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Monday, July 25 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Discussion: Towards Systems Literacy - The Role of Systems Research

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2886 This workshop will further develop the initiatives of the Systems Research Team (SRT), which met for the second time at the 2016 IFSR Conversation in Linz, Austria. This workshop furthers the development of the SRT’s work by integrating the 2014 and 2016 teams into a collaborative cohort of researchers, scholars and practitioners in the Systems Sciences. The combined SRT consists of: Mary Edson (team leader), Pam Buckle Henning, Tim Ferris, Debora Hammond, Andreas Hieronymi, Ray Ison, John Kineman, Louis Klein, Gary Metcalf, George Mobus, Nam Nguyen, David Rousseau, Shankar Sankaran, and Will Varey with consulting team member, Peter Tuddenham. Some of the primary goals of the SRT are to educate, inform, and invite engagement by interested individuals and institutions from diverse fields and disciplines in the Systems Sciences through Systems Research and Systems Literacy. BackgroundThe two meetings of the SRT have developed two streams of value to the Systems Sciences. The first stream, started in 2014, focused on development of systems researchers and the body of knowledge. The second stream, started in 2016, focuses on role of Systems Research in the Systems Literacy Initiative. The 2014 SRT’s focus was answering the question, “What distinguishes Systems Research from other types of research,” an internal focus intended to provide grounding for researchers new to the Systems Sciences. The outcome of this phase of the SRT’s work was the publication of a book, A Guide to Systems Research: Philosophy, Processes and Practice (Springer, 2016). The 2016 SRT’s focus is on reaching out to a broader community to provide a foundation for Systems Literacy. The team’s Conversation revolved around the question, “How can Systems Research be in service to Systems Literacy?” The team’s conversations were directed into two essential aspects, separate and integrated, of this question. In one aspect, Systems Research serves Systems Literacy by providing a credible foundation for the principles and practices of Systems Science and Systems Thinking in both systematic and systemic modes. In the other aspect, Systems Research provides a neutral frame for development of ethical applications of those principles and practices. The development of Systems Research in support Systems Literacy is the ongoing collaboration of the SRT. This workshop focuses on that development.Workshop DescriptionThe workshop will be conducted in two parts. In the first part, the SRT will review and revisit the team’s work to date, creating a foundation for development during this session. Two of the three hours of this workshop will be a working session devoted to unpacking the eight critical factors identified during the 2016 IFSR Conversation. These factors will serve as a basis for a Knowledge Base (KB) and an Investment Portfolio (IP) for Systems Literacy (SL). This portion of the workshop will be guided by David Rousseau (KB) and Ray Ison (IP). A Systems Analysis, guided by George Mobus, will further define and distinguish these critical factors as part of a SR/SL KB and IP. Further details of this process are provided in the following description (see Background). In the second part (the third hour) the SRT invites students, as well as researchers and other interested participants, to join a discussion about the newly published, Guide to Systems Research (see above). In this part of the session, how Systems Research contributes to establishment of a reliable KB from which SL can create a set of foundational principles will be explored, as well as identify systemic sensibilities for a broader audience.Why: Systems Research in Service to Systems LiteracyMotivation for development of a KB through SR for SL comes from theoretical and practical sources. The SRT recognizes the exigency in development of foundational principles of Systems Science and Systems Thinking that can be effectively adopted and disseminated through Systems Literacy. The team’s narrative begins with an understanding the urgency for application of Systems Sciences and Systems Thinking to wicked problems (Malik, 2016; Churchman, 1967; Rittel, 1973) and messes (Ackoff, 1974/97). Systems Research is typically a slow generation of results; however, the body of knowledge gained through this process can be confidently used to address complexity in timely ways. The criticality of the need for salient approaches to complexity is shown in a graphic representation of some possible trajectories of applying or not applying these Systems principles in practice. The ApproachThe choice of how we respond to these issues relates to a process model that can be applied. Through understanding