Friday, August 7, 2009

Guiding Principle 1 - Systems Thinking - Understanding Context

Guiding Principle 1) Systems Thinking – Understanding Context
Effective strategies in every human endeavor require that “context” be considered. In short, Systems Thinking aims to “contextualize” things and to steer clear of simple multi-disciplinary models. No project can be properly developed without carefully considering the context and repercussions of the proposed effort or change.

Gharajedaghi, 2006, describes “Systems Thinking” in extensive detail in “Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos & Complexity, a Platform for Designing Business Architecture”. And it is beyond the scope of this summary to discuss at length. In short, however, all endeavors should give serious consideration to the potential environmental, social, political, economic, and cultural/historical repercussions and implications as they interact in the human-natural environment.

As an economic, social and educational endeavor, the Rural Revitalization and Empowerment Strategy (RRES) should similarly consider the macro-scale impacts since a project of this scope touches all aspects of community life and will be instrumental in shaping future societies. However, we would also include two other “micro”- considerations that might best be termed human and spiritual as they relate to the foundations of our efforts to stimulate individual, personal empowerment that will then convert to community advancement.

Our strategy, discussed in greater detail below, is derived from the basic understanding that strategies aimed towards successful community empowerment require that we also comprehend the “opportunity space” objectively and comprehensively, and the ensuing impacts of our actions.

In general, historically and traditionally, human endeavors and scientific research (under the rubric of education) have tended to focus on independent multi-disciplinary pieces in which the whole is the sum of its associative parts. In our systems approach, we intend to look at the “big-picture”, identify and examine the various pieces, reassemble the “puzzle,” (Diagram 4) and then study it as an interactive system—a synthesis of processes, people, and subsystems which is the key to success. Evaluation is a critical element which is inherent throughout the process.

The complexity of endeavors to serve human needs effectively, efficiently and responsibly demands that a dynamic and adaptive approach be used. Systems Theory (or Thinking) provides a strong foundation for such an approach. Systems Thinking does not simply entail a multi-disciplinary approach; rather, the real issues related to dynamic and changing situations involving human systems and services (engineered) is to develop ways to synthesize separate findings into a coherent whole. This fact is far more critical than the ability to generate information from different perspectives. To illustrate our point, we use the elephant story found in Persian literature as narrated by Molana Jaladedin Molavi (Rumi). It is presented as a metaphor in which several men are attempting to identify an elephant in the dark. The effort proves fruitless until another man shows up with a light. Gharajedaghi (2006) Page 108-109 presents this perspective in the following:

“The light, which in this context is a metaphor for methodology, enables them all to see the whole at last. Rumi’s version of the story means that the ability to see the whole somehow requires an enabling light in the form of an operational systems methodology.” …. For our purpose here, … “one should be able to make one’s underlying assumptions about the nature of the socio-cultural systems explicitly known and verifiable to oneself.

Whatever the nature of the enabling light, my contention is that it must have two dimensions. The first dimension is a framework for reality, a system of systems concepts to help generate the initial set of working assumptions about the subject. The second dimension is an iterative search process to: 1) generate the initial working assumptions, 2) verify and/or modify initial assumptions, and 3) expand and evolve the emerging notions, until a satisfactory vision of the whole is produced. As Singer put it “Truth lies at the end, not at the beginning of the holistic inquiry” (Singer, 1959).

The challenges presented by our modern world, and agencies and institutions inadequate performance to rectify the “problems”, suggest that we consider “stepping-back” to gain new insights to develop solutions and more effective “holistic” approaches.

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