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Tuesday, July 26 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
Positive Systems Science: Using Positive Psychology to bring Systems Science to Life

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2777 This paper introduces Positive Systems Science (PSS), which combines the strength-based lens of positive psychology with the holistic lens of system science, with the ultimate goal of bringing about desired systems change that supports the well-being of living systems. Systems science is an interdisciplinary field that studies the nature of systems—from simple to complex. Positive psychology aims to empirically understand and build wellbeing, resilience, and optimal function in individuals, organizations, and communities (Seligman & Csikzsentmihalyi, 2000). Like a pair of spectacles, each lens is valuable in and of itself, but we suggest that the synthesis of the two fields transcends the value of either one alone. Systems theory draws from diverse disciplines, including biology, sociology, ecology, engineering, computer science and philosophy. It enables interdisciplinary dialogue between autonomous areas as well as within the science itself. Although there are numerous approaches within systems science, they share three common aspects: 1)A desire to understand inter-relationships; 2)A commitment to multiple perspectives and 3)An awareness of boundaries (Williams & van’t Hof, 2014). Despite its successes and the potential of the science to address the complexity of real world problems, system science has never captured the attention of a wide audience. There is a vast literature on systems theory and methods that newcomers can feel overwhelmed, with nowhere to start. New users have to master a large number of theories, ideas and techniques and a subscription to a particular view of what system thinking is. Further, there is a lack of research on its practical application. In contrast, positive psychology has successfully engaged researchers, professionals, policy makers, and the general public, with scholarship in the field increasing by 410% of the past decade (Rusk & Waters, 2015). It provides scientific understanding of the human psyche and methods for affecting mindsets, motivations, and individual behaviors. We suggest that positive psychology adds value to systems thinking theory by emphasizing the importance of mindsets and motivations, and methods for shifting individual behaviour. Further, drawing on its strategies for connecting with various audiences, positive psychology can help make systems tools more useable, practical, and engaging. As an example, we demonstrate how a commonly used systems framework, Peter Senge’s ‘system archetypes’ can be adapted and strengthened by interpreting the archetypes from a positive lens. We will show how making tools more user friendly invites researchers from other disciplines, policy makers and practitioners to try on parts of the theory and benefit without having to master a large number of ideas and techniques before they can apply them in their work and life. Notably, the popularity of positive psychology has come at the cost of application going well beyond the science, with interventions and programs blindly implemented while ignoring the complex context in which people reside. Systems science challenges positive psychology to add sophistication to the methods and theories, which better captures real world experiences. Systems tools can take positive psychology to a deeper level that will have more sustainable impact. Thus, systems science and positive psychology both have strengths and weaknesses, and we suggest that the synthesis of the two perspectives will create frameworks, tools, and applications that are greater than either perspective alone. Such an approach does not simply identify and address existing problems, but generates pathways toward yet unimagined futures.

avatar for Shankar Sankaran

Shankar Sankaran

Professor, School of the Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney
Vice President Research and Publications, International Society for the Systems Sciences. | IG Chair: Action ResearchSIG | | Shankar Sankaran specialises in project management, systems thinking and action research. He is a Core Member of a UTS Research Centre on Megaprojects . He teaches project management at post-graduate level, in particular, Systems Thinking for Managers; Negotiation and Conflict Management; and governance and... Read More →

Tuesday July 26, 2016 4:00pm - 4:30pm
ECCR 151

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