Systemic thinking

Earlier this year, I googled “building an audience for a blog” and got about 3 pages of very useful links, mostly free, though of course some enterprisig lads has set up shop selling the good news on how to do a blog. I found onw interesting person and read her material for 15 minutes, and then moved on, as you do, and didn’t come back. I didn’t bookwark the page, but I’ve held onto one thing she said – reference other people’s blogs. That simple action slips you into the networks of bloggers, and there lies your critical audience and with luck some of your collaborators.

So where do I start connecting? To people interested enough in the things I’m interested in to write about it in the public medium of a blog.

Megan Roberts has been doing some thinking out loud about systems thinking. She says she got excited by systems thinking at university and went into the evaluation field imagining clients would be totally into it too. Not so. How to make the space for systemic thinking, let alone how to do systemic thinking!! My colleague Moragh has been bold enough in the Systemic Inquiry into NRM governance to invite people to think systemically, and amazingly, they’ve showed up, of their own free will, for three workshops over the last eight months.

Megan asks: what kind of systems thinking are other practitioners finding valuable, practitioners that is in the middle of and intent in facilitating change in social systems? As her jumping off point, she cites a framework from the Waters Foundation.

Looking at that framework, I know right away that surfacing assumptions is where I often return. I learnt from Bob Dick that in any path of action there are assumptions about situation, goals and action, and that these are in play all the time, shaping action and being tested in action. That’s been enough to go on with for several years, but the Water Foundation framework covers a lot of the different kinds of thinking you do as you explore those situations.

However, I realised the language in the framework doesn’t inspire me. What I carry in my heart right now is a chapter  by Joan Fazey and Lisen Schultz in Allen and Starkey’s Adaptive Environmental Management: A Practitioner’s Guide, which reviews research on how adaptive people think. They cite seven attitudes to learning, and the language here resonates for me. Here are the four, and they feel like what I enjoy about learning:

To be broad and adventurous, with an impulse to probe assumptions and to tinker with boundaries;
To bring a zest for inquiry, an urge to find and pose problems, and a tendency to wonder;
To clarify and seek understanding, withy a desire to grasp the essence of things, and to anchor ideas to experience and seek connection to prior knowledge;
To plan and be strategic, setting goals, thinking ahead;
To be intellectually careful, with an urge for precision, a desire for mental orderliness;
To seek and evaluate reasons, pursuing justifications, grounds and sources;
To be metacognitive, self-aware and monitoring the flow of one’s thinking, and wanting to challenge oneself.

A zest for inquiry …. Wendy Wheeler has it in spades, in the most challenging article from my last couple of weeks’ reading,  creative evolution wendy wheeler. She draws on Charles Sanders Peirce, the late 19th century learning theorist who laid the ground for John Dewey and he for action research.

Tipping my hat to Megan’s inventive use of images to open conepts, here is Peirce on what he called “abduction”, paired with the equally fabulous mover, Kuniko Yamamoto, in Barrm Birrm.

Your skiff of Musement_1

The Governance Project

The Governance Project

With Moragh Mackay, whose PhD research focuses on natural resource management (NRM) governance, I am helping to design and facilitate a systemic inquiry supporting innovation in NRM governance in the Corangamite Region of Victoria. Backed by a consortium of Landcare Networks, the Governance Project has conducted two workshops, and plans two more. We define our scope as follows…

Why governance? Every biophysical problem is also a social situation; every environmental crisis is a challenge to improve governance—the way the political, social and economic sectors make decisions and take action for the common good. Governance operates from national down to regional, sub-regional and local level. Each level has its practices and knowledge base. But do accountabilities and relationships help or hinder the contribution of each level?

The assumption is: We can do it better. We can work together better, and gradually improve practices and structural arrangements in NRM to make better use of resources and capacities.

Why a systemic inquiry? The Governance Project is a space for the science and practice of change in social systems. Systems thinking is a way to make sense of what causes what, for what purpose. A systemic inquiry supports people in a system looking at what is happening, designing a better way to do things, and learning as they put that into practice.

The assumption is: First solutions often reproduce a problem. You won’t shift a pattern until you change the habits, assumptions and structural arrangements that hold the pattern in place. Real change requires digging down to challenge those forces.