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2014 REGIONAL SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

TRANSITION SERIES: ASIA-PACIFIC WORKSHOP


www.systainabilityasia.com
Introduction to Systems Thinking

Robert Steele
Systainability Asia /
AtKisson Group
Chiang Mai,
Thailand
9 April 2014
System Thinking Session Objectives
Introduce concept, tools
and methods; of Systems
Thinking, especially for
capacity building
Stimulate Your Interest in
Systems Thinking
Provide some pportunity
for practice with some of
the tools and methods
Have you reflect on how
systems thinking can be
useful to your own work
Do we have thinking problem?
The destruction of the planet is not the work of
ignorant people. Rather it is largely the result of work
by people with BAs, BScs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs.

- Prof David Orr, Earth in Mind, 1995
The needed Transition From Analytical
(Linear) Thinking to System Thinking
Who am I?
! Founding Director of Systainability
Asia - a, Thailand based
multidisciplinary consulting and
training firm with a deep commitment
to helping others to achieve long-term
sustainable development in an
increasingly challenging global
environment.
! Senior Associate with AtKisson
Group - a global network of
professional trainers, consultants,
researchers, writers, etc., dedicated
to mainstreaming sustainability into
common practice.
What we do
" Organisation & Community
Sustainability planning, assessment
and reporting;
" Stakeholder engagement
" Sustainability and Systems thinking
leadership training and coaching;
" Education for Sustainable
Development (ESD) training,
consulting
!"##$%& (%) *+,& !-.$%&, /%0-")$1
Levl SLrauss & Co. - LrnsL & ?oung - nlke - 8aluc 21 (Lhe 11 nauons of norLhern Lurope) - Luropean SusLalnable
uevelopmenL neLwork - 8roLher, lnc. (!apan) - LarLh CharLer lnLernauonal - Swedlsh SluAs Advanced lnLernauonal
1ralnlng rograms - unlLed nauons ulvlslon for SusLalnable uevelopmenL Lgypuan nauonal Compeuuveness Councll
- CovernmenL of Slngapore - CreaLer new Crleans, lnc. - SLl?u (!apan) - SL8u - SLraLeglc LnvlronmenLal 8esearch
& uevelopmenL rogram (uS CovernmenL) - Sellger lorum 2010 (8ussla) - SusLalnable lashlon Academy - SLaLes of
Cueensland, vlcLorla, nSW, and SouLh AusLralla - SLockholm CounLy - SusLalnable Seaule - Pelnz LndowmenLs -
1oyoLa - unL - unu - nlle 8asln lnluauve - 8ank of lndonesla - volvo Cars

! #$%&'$ ()*+%,- .)./0'*). *%
121*'/('&/$/*3 1*,'*)#3 $)',(/(#4 '(. /(15/,'6%(

2-34+- (5-.+&$ +%) (,,30.+&$ 6$&73#8
www.atkisson.com
Tools, Methods and Processes
to Support CSR and Sustainable Development
ISIS Sustainability ACCELERATOR Toolkit

