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Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice
Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice

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4 Summary

Thinking strategically requires prime attention to the present context and the foreseeable future. I have emphasised the importance of relationship between:

  • situations of interest (in areas of practice) as raw material for using tools
  • practitioner or tool user attempting to improve the situation
  • actual tools used.

In this course the term ‘tools’ is used in a generic sense to incorporate the systems thinking and systems practice ideas embodied in the systems approaches. Systems thinking provide conceptual tools for dealing with three features of complex situations of change encountered when thinking strategically:

  1. making sense of countless interrelated and often interdependent variables
  2. engaging with multiple contrasting and often conflicting perspectives
  3. dealing effectively and constructively with boundary tensions arising from inevitable uncertainty about interrelationships and interdependencies and conflicts between contrasting perspectives.

The five approaches were chosen because of their respective pedigrees in supporting strategic decision making in different and changing contexts. Each approach embodies all three imperatives of systems thinking summarised above. But each approach also has an historic slant towards one imperative. System dynamics and the viable system model have been particularly significant in dealing with interrelationships among variables. Strategic options development and analysis, and soft systems methodology have been particularly significant approaches in dealing with multiple perspectives. Critical systems heuristics has been particularly significant in dealing with boundary tensions.

The important point to take forward when practising the five systems approaches is to continually reflect on how the approaches and their respective tools can enrich your existing capacities for thinking strategically in dealing with present messy situations in order to improve them for the future.