Coevolving Innovations

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Concluding 3 intensive weeks of content immersion, eight student groups created infographics of the ideas that resonated with them from the “Systems Thinking 2” class in the Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University.  Each group had been given 3 weeks in advance to prepare content to lead a learning discussion, staking a position on a list of references.  As students participated in the intensive sessions, the broader contexts reshaped those positions into a broader appreciation of the breadth of systems thinking. The initial positions and concluding syntheses were:

  • 1. Appreciative systems, futures → Into the Future with Systems Thinking
  • 2. Boundary, inquiry, perspectives → Systems thinking — synthesis
  • 3. Learning categories, postnormal science, ignorance → Systems Thinking from learning and knowledge making perspective
  • 4. Dialogue, engagement, intervention → Systems thinking from a dialogue perspective
  • 5. Ecosystems, collapse, resilience → What is the purpose of understanding the differentiation between complexity and complicatedness in systems thinking
  • 6. Coevolution, turbulence, anticipatory systems → Anticipatory systems, turbulence and coevolution
  • 7. Living systems, viable systems, metabolism → How to make STEW (Systems Thinking Endless Wisdom)
  • 8. Social-ecological systems, regime shifts → Systems? No problem!

The ending infographics represent a synthesis of the content from the course, each group having traced a different path. To rebalance team sizes, a few individuals migrated to a different group.  Some anchored more on the content they had led, while others chose to strengthen linkages to other ideas.

Into the Future with Systems Thinking

1. Appreciative systems, futures → Into the Future with Systems Thinking

Group 1 read through a cluster of references on appreciative systems and futures and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.

Appreciative systems, futures

The concluding infographic by Fahimeh Foutouhi, Petra Tammisto, Riikka Ikonen, Marta Jaakkola and Anna Muukkonen additionally swept in dialogues, learning, social ecological systems, complex systems and anticipatory systems.

See the Into the Future with Systems Thinking infographic as 900px width or as 600px width.

Systems thinking - synthesis

2. Boundary, inquiry, perspectives → Systems thinking — synthesis

Group 2 worked through a cluster of references on boundary, inquiry and perspectives and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.

Boundary, inquiry, perspectives

The concluding infographic by Miguel Fonseca, Annina Lattu and Jennifer Pitkänen put a higher emphasis on learning (a cluster of references led by Group 3), wrapping in ideas of resilience, turbulence, anticipatory systems on top the content for which they were primarily responsible.

See the Systems thinking — synthesis infographic as 900px width or as 600px width.

Systems Thinking from learning and knowledge making perspective

3. Learning categories, postnormal science, ignorance → Systems Thinking from learning and knowledge making perspective

Group 3 focused on a cluster of references on learning categories, postnormal science and ignorance and a map of the basic ideas to produce a presentation slide set.

Boundary, inquiry and perspectives

The concluding infographic by Emma Berg, Melanie Wolowiec and Lilli Mäkelä added in participation, judgement and anticipation, with larger contexts of cultural systems and biotic systems.  Additionally, they charted a reference timeline of the articles from the course depicting the importance of the content longitudinally.

See the Systems Thinking from learning and knowledge making perspective infographic as 900px width or as 600px width.

March 9th, 2016

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As part of the Master’s Program in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University, I’ll be in Finland for 3 weeks in February, as an instructor.  I’m doing this as a favour for Katri Pulkkinen, who has been teaching the course since 2010, and felt that she needed some extra time to work on her Ph.D. dissertation.

Systems Thinking 2 follows in a series of compulsory courses, each with specified learning outcomes:

  • Creative Teamwork: “The course focuses on working methods co-operation practices within the studies and the professional field of sustainability”.
  • Creating the Mindset of Sustainable Societies: “To create the common ground of sustainability studies and to learn to deal with different scopes of sustainability concept in complex environments. Understanding mindsets and sustainable societies: what this means in political, governmental, business, organizational, individual and groups/community levels”.
  • Systems Thinking 1: “Learning the basics of the systems thinking approach in the context of sustainability. The students who have participated actively in the intensive course will be able to use the basic vocabulary and concepts of the systems thinking approach. The students also develop their skills in working and presenting ideas in multi-disciplinary teams”.
  • Systems Thinking 2: “Learning how systems thinking can be applied in questions of sustainability in different fields. During this intensive course, the students familiarize themselves with different ways of using the systems approach to tackle problematic situations. The aim is to understand both the versatility of the systems approach and the importance of choosing the right systems tools for each case. The students learn to interpret and present systems thinking ideas and to apply them to their own field”.