A Common Dilemma


Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
A Game about behavior systems, and
mental models
# 1he shlng lndusLry accounLs for a large parL of Cu and employees
a subsLanual number of people ln each of Lhe communlues
surroundlng Lhe CreaL Lake.
# Lach Lable Leam represenLs a a dlerenL llshlng Croup from one of
Lhe communlues surroundlng Lhe 2#$+& !$%&#+- 9+8$.
$ I|sh|ng Group 1: Local CommunlLy Cooperauve formed from
several close by communlues
$ I|sh|ng Group 2: lndependenL llsherman from one local
communlLy (you have a communlLy sherles commluee for maklng
[olnL declslons)
$ I|sh|ng Group 3: Mulu-nauonal llshlng Company
$ I|sh|ng Group 4: rlvaLe llshlng Company
The Game Scenario
Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
# All 4 groups' shlng eeLs share Lhe same shlng ground
(CreaL CenLral Lake)
# 1he 2#$+& !$%&#+- 9+8$ 0+% ,"::3#& + ;+<.;"; 3= >? @,A +&
+%B 3%$ C;$D 1hls ls lLs carrylng capaclLy.
# 1he game wlll sLarL wlLh Lhe lake havlng somewhere beLween
23 - 30 sh. 8uL you donL know Lhe exacL number.
# 1he game wlll be played for up Lo 10 shlng seasons wlLh each
company maklng one round of declslons per year.
# Lach new shlng season, your Leam musL declde how many
sh lL wlll Lry Lo harvesL LhaL year. ?ou wlll have 1 mlnuLe Lo
make your declslon each round of Lhe game.
The Game Rules
Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
% ?ou wlll lndlcaLe your Croup's )$,.#$) 0+&0A &+#E$& by wrlung
Lhe number on a sllp of paper, pumng Lhe sllp of paper ln your
shlp, and Laklng your shlp up fronL Lo Lhe game faclllLaLor.
% Lach sh (equal Lo 100,000 meLrlc Lonnes) ls worLh 1.3 mllllon
uS uollars
% 1he game faclllLaLor (1he Cod nepLune) wlll collecL and ll Lhe
orders randomly each season. 1he sh you caLch are reLurned
Lo you ln your shlp.
Important Note: If your order exceeds the number of fish remaining in the sea,
you receive no fish that year.
The Game Rules
Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
% Receive your ship and remove and count your fish. Record the
number of fish that you set as your year target, and the total
monetary value for your catch that you actually receive in the
table provided below.
% Prepare to start again for the next round.

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Total
Number of
fish
targeted
each year
Amount of
Money in
Sing $
received
Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
The Game Rules
0
# After all orders are processed, and your companys
ship is returned, the fish in the lake will regenerate
according to the graph below.
How the Lake will respond to shing
Source: Dennis Meadows and Linda Booth Sweeny. 2001, The Systems Thinking Playbook.
Fish added to the lake at the end of
the year

Fish added to the lake at the end of
the year

Fish remaining in the lake after
second year

Fish remaining in the
sea after one year

Maximum Carrying Capacity of the Great Lake

50 = max capacity of the lake
30
16
32
23
Lets go fishing!
ANY QUESTIONS?
Describe what transpired during the game? What
was the outcome?

Reections & Insights
Who was responsible for the result?
The Classic Tragedy of the Commons
Total Activity
Gain per
Individual
Activity
Resource
Limit
O
S
S
S
Time
A
Time
B
As Activity
Bs Activity
S
S
S
S
Net Gains
for A
S
S
GAML ANALSIS LkLkCISL



Asian RICE Pioject

A systems peispective is an effective means foi helping people gain an unueistanuing of the
unueilying stiuctuie that shapes events. The icebeig mouel is illustiateu below.
!"#$ &' Now give each table gioup of 4-6 paiticipants 1news aiticle fiom local, national oi
inteinational meuia souices ielateu to global waiming anu climate change, all with uiffeient topics
oi heaulines, but all shoulu have a cleai ielationship to climate change. These can be an aiticle
about most any issue, uiiectly ielateu to climate change, oi inuiiectly ielateu such as an
enviionmental uisastei, iising foou piices, watei issues, wilufiies, inciease in new infectious
uiseases, anu ecosystem uegiauation uue to encioachment by humans, to name a few examples.
Each gioup shoulu ieceive one aiticle. Also give each table gioup 1 sheet of butchei papei, anu 1 set
of pens.
!"#$ (' In theii gioups, have the gioups ieau theii aiticle anu use the icebeig mouel to analyze the
event anu look foi patteins anu ioot causes. Each gioup shoulu uiscuss togethei whethei they have
noticeu othei similai events in the news. Then have them biainstoim, uiscuss, anu list on a
sepaiate piece of papei all of the ioot causes they can think of that might contiibute to the event.
!"#$ )' Bave each gioup cieate an icebeig uiagiam of theii news aiticle by gluing oi taping the
aiticle onto the top of the papei, listing anu oi uiawing the patteins they have noticeu, anu finally
listing anuoi uiawing the unueilying ioot causes. Theii final uiagiam shoulu have a shape similai
to an icebeig with the news aiticle at the top (the event), the pattein below, anu the unueilying
causes at the bottom.
!*!+,- ./,0,12 -34,5
678"9: 78$$#;<;=>
?@ 678" 78: 78$$#;#A>
B8: "7<: 78$$#;#A C#D?@#>
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The key to navigating in systems, life anu inueeu icebeigs, is to see the whole system. Not just the inuiviuual
paits. As we move uown the icebeig we gain a ueepei unueistanuing of the systems anu at the same time
gain incieaseu leveiage foi changing the system oi it's iesults.
!J:"#I: N !"@EF"E@#
-#;"8H -?A#H
63
Why did it happen? What were some of the reasons?



