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Systems Thinking

Systems thinking provides concepts, principles and methods that enables a big picture view of the implementation process. No intervention can address every aspect of a problem, so appreciating multiple perspectives, multiple levels and multiple relationships is critical to ensure boundaries are appropriately drawn around a problem and intervention. Soft systems thinking, which utilises systems ideas to think about problems, involves:

  1. Making sure to engage with diverse perspectives around what the problematic situation is

  2. Building up a ‘rich picture’ of the problematic situation by paying attention to how issues are inter-connected, unintended consequences, dominant voices, who is marginalised  

  3. Reflecting on the different understandings of improvement and how boundaries constrain what counts

  4. Drawing on a variety of methods to address key issues in order to ensure that the intervention is responsive to stakeholder needs.

The system thinking approach involves engagement with multiple stakeholders (similar to what is done with community engagement to ensure representativeness) to develop a rich/complex picture of the problematic situation.

We consider how issues influence each other, feedback loops in the systems (how one thing affects others to create balance or create change in the system), intended and unintended consequences, and whose voices are dominant and whose are marginalised.


We then consider the boundaries that should be drawn around the problem such as who is included, where we will do it, what services are included, etc. From here we make choices about the intervention and select the methods of implementation to ensure we meet stakeholder needs.

Stakeholder is somewhat of a loaded term as many prefer to be called partners in the process; we are using stakeholders here as it is reflective of the literature although our stakeholders are more than interested parties.

 

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