Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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Mastering systems thinking in practice

Week 4: Representing systems of interest


This course has talked about the characteristics of systems and how to think about them. But a big question is always: ‘How do I capture my and other people’s thinking in a useful way both for myself and to share with others?’ In other words how do I understand and engage with perspectives on complex situations? That task is central to systems practice and many techniques, approaches, methods and methodologies have been devised or applied by systems theorists and practitioners. For the purposes of this course you will only look at representing (or modelling) systems qualitatively by using visual means (most notably diagrams and language) and not through using mathematics (i.e. computer-based quantitative models).

The mathematical modelling of systems of interest is beyond the scope of this course but if you are interested in studying this aspect of systems thinking in practice then you should look at the free OpenLearn course, Systems modelling [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Watch the following video which introduces the idea of structuring complexity using diagrams.

Download this video clip.Video player: mstp_1_video_week4_intro.mp4
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This week is about finding ways of representing your thinking about complex situations-- making sense of complexity. This is a process of discovery. It involves thinking about complexity in an orderly way that allows you to enter a deeper understanding of the complexity. It goes beyond immersion in and representation of complexity.
The invitation I'm making in this week is to move into the possibility of structuring complexity. Notice I'm not suggesting there is structure in the complexity I can discover. Rather, it is about discovering ways of structuring the complexity that make sense to you.
By structuring the complexity, I can think more effectively about it and possibly discover ways of improving the situation. And to discover ways of representing my thinking about the complexity, I'm going to use systems diagrams-- or, more fully, diagrams that enable practitioners to represent a systems of interest. Systems diagrams are particular lenses or frames through which we can study a complex situation, as shown by the different shapes in the cartoon. And just as I would use a microscope or telescope to help me see different things more clearly in the same landscape, I can use different types of diagram to highlight different types of structure and relationships within that complex situation-- or in other words, to identify different systems of interest that I can compare and contrast. In this week, you will learn the power of diagrams for representing your thinking about complex situations.
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By the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • describe the characteristics and purposes of a number of diagram types used to represent systems of interest by systems practitioners.
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