Systems Thinking For Social Change : A Practica...
How do these unintended consequences come about and how can we avoid them? By applying conventional thinking to complex social problems, we often perpetuate the very problems we try so hard to solve, but it is possible to think differently, and get different results.
Systems thinking for social change : a practica...
Systems Thinking for Social Change enables readers to contribute more effectively to society by helping them understand what systems thinking is and why it is so important in their work. It also gives concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning without becoming a technical expert.
David Peter Stroh is a founding partner of Bridgeway Partners ( www.bridgewaypartners.com ) and a founding director of www.appliedsystemsthinking.com. He was also one of the founders of Innovation Associates, the consulting firm whose pioneering work in the area of organizational learning formed the basis for fellow cofounder Peter Senge's management classic The Fifth Discipline. David is internationally recognized for his work in enabling people to apply systems thinking to achieve breakthroughs around chronic, complex problems and to develop strategies that improve system-wide performance over time.
I don't know of another book in this field that presents the ideas of systems thinking in such a clear and practical way, with so many real-world examples."--Janice Molloy, managing editor, Reflections: The SoL NorthAmerica Journal on Knowledge, Learning, and Change
"Drawing on a deep well of experience, Stroh masterfully weaves metaphor, story, and practical tools, modeling for us all effective systems thinking in action. Read it and get ready to take your game up a notch."--Linda Booth Sweeney, author of Connected Wisdom, and coauthor of the The Systems Thinking Playbook
What makes a good old-fashioned mystery so much fun? In part, the enjoyment lies in the opportunity to gather clues along the way and figure out who committed the crime and why. In his book Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results, systems thinking pioneer David Peter Stroh, a founding partner of Bridgeway Partners and director of www.appliedsystemsthinking.com, draws a parallel between efforts to solve seemingly intractable social problems and the mystery stories many of us love. Instead of asking "Who done it?" however, Stroh suggests that those working to bring about social change should ask, "Why have we not been able to solve the complex social problems that plague us in spite of our best intentions and efforts?"
A prime example of linear thinking is the idea that providing temporary shelter for the chronically homeless will end homelessness. But while shelters would seem to be the most humane and timely response to homelessness, writes Stroh, they're actually an ineffectual "quick fix" that divert time, effort, and resources away from a more lasting, systemic solution such as providing permanent housing. A more systemic solution to homelessness also would improve relationships among all stakeholders, including the people who provide support services to the homeless as well as homeless people themselves. As Stroh notes, the people who are supposed to benefit from social change are "too often excluded" from the actual planning process intended to drive that change. Thinking systemically, he adds, forces changemakers to focus on the people who have the most at stake.
Another example of conventional linear thinking cited by Stroh is America's reliance on mandatory "get-tough" prison sentences. As a growing number of studies have shown, the policy often backfires, in that it distracts the justice system, policy makers, and other stakeholders from addressing the root causes of many crimes while doing nothing to prevent a large percentage of ex-offenders from ending up back in prison. As Stroh writes, "[P]olicy makers who want to protect society from addicts (homeless people suffering from substance abuse or drug addicts who commit crimes) can ironically become addicted to solutions that exacerbate these social problems in the long run."
From such patterns emerge what Stroh calls "systems archetypes," which in turn go a long way toward explaining the root causes of many stubbornly intractable problems. These archetypes include "Fixes That Backfire" (e.g., the above-mentioned "solutions" for homelessness and crime), "Shifting the Burden" (when we know we need to address the root causes of a problem instead of its symptoms but don't invest the resources needed to create long-term change), "Accidental Adversaries" (where groups that should be collaborating unintentionally undermine one another's efforts), and "Success to the Successful" (where the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer). But there's hope. While we too often find ourselves caught in a web comprised of these archetypes, Stroh writes, "the better people understand them, the less likely they are to become victimized by them."
And this is where Stroh's main practical contribution, the systems map, comes into play. Systems maps, he writes, are a form of "visual storytelling" that helps stakeholders recognize problematic plot lines and patterns and identify key leverage points for change. For example, a map might diagram negative feedback loops that need to be interrupted, reveal early opportunities for intervention, or highlight mutually beneficial partnerships. What's more, a good systems map is simple enough to be readily understandable but complex enough to account for the diverse factors that drive a destructive dynamic. Indeed, those who witness the creation of a good systems map often experience a "eureka" moment.
Stroh also does a good job orienting readers who are altogether unfamiliar with the holistic systems thinking approach. "Organizations and social systems do in fact have a life of their own," he writes, and we need to better understand the various forces at play in order to "consciously work with them instead of unconsciously working against them." Systems thinking involves fine-tuning the relationships between the various parts of a system so that everyone involved can see how his or her work contributes to the whole.
Donors, leaders of nonprofits, and public policy makers usually have the best of intentions to serve society and improve social conditions. But often their solutions fall far short of what they want to accomplish and what is truly needed. Moreover, the answers they propose and fund often produce the opposite of what they want over time. We end up with temporary shelters that increase homelessness, drug busts that increase drug-related crime, or food aid that increases starvation. How do these unintended consequences come about and how can we avoid them? By applying conventional thinking to complex social problems, we often perpetuate the very problems we try so hard to solve, but it is possible to think differently, and get different results. Systems Thinking for Social Change enables readers to contribute more effectively to society by helping them understand what systems thinking is and why it is so important in their work. It also gives concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning without becoming a technical expert. Systems thinking leader David Stroh walks readers through techniques he has used to help people improve their efforts to end homelessness, improve public health, strengthen education, design a system for early childhood development, protect child welfare, develop rural economies, facilitate the reentry of formerly incarcerated people into society, resolve identity-based conflicts, and more. The result is a highly readable, effective guide to understanding systems and using that knowledge to get the results you want. 041b061a72