Background

Our intent in developing the Systemic Insight logic is to support people who want to make a difference. This is a delicate thing. We live in a time where the dominant worldview on how change happens in the world is at odds with an emergent understanding of how the world works. Much can go wrong at this moment. 

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The dominant view on how change happens is based on formulating a clear objective – an ideal future state –, an understanding of causally connected steps to get there – closing the gap between the now and the ideal future state –, and the ability to develop a plan of what to do to get there. The emergent understanding in contrast paints a picture of life as a complex dynamic system that defies linearity; a system that is entangled and dispositional, rather than linearly and materially causal. There are numerous observations on how direct correctives based on a linear understanding of the world have not achieved what they wanted to achieve but have lead to unintended consequences and more problems down the line. Yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems. 

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We developed Systemic Insight with an understanding of the world as being complex, dynamic and interdependent. Change is continuous, not limited to a discreet amount of time with a clearly definable before and after. Yet there are stabilities and trajectories we can map and explore. Shaping trajectories is about engaging relational and co-evolutionary processes between various contexts and actors. We developed Systemic Insight with an understanding that defining an objective and implementing interventions is not always the right thing to do. Sometimes different things need to happen before. It is a way of thinking about situations and enables teams, organisations and communities to make sense of their situation in order to act in more meaningful ways. 

Systemic Insight is about becoming more aware of the present, so that we can act collectively. At its heart it is about a process of search and discovery. It reveals the opportunities to explore, and will allow us to adapt our perception and behaviour and to create a new dynamism and new or different relations. It can be used by communities, people from within an organisation, or people who represent different organisations that want to learn and explore together.

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It is intended as an instrument for those people who have interest in understanding the complexities of human societies, who are appreciate looking into different contexts and how they interrelate and interdepend, and value starting from a position of humbleness towards what change can be achieved through their interventions. It is for people who are committed to doing the work to gain systemic insight and want to play a more active part in the interplay of beings.

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At this point we also need to point out that this is not intended to be a linear process flowing through the elements in the sequence they are presented here. The medium we are using forces us to choose a sequence and we chose the sequence that we think makes the most sense if you are at the very beginning of a process. Over time, however, all of the elements will be continuously present and shape the questions you ask and the discussions you are having as a group. Some elements might be emphasised more strongly at certain moments, while others remain more in the background for a time. Yet the full collection of elements is what we think is needed for a coherent process of learning and discovery in a complex human system.

Disrupting our entrained patterns of thinking

Our perception, sense-making and action are guided by entrained patterns of thinking. These stem from our education and our personal histories and experiences and are rooted in our society and culture. Some are even hard-wired in our body, as the way the brain makes sense of sensory inputs is based on a co-development of these inputs in throughout our lives and the experiences they evoke.

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To disrupt entrained patterns of thinking we need to start our explorations from a place of not knowing, assess situations with a beginner’s mind. We can intentionally put ourselves at a loss in which we cannot explain what is going on in order to evoke curiosity and wonder to find out what is really going on. Putting oneself at a place of not knowing can happen for example by adding more context to an issue, more granularity. As long as we stay on an abstract, conceptual level we often think we know what is going on. But when we dive into specifics of a context, we do not know all of what influences/modulates a situation. Adding more different contexts also helps. For example, while we might be able to see how we can solve a problem from a commercial point of view, we do not necessarily know how the culture plays into the current state of the problem, or politics, or education, or family. 

Who is the ‘we’ in Systemic Insight?

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One of the key questions when using Systemic Insight as an approach to systems work is how to decide whom to include in the processes. Our practical experience is that starting with a small group of committed people works best, as it allows a network to be grown as we progress. We are also often asked whether these processes work best when they are initiated by people who live in a place or whether an outside organisation like a foundation or charity can initiate change processes. We lean towards working with local decision makers who are deeply embedded in the social context and who can adapt measurement systems, resource allocation and priorities based on an evolving local context. It is their ability to make locally informed decisions about priorities, resource allocation and appropriate measurements that matters the most.