Talk:Systems Thinking

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David Alman • Thanks to Gene I have been in contact with Daniel Kim and now understand the sources of the Levels of Perspective framework.

Daniel confirms he is the author, and the framework was first published in a Pegasus Communications Article Volume 3 No 5 (June/July 1993) titled, Levels of Perspectives: “Firefighting” at Multiple Levels.

A later article that is on the web can be referenced at and the framework is in Daniel’s book “Organizing for learning”.

He says it is an adaptation of a core systems thinking framework that dates back to Senge (The Fifth Discipline) and even earlier to Forrester (Industrial Dynamics).

In the Fifth Discipline the original framework had three levels: Events, Patterns, and Structure (refer to Levels of Explanation image in Senge’s book, page 52). Shortly after the publication of The Fifth Discipline, Daniel and a number of colleagues began to tease apart the two different aspects of Structure into Systemic Structures and Mental Models. This four-level depiction is presented in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (pages 97 to 103) under “The four Levels of a systems view” and may be referred to, according to Daniel, as Levels of Understanding.

Thus: Levels of Explanation in the Fifth discipline has 3 levels; Levels of Understanding in the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook has 4 levels; and Levels of Perspectives in Daniel’s publications and Organizing for learning has 5 levels.

Thanks for reading and contributing.

PS this is a repost that includes a reset Google docs URL

See also:

from Kim Warren 13.03.10

This discussion seems to have departed a long way from the original focus ... system dynamics is not "like Zen" or difficult to define - it consists of just three axiomatic relationships: 1 - any performance of interest, of any system at any point in time depends on the current quantity at that time of accumulating asset-stocks [Crimes/day = fn(number of criminals) ... grass consumed/day = fn(number of rabbits)]] 2 - the current quantity of every asset-stock today is its quantity yesterday +/- any amount added or lost [criminals today = criminals yesterday + new criminals - criminals going straight or locked up ... rabbits today = rabbits yesterday + births - deaths] ... this is not an opinion, theory or statistical finding - it is axiomatic of how the world works, and is true for the entire history of every asset-stock, which is why it is meaningless to try to 'correlate' the current performance of any system with hypothetical causes 3 - the rate at which each asset stock changes depends on the current quantity of asset-stocks (including itself), actions taken, and exogenous factors [criminals added/day = fn(current criminals} : criminals removed/day = fn (the stock of police, sentencing decisions, demographic changes) ... rabbits born/day = fn(current rabbits) : rabbits dying/day = fn(current rabbits, current grass, current foxes, farmers' shooting, weather)]

All this can get complicated, so we use computers to simulate such systems - and in many cases the causality in expression[3] is difficult to discover, which makes the task difficult but not impossible.

Many people have focused on the feedback that arises from expression[3] and made the leap to claim that we can understand system behaviour simply by distilling the mental models of how diverse people *think* the system works - which with some skill and experience is just about possible in some cases. Others have gone further and suggested more mystical capabilities from "systems thinking" - all are welcome to do so, and some are successful with their work ... but none of that makes any difference to the core, rock-solid "theory" that is system dynamics. Like any theory, these statements about how the world works should survive the ultimate scientific test - falsification - so if anyone can describe any system whose performance-over-time does not conform with the 3 statements above, we need to hear of it. By Kim Warren: FSMS, FStratPS

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