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Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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7 Summary

I started this course using the metaphor of a juggler to represent being a systems practitioner. I also noted how this juggler has four interconnected balls to keep in the air as they practise.

Being, the first ball, is concerned with embodiment, with our own awareness and thus our ethics of action, the responsibility we take as citizens. How a practitioner engages with a situation is not just a property of the situation. It is primarily a property of the background, experiences and prejudices of being the practitioner.

The second ball is the E ball – engaging with a ‘real world’ situation. It is an engagement that can be experienced as messy and complex, or experienced as a situation where there has been a failure or some other unintended consequence. Or the ‘real world’ could be experienced as simple, or complicated or as a situation or as a system. Because I am primarily concerned with situations that are experienced as complex, I have been calling this 'engaging with complexity'.

The third ball is concerned with how a systems practitioner puts particular systems approaches into context (i.e. contextualising) for taking action in the ‘real world’; that's the juggler's C ball. One of the main skills of a systems practitioner is to learn, through experience, to manage the relationship between a particular systems approach and the ‘real world’ situation she or he is using it in. Adopting an approach is more than just choosing one of the methods that already exists. This is why I use the phrase ‘putting into context’, to indicate a process of contextualisation involved in the choice of approach.

The final ball the effective practitioner juggles is that of managing (the M ball). This is concerned with juggling as an overall performance. The term ‘managing’ is often used to describe the process by which a practitioner engages with a ‘real world’ situation. Managing also introduces the idea of change over time, in both the situation and the practitioner.

Further to this I am thinking of juggling as a set of relationships, a juggler is a living human being, in a particular context, with their body positioned so as to be supported by the floor and in this case they have four balls to juggle. If any of these things are taken away, the juggler, the connection to the floor or the balls then juggling will not arise as a practice. In some situations an audience might also be important, especially if juggling for money. Taking away the audience would destroy this ‘system of interest’, the interconnected set of relationships being envisioned. But there's more to this set of relationships than meets the eye. Take the juggler for example, she or he is both a unique person and also part of a lineage of groups of organisms called 'living systems'. All living systems have an evolutionary past and a developmental past that is unique to each of us – a set of experiences which means that my world is always different to your world. We can never truly ‘share’ common experiences because this is biologically impossible. We can however communicate with each other about our experiences.