Systems Thinking

During 2022 and onwards, IPANZ will regularly be focussing on systems, and the thinking and actions needed to work effectively with systems beyond the boundaries of our organisations and sectors.

This is a brief introduction to a definition of systems thinking and the first steps in thinking in this way. We would welcome ideas/articles/blogs or the work of great thinkers in this area, just contact us with your recommendations.

How is Systems Thinking Defined?

Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work overtime and within the context of larger systems. ... According to systems thinking, system behaviour results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes.

One helpful way of thinking about systems is that the core of the solutions lay not with the constituent parts, but with the interconnections.

Why is it Important for the Public Sector?

Complexity is a core feature of most policy issues today and in this context traditional analytical tools and problem-solving methods no longer work. Systems thinking treats public services as complex adaptive systems and this way of thinking offers an alternative route to developing solutions and increasing system performance.

System ideas are most appropriate when dealing with problems which are unbounded in scope, time and resources and enjoy no clear agreement about exactly what a solution would look like or the multiple ways in which it could be achieved.

The Starting Point is Analysing How You Think

Starting with each public sector professional, it is vital to evaluate one’s own thinking and assumptions. More mechanistic thinking assumes more control, more predictability and more linear impact that is the reality in a complex system. The ability to grasp the bigger picture or a different perspective is not constrained by lack of information. It is achieved by challenging the way we each think. One question to put to yourself, that might assist is.

“What approach would I adopt if I accepted that this system cannot be controlled nor its behaviour predicted?”

These ideas have been taken from a number of DEMOS articles over the years. Still relevant today.