My blended systems thinking approach

My approach to applying systems thinking in my practice is ever changing. I use a blend of systems thinking methods/ models and concepts but I have found that I dip into and out of and consider a particular set of things quite routinely. I’ve captured them in the following diagram and listed them below.

My approach is iterative and I dip into and out of whatever methods/ models/ concept etc the situation I am in indicates I need to use. It’s very much a work in progress and is ever changing, but here it is so far:

Looking at: internal and external context and identity

  • Internal and external complexity drivers;
  • Purpose, need, demand;
  • Rationality, perception and motivation;
  • Culture;
  • Identity;
  • Rules of the game – how are those who are surviving manoeuvring the politics?
  • Values;
  • Any elements of human centred design that could be considered?

Considering the system of interest and its boundary and the impact of motivations (SSM, CSH)

  • SSM method;
  • Flows of influence – management, quality, objectives, budgets, performance measures, hierarchy, organisational culture, personalities, other departments, legislation, financial;
  • Motivations – Is there a focus on imposed targets? What kind of culture does it indicate if there is (i.e. a fear culture?) Is one member of staff imposing views upon other etc?
  • Control – is there resistance to change on a scale that could be problematic? Do different professional groups have different opinions?
  • Knowledge – are certain personalities manipulating/ dominating the situation?
  • Legitimacy – Is any resistance and conflict hindering the quality of the process? Is it justifiable? Can you identify how alternative behaviours might serve the goal? How would a different perspective of the organisation/ people open up opportunities?

Considering the systems dynamics (SD)

  • Identify the structure (stocks, flows, outflows and feedback) which determines behaviour over time;
  • Understand connections underlying motivations and behaviour – For example – is there a focus on imposed targets? What kind of culture does it indicate if there is (i.e. a fear culture?) Is one member of staff imposing views upon others?
  • Identify the dominating feedback loop – what is the most important thing that is most limiting?
  • History of the system – what is the system’s long-term behaviour?

Considering system statics and dynamics (VSM)

  • VSM diagnostic;
  • Variety imbalances – identify the critical imbalances;
  • Missing components and missing links;
  • Flows and blockages;
  • How is the system interacting with the environment?
  • Archetypes/ pathologies;
  • Strengths, weaknesses, barriers, pain pathways;
  • What are the symptoms of the behaviour of the system?
  • What are the engagement and relationships like?
  • Unfold the complexity of the primary systems;
  • Model the environment
  • What are the connections between the sub systems?
  • What are the connections between sub systems and environment?
  • Model the co-ordination mechanisms;
  • Connections (only look at the connections you need to);
  • Model the management functions – systems 3, 4,5, their interactions, connections to environment, operations and each other;
  • Go up and down 1 recursive level

Including further system analysis

  • Structural couplings;
  • Application of systems laws;
  • Application of the 12 rules;
  • Otto Scharmer’s 3 enemies – are they evident?
  • Work out implications of the structural problems – do they match the symptoms or the problem. What insight do they provide for how an improvement can be designed?
  • Human error factors – are any identifiable?

Identifying options for change (MCA)

  • Systemically desirable and culturally feasible options for change (using MCA)

Using prototype implementation (small scale prototyping)

  • Prototype small scale packages of change based around capability for making change without too much disruption;
  • Change slowly and incrementally by changing one thing at a time;
  • Aim to enhance total system properties like growth, stability, diversity, resilience, diversity

Reviewing & repeating

  • This should be a continuous process and stages are not meant to be chronological. They are intended to be done concurrently (to a point) and each point chosen from, depending upon what the situation requires
  • Work fluidly and iteratively;
  • Let the inquiry guide you and take you where it needs to go.
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