The official content of the course is delivered in intensive sessions:

  • During this intensive course, the students study materials from different sources and make presentations to the course, using a peer learning method. The reading materials cover several ideas of systems thinking applications. The intensive course consists of 4-5 days of lectures, team work and presentations, and individual learning diary and a final essay.

On January 12, my colleagues Susu Nousala and Glen Forde launched the course in a 2-hour session with orientation materials.  The course content is available on the open Internet at, and has been evolving over the past week.

Map 00: Course content

The 25 students have been organized into 8 groups.  Each group is preparing to stake a position on a research reference cluster, to lead an hour discussion for the class.  The systems concepts have been specified as:

January 18th, 2016

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Over in Finland, Gary Metcalf has just started teaching a systems thinking class in the Creative Sustainability program at Aalto University.  Speaking with him yesterday, he described a situation similar to that which I experienced last year:  graduate students intrigued by systems ideas, yet slightly overwhelmed with the shift in perspective; and an appreciation that an intensive class taught over eight days is a lot of territory to cover.  The scheduling of two courses — one in the fall, and one in the spring — fortunately allows some time for intuitions to naturally develop in reflection, between the two weeks of formal classes.  Learning is not a linear activity.

Students — who take these systems thinking courses as a requirement, not an elective — may wonder how these courses came to be.  I served as content creator for two new courses on systems thinking at Aalto University in October 2010 and in February 2011.  The ISSS Hull 2011 meeting provided me with an opportunity to summarize the context and thinking that went into developing the two systems thinking courses de novo for Aalto University.  This article — “Systems Thinking Courses in the Master’s Programme on Creative Sustainability at Aalto University: Reflections on Design and Delivery of the 2010-2011 Sessions” — is available on the Coevolving Commons, and published in the Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS.  At ISSS Hull 2011, the outline was presented as a map.

Map: Systems Thinking Courses in the Master's Programme in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University

Some people will be interested in the course content per se.  The artifacts for CS0004 in October 2010 and CS0005 in February 2011 continue to be available as open courseware accessible over the Internet.  (Gary has now taken responsibility to evolve that content).  As I wrote descriptions about the course journey, the article itself surfaced systemic perspectives.  In order to describe CS0004 (in section 4) and CS0005 (in section 5), the preconditions of the context (in section 2) and an implicit design approach (in section 3) came to the fore.  The five sections of the resulting article are:

November 2nd, 2011

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In February, I returned to Finland to teach the Systemic Thinking for Planners and Designers CS0005 course in the master’s program in Creative Sustainability at Aalto University.  I had previously blogged about teaching and learning from the Systemic Thinking for Sustainable Communities CS0004 course in October.  The February course was again intensive, this time on a Friday-Tuesday-Friday schedule.

All of the course content is available as open source in a directory at .  Here’s a map outlining the course.

The style of the classes again centered on a list of references from which students could select according to personal interests, supplemented by lectures outlined with context maps.  The course outline was provided as long form text that evolved online during the week.  Written responses from students were most frequently posted on public blogs, with notifications and responses on the Systemicists Forum on the Systems Community of Inquiry, with separate threads for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and the final essays.

The first lecture for CS0005 was a quick review of the first topic for CS0004 in October, foundations for a systems approach.  This turned out to be a worthwhile activity, as the students (and my co-instructors!) had mulled over the basic ideas of systems for four months, resulting in more reflection and questions than I was expecting.

This background in the first lecture continued with a discussion of method frameworks.

April 25th, 2011

Posted In: education, services, systems

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