Asian RICE Pioject

A systems peispective is an effective means foi helping people gain an unueistanuing of the
unueilying stiuctuie that shapes events. The icebeig mouel is illustiateu below.
!"#$ &' Now give each table gioup of 4-6 paiticipants 1news aiticle fiom local, national oi
inteinational meuia souices ielateu to global waiming anu climate change, all with uiffeient topics
oi heaulines, but all shoulu have a cleai ielationship to climate change. These can be an aiticle
about most any issue, uiiectly ielateu to climate change, oi inuiiectly ielateu such as an
enviionmental uisastei, iising foou piices, watei issues, wilufiies, inciease in new infectious
uiseases, anu ecosystem uegiauation uue to encioachment by humans, to name a few examples.
Each gioup shoulu ieceive one aiticle. Also give each table gioup 1 sheet of butchei papei, anu 1 set
of pens.
!"#$ (' In theii gioups, have the gioups ieau theii aiticle anu use the icebeig mouel to analyze the
event anu look foi patteins anu ioot causes. Each gioup shoulu uiscuss togethei whethei they have
noticeu othei similai events in the news. Then have them biainstoim, uiscuss, anu list on a
sepaiate piece of papei all of the ioot causes they can think of that might contiibute to the event.
!"#$ )' Bave each gioup cieate an icebeig uiagiam of theii news aiticle by gluing oi taping the
aiticle onto the top of the papei, listing anu oi uiawing the patteins they have noticeu, anu finally
listing anuoi uiawing the unueilying ioot causes. Theii final uiagiam shoulu have a shape similai
to an icebeig with the news aiticle at the top (the event), the pattein below, anu the unueilying
causes at the bottom.
!*!+,- ./,0,12 -34,5
678"9: 78$$#;<;=>
?@ 678" 78: 78$$#;#A>
B8: "7<: 78$$#;#A C#D?@#>
678" :"@EF"E@# <: A@<G<;=
"7<: $@?CH#I>
678"9: J?E@ E;A#@:"8;A<;=>
678" 8@# ?E@ C#H<#D: 8C?E" "7<:>
678" 8::EI$"<?;: 8@# K#
I8L<;= 8;A K7J>
M8""#@;: ?D
C#78G<?E@
,G#;":
L
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v
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a
g
e

L
e
v
e
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a
g
e

The key to navigating in systems, life anu inueeu icebeigs, is to see the whole system. Not just the inuiviuual
paits. As we move uown the icebeig we gain a ueepei unueistanuing of the systems anu at the same time
gain incieaseu leveiage foi changing the system oi it's iesults.
!J:"#I: N !"@EF"E@#
-#;"8H -?A#H
63
Instructions: Use the System Iceberg Worksheet to
Answer this question. Identify answers for each
layer of the iceberg.
# What would you change about how
you played the game if you could do
it over again?

Reections & Insights
# How would the outcome affect the different
sectors of the lake communities (i.e.
environment, economy, society, and individual
wellbeing)?
# What are some of the earlier, short-term
responses we might see?
# What might be more longer-term responses
(because of delay between cause and effect)?
Reections & Insights



