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Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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5 Collecting information as a ‘researcher’

If you are acting as a ‘researcher’ rather than a ‘manager’ your use of diagramming is for collecting information or gathering of ‘evidence’ from participants to be included in a broader systems investigation. In other words, a particular type of diagram is used to get participants to structure and capture their thinking about a given situation and that diagram alongside any notes made at the time (or even recordings) are one set of perspectives for grounding the systems investigation. I have found over the course of my research that the choice of diagram needs to fit with the purpose and objectives of the investigation. This does not mean that if I had used a different diagram with my participants I might not have gathered a similar data set of perspectives for analysis. And equally a different set of participants using the same diagram might not necessarily lead to different perspectives, but simply that this represents the thinking of these particular participants at that time. It does mean that as a ‘researcher’ you need to understand and acknowledge the limitations and constraints that a particular diagram brings to your study and to build in processes that ensure a reasonable degree of robustness to the information gathered and how it is analysed and reported. An example, if possible, is to have more than one group do the same exercise so that you have multiple sets of information to compare and contrast.

Lastly, it is necessary to think about the ethical issues involved in working on, for, or with others as part of a study and recognising your own part in the process. This may include agreeing how contributions are acknowledged, if acknowledged at all, so that sensitive comments are not attributable to one person but to the group as a whole. The latter is often done under the Chatham House Rule (basically information disclosed during a meeting may be reported by those present, but the source of that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified).