Systems Thinking: A Powerful Approach to Problem-Solving
Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.
Life is about making choices- whether as individuals, organizations or societies. All our choices have consequences- some immediate and some longer term, some that we seek, and others unintended. These consequences depend on networks of cause and effect inter-relationships called Systems.
A system is a set of parts which interact to function as a whole. Human beings, organizations, the world are all systems. To make better choices we need to understand the dynamics of these systems.
Interventions that do not consider the larger system can bite back with serious consequences. Take the case of bio-fuels which have been touted as a solution for air pollution; the US mandated the use of corn ethanol in automobile fuel in the late 90s. However, many experts believe that this led to spiralling food prices and food shortages globally. In Dec 2007, The Economist magazine said “The demands of America’s ethanol programme alone account for over half the world’s unmet need for cereals; without that programme, food prices would not be rising anything like as quickly as they have been”. In order to solve problems for the long-term we need to understand the true root causes of those problems and identify interventions which address these problems without causing other issues in future.
In this course students will be introduced to two powerful techniques for understanding systems: Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modelling. Students will learn the rules of cause and effect and feedback which govern the performance of all systems in the universe. They will learn how to build and analyse models in software modelling tools such as “Vensim”. They will use these skills to identify the source of problems and then generate and evaluate potential solutions together. Through Systems Thinking they will see their power to change the future.
Global organisations including the UN, the WHO, the OECD and UNESCO advocate systems thinking approaches to tackle the world’s many complex wicked problems.