the relationship of the process model to the trajectory, the team directed its focus to developing a MindMap of eight essential aspects or features of how Systems Research can support Systems Literacy. These include: Systems Science knowledge base, roles and personas, maturity models, role profile, ontology/vocabulary, perspective/framing choice, frameworks, and political ecology. Each of these eight has its own process of unpacking, which was demonstrated to the Conversation participants using the knowledge base. The eight relate to unpacking the Systems landscape in a coherent but loosely coupled investment portfolio (economic, social, and relational) for building systemic sensibility in such a way as to be dis/aggregated for different audiences.  After identifying eight, critical factors or components that form the structural aspects of the process our team decided to explore these factors further. The team developed a mind map of the critical factors (or ways of knowing) and developed separate mind maps of each of the factors. These factors need further unpacking (clarification, definition, and distinction), as well as systems analysis, to refine the process model that was developed during the Conversation. The purpose of this process is not about increasing the amount of systems books and papers in the KB, but to connect the relevance of this KB in supporting SL toward effecting change in the world as ethically determined through stakeholder engagement. As a natural result of this discussion, a cascade of more questions emerged such as, “How can we bridge the perceived gap between academic knowledge and real-world practice,” and “What are the necessary intermediary factors from insight to impact?”
Systems Landscape and Systemic SensibilitiesRay urged the team to frame the next steps of the contribution of the SRT (or rebranded as  the ‘Landscape of Systems Knowing Inquiry’) as we devised a ‘first-cut’ model (Figure 2 and Table 1) of an ‘investment portfolio’ as a device to aid on-going inquiry by us, as well as a means to organize and report on our work and that of other groups committed to supporting transitions to systemic literacy (systemic sensibility + [systems science + systems thinking in practice or STiP]) (Blackmore, C., Reynolds, M., Ison, R. & Lane, A., 2015).  We understand investment to include financial, individual, intellectual, group, organizational, philanthropic, among other characteristics or attributes, and the ‘portfolio’ to be designed drawing on concepts of self-organization, open-source protocols, and easy refinement for different purposes/investors.  As outlined earlier we identified eight elements of a possible system to enhance the quality of systems knowing, though the possible systemic relations among these eight are yet to be established, understood and articulated (e.g. there may need to be more or less). We suggest that in a 'first-cut' portfolio design each of these eight elements needs to utilize/complete the following template:• What is the element - characterize it?• Why is it important?• What is a story (narrative) or case study about it - of need, failure, success, etc.?• Suggest possible 'investment' agendas or pathways - who; how; when?Monitoring and evaluation systems against agreed, yet adaptable, measures of performance are needed ‘in service’ of moving towards systemic literacy. Controlling action will also be needed. These ‘systems’ will also require a conducive institutional/organizational platform from which to operate and thrive.Conclusions and RecommendationsThe SRT’s Conversation focused on the question, “How can Systems Research be in service to Systems Literacy?” To reiterate, discussions were coalesced into two essential aspects. First, Systems Research serves Systems Literacy by providing a credible foundation for the principles and practices of Systems Science and Systems Thinking in both systematic and systemic ways. Second, Systems Research provides an impartial, dispassionate frame for development of ethical and effective applications of those principles and practices.In the team’s view, successful programs in Systems Literacy will be grounded in Systems Research encompassing: 1.) a history of systems thinking (context, sources, and development of key ideas – principles expressed in clear language); 2.) literature of systems (a canon of essential theory, results of practice, and criticism); and 3) tr...

avatar for Mary Edson

Mary Edson

President, maredson.s3@gmail.com
Mary Edson is President of the International Federation for Systems Research.  As a Scholar/Practitioner whose major interests are in Complex Adaptive Social Systems, she teaches courses in Executive Leadership, Strategic Project Management, and Talent Management including Diversity... Read More →

Monday July 25, 2016 3:30pm - 5:00pm MDT
ECCR 139 Engineering Building, University of Colorado

Attendees (2)