Thinking about problems as systems of relationships has a very long history. I ran across it in the 70’s when I was trying to understand how change worked. Every 10 years or do, there is a resurgence of interest in systems thinking. It makes intuitive sense that seeing the problem of focus in the larger world in which the problem exists should make it easier to solve.
But systems theory is very abstract, and the history of the use of systems theory in problem solving is basically a path of trying to make it more practical. “Rich Pictures” (above) is one practical method, but there are a very large number of practical methods out there, and there is no easy way to pick one. Basically, if the tool resonates with you, you should learn more by using it. You develop the usefulness of systems thinking by trying to use it rather than by learning some specific magic-bullet method. Systems thinking is a way to frame advocacy problems and advocacy strategy, not a way to replace a leaky faucet in your kitchen.
Advocacy problems are part of a class of systems called “complex”. In complex systems. parts and relationships between parts are changed at least a little every time there are interactions. You can compare complex with complicated (like a 787plane) in which the relationships between the parts change, but not the parts themselves (a changing part is a red flag of danger). When we try to alter a target system because of a rights problem that we either heard about or discovered. we are trying to change the way the system works (and in the process we are changing ourselves). ‘
If this description reminds you of an ecosystem, that’s because ecology is the index example of a complex system, and all complex systems share important similarities. I’ll be discussing some of those similarities in future posts.
Next Post: Systems Age Just Like You and Me