For the first of three workshops by the Systems Changes Learning Circle in October 2020, Zaid Khan led a session for the Relating Systems Thinking and Design RSD9 Symposium. Our team had developed a set of reference slides for the three workshops, from which content that would most resonate with the audience could be selected. RSD attracts designers across practitioner and academic communities, with leadership formalized in 2018 as the Systemic Design Association.
Zaid introduced this workshop with a caution as work-in-progress, as 2 years into a 10-year journey. We orient towards developing practical systems methods well-founded in theoretical depth, better tested in applications with willing participants. We all learn together.
The flow for the workshops were short orientations on out progress to date, with two breakout sessions for discussions. In the web video , the plenary discussions are included, and breakout conversations edited out.
The video file is available on the Internet Archive, for those who prefer a downloadable option.
(HD 1022kbps 512MB) [on the Internet Archive]
The digital audio has been transcoded to MP3 for those who prefer to just listen.
Here is the original description for the session.
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The idea of “systems change” has risen in popularity over the past few years. To make this more than just another buzzword, how might we approach it? In what ways does “systems change” mean more than just “change”? Does “systems change” build on the large legacy of “systems thinking”?
The Systems Changes Learning Circle is now in year 2 of a 10-year journey. Our aim is to reify systems changes as a first-class concept. This extends prior published research on social and organizational change, based in the systems sciences. At RSD8, the Khan and Ing (2019) presentation reflected the early explorations coming from the core group. For RSD9 this extends to a workshop to share some methods in early stages of development for initiating deeper deliberations into systems changes.
Systems changes may involve:
- shifting adaptively;
- shifting behaviorally, and/or
- shifting ecologically.
Living systems may respond through:
- systematic changes;
- systemic changes; and/or
- timescape-landscape changes.
Degrees of systems changes may be judged as:
- unfolding nature;
- fixing problems; or
The multi-day, iterative workshop still under development takes a multi-paradigm approach based on learnings grounded in five philosophies:
- (i) learning which, as phenomenology;
- (ii) learning what, as ontology;
- (iii) learning why, as epistemology;
- (iv) learning whom+when+where, as phronesis; and
- (v) learning how, as techne.
To convene working groups in advance of iterations on the five learnings, Khan and Ing propose a Question Zero conversation for orientation, on Reordering Priorities.
The workshop is structured as multiple steps:
- Step 0: Participants will introduce themselves briefly. To encourage discussion, participants will be encouraged to cluster into small groups with others whom they do not know well.
- Step 1: As individuals, participants will each quickly jot down three top three systems changes in which they are interested. These systems changes may be ones that they would like to come faster, or ones they would like to not happen.
- Step 2: A two-dimensional map will be presented. Individuals will be asked to place their top three systems changes with axes along:
- urgent to important; and
- local to distant (Pepper, 1934; Tolman and Brunswik, 1935).
- Step 3: In groups, each individual will be asked to show their mappings, and provide background for having prioritized those interests.
- Step 4: Authentic systems thinking orders synthesis (putting thing together) before analysis (taking things apart). Each group will be encouraged to attempt to synthesize its priorities across its participants.
- Step 5: One reporter from each group will reflect on their collective experience on reordering priorities.
Artifacts and comments from the group reports will be collected for summarization, possibly for publication in the proceedings. This knowledge-creating exercise will be used to refine methods for groups engaging in action learning.
The Systems Changes Learning Circle (founded 2019) is a group convening at the Centre for Social Innovation (Toronto) emerging from Systems Thinking Ontario (founded 2012). We include postgraduates and instructors from the Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program at OCADU in Toronto. Our content at licensed as Creative Commons at http://systemschanges.com . We cooperate with the Open Learning Commons at http://openlearning.cc , and the Digital Life Collective at http://diglife.com
Emery, Fred E., and Eric L. Trist. 1965. “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18 (1): 21–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872676501800103.
Ing, David. 2013. “Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World.” Systems Research and Behavioral Science 30 (5): 527–47. https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.2229.
Ing, David. 2017. Open Innovation Learning: Theory Building on Open Sourcing While Private Sourcing. Toronto, Canada: Coevolving Innovations Inc. https://doi.org/10.20850/9781775167211.
Khan, Zaid, and David Ing. 2019. “Paying Attention to Where Attention Is Placed in the Rise of System(s) Change(s).” In Proceedings of the RSD8 Symposium. IIT – Institute of Design, Chicago, Illinois: Systems Design Association. https://systemic-design.net/rsd-symposia/rsd8-2019/systems-change/.
Pepper, Stephen C. 1934. “The Conceptual Framework of Tolman’s Purposive Behaviorism.” Psychological Review 41 (2): 108–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0075220.
Ramírez, Rafael, John W Selsky, and Kees van der Heijden. 2008. “Conceptual and Historical Overview.” In Business Planning for Turbulent Times: New Methods for Applying Scenarios, edited by Rafael Ramírez, John W. Selsky, and Kees van der Heijden, 17–30. Earthscan. http://doi.org/10.4324/9781849774703.
Tolman, Edward C., and Egon Brunswik. 1935. “The Organism and the Causal Texture of the Environment.” Psychological Review 42 (1): 43. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0062156.
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What did the Systems Changes Learning Circle learn, in this session?
One major learning was that we were not posing the triggering workshop question most productively. Our prompts and exampled lea participants to think about systems changes more personally (psychologically), and less about groups that they might represent or facilitate (sociologically).
This point would be included in the workshops that followed, later in the month.
Slides are available at systemschanges.com .