Systemic Thinking Tools for Social Impact


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Brief introduction to systems and systemic thinking ; how to identify a complex issue; tools that elicit the wisdom in a diverse group to address complexity.
Presented Feb 1, 2011 at Hub SOMA, SF by The Idea Hive

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  • Systems thinking is the discipline that looks at issues or organizations in terms of its relationships or context. NOTE ST does not replace scientific/rational analysis…is a useful complement.
  • The ability to hold these three levels of hierarchy in your mind at the same time while considering an issue, and appreciating the way in which changes at one level affect changes at the other levels, is known as systemic thinking. The drawing of boundaries is an ethical judgment and reveals the world view of the “drawer”. Can you think of some organizations that would see the system and suprasystem shown here as reversed?
  • Systems thinking is how we first made sense of our world; reductionist, rational thinking came later. this is the contextualized world in which we live..the kind we live and work with every day…families, companies, villages, networks….
  • Systemic Thinking Tools take the principles of systems thinking and create a suite of methods to put systems thinking to work on soft systems. Systemic Thinking Gives OPTIONS, NOT ANSWERS. This is tough for solutions-focused people. Dance with change for resilience. Understanding a business in context using systemic tools can help an organization meet the future. Are you a buggy whip maker, or a transportation optimizer? Are you an oil company or an energy provider? Are you a foundation or a catalyzer? So when is a situation complex?
  • One of the most dangerous received notions is the world view everything has an underlying order with evident cause and effect. We live in a world of complexity, of non-linear phenomena, chaotic processes, a world not easily captured by common sense, If you have a routine problem at your company, where cause and effect are understood and the problem has been solved many times, then you DON’T need it…Line managers are handling routine problems every day. If you have a complicated problem…cause and effect are not evident, but they are knowable. You want someone who has dealt with this kind of issue in the past, who has experience and education…you want an expert…tihs is COMPLICATED Complexity is where systemic thinking is useful. Cynefin originated by Dave Snowden
  • Systemic thinking is the technique of understanding and dealing with complex human situations Anti hierarchical; cross-sector vertical and horizontal; How can we balance serving people’s needs now with people’s needs in the future? Social justice is a vitally complex issue, especially in that people, profit and planet are interconnected
  • Start with story telling – form a unified group – recognize commonalities; identify emergent themes; elicit concrete actions to agreed-on vision Visioning, back casting, scenario work aka wind tunneling; can be anything that encourages holistic counterpoint to reductionism and that fosters holding the space to embrace change.
  • Use Conversation Mapping: Conversation mapping collects the knowledge of a complex issue that resides at different levels of a diverse group. The knowledge collected in the map creates a quick yet deep “database” of reactions to a complex issue. A core concept at the center of the map triggers responses from the participants. As the rich picture of the issue emerges, the map reveals previously unrecognized patterns of variables that are unique to the issue. Known as emergent themes, these patterns can indicate ways to transform the issue in positive ways. Allows you to physically walk around an issue,…movement, freeing creativity. Does not allow shouting; if everyone talked at once it would be chaotic…this is a simple method to capture multiple points of view in a very rapid time. Conversation mapping is useful for: Revealing “received knowledge” assumptions , communications inadequacy or anticipated changes that may hamper progress Stimulating innovation Integrating knowledge held but not shared at different levels of a group due to hierarchy or specialty silos.
  • We started out asking Why Are We Here? To uncover some potentially complex issues in which con mapping might be useful Other ideas?
  • What did you notice? NOTE next steps would be to identify emergent patterns in the conversation and then planning for those patterns. We compare what is with what ought to be in order to attain resilience, then construct opportunity statements and actions. Actions may be tested for resilience using wind tunneling techniques….
  • [email_address] - @leapingotter [email_address] - @davidhodgson @ideahive
  • Systemic Thinking Tools for Social Impact

    1. 1. Systemic Thinking for Social Impact Hub SOMA February 02011 David Hodgson & Nancy Roberts The Idea Hive
    2. 2. The next 60 minutes…. <ul><li>Introduce when systemic thinking is most helpful </li></ul><ul><li>Describe systemic thinking tools </li></ul><ul><li>Practice a (simple) systemic thinking exercise </li></ul>
    3. 3. Society Businesses Environment Analysis means taking something apart in order to understand it; systems thinking means putting it into the context of a larger whole. Fritjof Capra
    4. 4. Brueghel depicts the relationships of a complex system….
    5. 5. systemic thinking is a set of tools designed to create high impact interventions within complex situations
    6. 6. Cynefin
    7. 7. Why Systemic Thinking? <ul><li>Uncovers wisdom resident in a group </li></ul><ul><li>Allows broadest range of possibilities to emerge </li></ul><ul><li>Helps deal with the unknown unknowns </li></ul><ul><li>Enables cross-sector pollination (get out of our silos!) </li></ul>
    8. 8. Map Out Complexity  Uncover Emergent Patterns  Create Action Plan
    9. 10. <ul><li>How can the HUB maximize its social impact, given the environmental, social, financial, cultural, technological and legislative challenges that face us? </li></ul><ul><li>Capture  conversation  on the map: Your pen is your voice. </li></ul><ul><li>No more than 6 or 8 ‘main’ branches stemming from the central seed. </li></ul><ul><li>Include a verb (and/or a because) in each response “bubble.” (no one-word answers, please!) </li></ul><ul><li>No wrong answers! </li></ul>
    10. 11. Synthesis <ul><li>Synthesis (noun fr. Greek, 1611): Putting together </li></ul>
    11. 12. Thank you! Special thanks to our friend Bruce McKenzie of Australia’s Systemic Development Institute. [email_address]