentre.com/pdfs/parts_to_whole.pdf
Capra, F. (1999) Ecoliteracy: the challenge for education in the next century.
www.ecoliteracy.org/publications
Ison, R. (2008) Systems thinking and practice in action research. In P. Reason and H.
Bradbury. The handbook of action research: participative inquiry and practice. Sage:
London
Laszlo, E. (1972) The systems view of the world. Blackwell: Oxford
Sachs, J. (2008) Common wealth: economics for a crowded planet. London: Allen Lane
Bowers, C. Writings on education, eco-Justice, and revitalizing the commons.
www.cabowers.net [a large collection of articles and on-line books by Chet Bowers]
Centre for Ecoliteracy. www.ecoliteracy.org [includes a range of relevant writings by Frijtof
Capra]
Systemic Development Institute. http://systemicdevelopment.org [an international network of
professionals committed to fostering systemic thinking and practice for ethical action in
a turbulent world]
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Figure 1
Figure 2


Links  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Systems_thinking

Subcategories

Types of Systems

``A

``B

`C

``D

`E

`F

► Futurology (18 C, 113 P)  `Q

► Quality management (4 C, 56 P)

`G

`I

`M

`N

``O

``P

`R

`S

`T

► Technology assessment (3 C, 24 P)

► Theory of constraints (16 P)

Pages

Systems thinking is always value-full

Systems thinking

`A

` The Arlington Institute

`B

` Béla H. Bánáthy

Battle command knowledge system

Business continuity planning

`C

` Club of Budapest

Club of Rome

Cognitive acceleration

Complexity, Systems Thinking and Practice

Ted Coombs

`D

` Delphi method

Digital strategy

`E

` Eco-industrial development

Educational entertainment

Energy Research Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences

`F

` Friday Night at the ER

Future history

Future Map

Future Search

Futures studies

Futures techniques

Futuribles International

Futurist

`G

` Global Alliance for Peace and Prosperity

`H

` Ray Hammond

Arthur Harkins

Holonic map

`I

` Interdependence

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

`J

` Joint decision trap

`K

` Kaya identity

Kybernetes

`L

` Lateral thinking

Learning organization

M

` Draft:Management cockpit

`P

` The Project on Forward Engagement

`Q

` Quality function deployment

Quality storyboard

`R

` Edwin W. Rawlings

Real-time Delphi

`S

` Scenario analysis

Scenario planning

Sensemaking

Service innovation

Singularitarianism

Software quality

STELLA (programming language)

Strategic management

Structure follows strategy

`T

` Thinking outside the box

Thought leader

TLG index of thought leaders

`W

` Work systems

World Future Society

World Futures Studies Federation

Worst-case scenario

`Y

` Thomas Young (scientist)

Pages in Other Languages

Categories:

Systems thinking

Management

Technology assessment

Emergence

Holism

 

 

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