Applying the Systems Approach

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[[Category:Systems Thinking]]

Current revision as of 03:14, 22 September 2017

This is a general overview of applying a systems approach, for a specific example see Applying a Systems Approach to eHealth



Systems modelling is the application of a systemic perspective to conceptual mapping and computer simulation to produce effective action. The most important component is the initial qualitative reflection to select the scope, framing and relevant context to satisfy the concerns of those involved and those affected This reflection produces a concept map representation of these concerns and a clear statement of the variables of interest in the language and mental models of the participants. Using both theory and data, this static map can then be converted into a testable computational model of behavior of time. Computer simulation is now a mature and powerful tool for modeling systems to test how different factors may improve efficiency, effectiveness and equity in situations where it is not possible to conduct real-world experiments. We can test whether a policy will actually result in improvement in the right place and at the right time. Faced with future uncertainties we need to perform in silico experiments to design and test policies that cover a range of possible futures. These tools ensure policies are robust enough to withstand these future key uncertainties and help shape the future towards those options that deliver more desirable and sustainable ends for citizens of the world.

Fig. 1 - Applying the Systems Approach IM-1693

Real World Decision Making

Decisions are the method by which managers turn information into action. These actions produce outcomes, which change the information, resulting in further decisions. In joint activities of informing, deciding and acting, these collective processes require interaction, communication and coordination. Information can exist in many forms, including data, experience, empirical evidence, theory and relevant literature. In joint activities people need to share or communicate information and be persuaded by argument to take collective action.

Decision makers use simplified mental models to make sense of the world. They match perceived situations with these models and play out consequences of planned actions in their heads before acting (Klein). Mental models include selective use of key information, filtering of noise, and simplified heuristics or rules of thumb. For joint decisions, we need to learn shared views of the world, especially consensus about objectives and the consequences of actions.

All decisions occur in a context, which includes physical and social features. This context is the structure of the system, including the institutions and organisations, policies, social norms, values and goals. This context provides physical resource and social constraints on individual and group behaviours.

The Systems Approach

We adopt a Systemic Perspective and apply Critical Systems Thinking to real world projects and programs using Systems Methods.

  • The systems approach seeks to understand interactions among peoples’ viewpoints, values, perceptions and beliefs, in order to learn to take effective collective action.
  • It is an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific parts, outcomes or events and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences.

“The ultimate meaning of the systems approach lies in the creation of a theory of deception and in a fuller understanding of the ways in which the human being can be deceived about his world and in an interaction between these different (biased and deceived) viewpoints.

  • 1. The systems approach begins when first you see the world through the eyes of another
  • 2. The systems approach goes on to discovering that every world view is terribly restricted
  • 3. There are no experts in the systems approach
  • 4. The systems approach is not a bad idea.”

-C West Churchman The Systems Approach p.231

Systemic Frameworks

Qualitative inquiry and reflection

Identify and define the opportunity for improvement

Conceptualise the Problem Situation

Elicit Mental Models

The interim deliverable from the qualitative reflection phase is a concept map which is used as the input to the next phase of computational model building.

Model Formulation and Simulation

Simulation Testing and Evaluation

Virtual Intervention Experiments


The attached document is an extensive elaboration of the concepts of this page. The .doc file may be downloaded.
Questions & Comments to Geoff McDonnell
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