Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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Mastering systems thinking in practice

Week 7: Systems thinking approaches


In Week 6 you were introduced to the historical landscape of traditions and disciplines that have influenced systems thinking in practice and looked at the ideas and work of five prominent systems thinkers. Some of these systems thinkers developed their practices and approaches to system thinking into formalised methods or methodologies. I can only begin to briefly cover one of these methods or methodologies in this week and experiencing this one and others will take you much more time than you have in this course. What I will do is explore what is meant by terms such as approaches, methods and methodologies and do so in part by comparing and contrasting two approaches to soft systems methodology in the wider applied systems tradition. If you look back at Figure 1 in Week 6 that outlined systems traditions you will not find the words ‘soft systems methodology’ used but you will be familiar by now with an underlying aspect that distinguishes different approaches to investigating systems which is about purpose and how systems are perceived.

Watch the following video which highlights the differences between systemic and systematic approaches to engaging with systems.

Download this video clip.Video player: mstp_1_video_week7_intro.mp4
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An aware practitioner, having chosen to take a systems approach, will always face choices. One of the main choices is whether to formulate a system of interest as part of a process of understanding a situation experienced as complex-- a systemic process of inquiry-- or to see systems as operational parts of a taken-for-granted real world. This choice is depicted in the cartoon, which contrasts seeing the world as containing systems-- being systematic-- and seeing the process of inquiry or engaging with a situation as systemic-- being systemic. The systemic approach involves using systems thinking to construct an epistemological device as part of an inquiry process through which we can generate fresh and insightful explanations which trigger new ways of taking purposeful action in the world. Now you can learn more about the similarities and differences between systemic and systematic approaches.
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By the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • explain the role of methods, methodologies and approaches and tools, techniques and skills as applied to systems thinking in practice and exemplified by the soft systems methodology.
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