We are currently witnessing a new wave of systems enthusiasm among philanthropic and development organizations eager to be identified as system leaders, with a host of implementing organizations and development partners aligning around reinvigorated calls for “systems change.” But systems change is not new: since the beginning of the last century, disciplines ranging from biology to psychology adopted system perspectives to, as Magnus Ramage and Karen Shipp put in their historical reflection on systems thinkers, “make sense of the complexity of the world [by looking] at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than splitting it down into its parts and looking at each in isolation.”
We recently hosted a “Frank Conversation about Systems” with senior decision-makers from the philanthropic and development sectors to explore these questions. And although the conversation found no consensus on the first two, the group identified a long list of pathological behaviors upheld by numerous organizations deemed incompatible with a system perspective, what we’ve come to call the “Thou Shalt Nots” of systems thinking. For those committed to adopting system perspectives in their work and in their organizations, we offer the following account of our “frank conversation” as a reality check intended to ground decisions in a realistic assessment of the opportunities and potential stumbling blocks.
We’ve organized these stumbling blocks into four key areas: Processes, Cognition and Attitudes, Values, and Roles and Success Criteria.
To enable progress on this thinking, we are reaching out to you for sharing your ideas for your own “Thou Shalt Not” list and for ways of overcoming the barriers that prevent our organizations from adopting systems perspectives effectively.
Read the full article about systems change by Christian Seelos, Sara Farley & Amanda L. Rose at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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