Asian RICE Pioject

A systems peispective is an effective means foi helping people gain an unueistanuing of the
unueilying stiuctuie that shapes events. The icebeig mouel is illustiateu below.
!"#$ &' Now give each table gioup of 4-6 paiticipants 1news aiticle fiom local, national oi
inteinational meuia souices ielateu to global waiming anu climate change, all with uiffeient topics
oi heaulines, but all shoulu have a cleai ielationship to climate change. These can be an aiticle
about most any issue, uiiectly ielateu to climate change, oi inuiiectly ielateu such as an
enviionmental uisastei, iising foou piices, watei issues, wilufiies, inciease in new infectious
uiseases, anu ecosystem uegiauation uue to encioachment by humans, to name a few examples.
Each gioup shoulu ieceive one aiticle. Also give each table gioup 1 sheet of butchei papei, anu 1 set
of pens.
!"#$ (' In theii gioups, have the gioups ieau theii aiticle anu use the icebeig mouel to analyze the
event anu look foi patteins anu ioot causes. Each gioup shoulu uiscuss togethei whethei they have
noticeu othei similai events in the news. Then have them biainstoim, uiscuss, anu list on a
sepaiate piece of papei all of the ioot causes they can think of that might contiibute to the event.
!"#$ )' Bave each gioup cieate an icebeig uiagiam of theii news aiticle by gluing oi taping the
aiticle onto the top of the papei, listing anu oi uiawing the patteins they have noticeu, anu finally
listing anuoi uiawing the unueilying ioot causes. Theii final uiagiam shoulu have a shape similai
to an icebeig with the news aiticle at the top (the event), the pattein below, anu the unueilying
causes at the bottom.
!*!+,- ./,0,12 -34,5
678"9: 78$$#;<;=>
?@ 678" 78: 78$$#;#A>
B8: "7<: 78$$#;#A C#D?@#>
678" :"@EF"E@# <: A@<G<;=
"7<: $@?CH#I>
678"9: J?E@ E;A#@:"8;A<;=>
678" 8@# ?E@ C#H<#D: 8C?E" "7<:>
678" 8::EI$"<?;: 8@# K#
I8L<;= 8;A K7J>
M8""#@;: ?D
C#78G<?E@
,G#;":
L
e
v
e
i
a
g
e

L
e
v
e
i
a
g
e

The key to navigating in systems, life anu inueeu icebeigs, is to see the whole system. Not just the inuiviuual
paits. As we move uown the icebeig we gain a ueepei unueistanuing of the systems anu at the same time
gain incieaseu leveiage foi changing the system oi it's iesults.
!J:"#I: N !"@EF"E@#
-#;"8H -?A#H
63
Fisheries Collapse

What are some short
and longer term
responses to this event?
Are there any similar situations that
you can draw parallels to regionally
or globally?

Aral Sea, with 1957 Shoreline
The Case of the Aral Sea

. . . A real tradegy of the commons and a lesson in
sustainability
Aral Sea
The Tragedy of the Aral Sea
Root Causes of the Aral Sea Disaster
Cause: Diversion of rivers to irrigate cotton
Effect: Whole system impacts
6+&"#$
$ LcosysLem collapse
$ Loss of soll ferullLy

6+&"#$
$ LcosysLem collapse
$ Loss of soll ferullLy

F03%3;B
$ Loss of shery
$ Loss of lndusLrles &
agrlculLure
Cause: Diversion of rivers to irrigate cotton
Effect: Whole system impacts
6+&"#$
$ LcosysLem collapse
$ Loss of soll ferullLy

F03%3;B
$ Loss of shery
$ Loss of lndusLrles &
agrlculLure
G30.$&B
$ opulauon collapse
$ Collapse of lnsuLuuons

Cause: Diversion of rivers to irrigate cotton
Effect: Whole system impacts
6+&"#$
$ LcosysLem collapse
$ Loss of soll ferullLy

F03%3;B
$ Loss of shery
$ Loss of lndusLrles &
agrlculLure
G30.$&B
$ opulauon collapse
$ Collapse of lnsuLuuons

H$--4$.%E
$ 8esplraLory lllness
$ uepresslon and relaLed
problems
Cause: Diversion of rivers to irrigate cotton
Effect: Whole system impacts
A Whole System of Impacts
. . . and a collapse of a system
Nature
Ecosystem collapse
Loss of soil fertility

Economy
Loss of fishery
Loss of industries &
agriculture
Society
Population collapse
Collapse of institutions

Wellbeing
Respiratory illness
Depression and related
problems
The warning . . .
Systems can unravel faster
than one would ever expect
leading to outcomes
for which we are unprepared
The Aral Sea also began
responding to recovery
efforts ... faster than anyone
thought possible
Expected time required to
restore the North Aral Sea to 3
m depth:

5-10 years

Actual time:

7 months


Source:
SCIENCE, VOL 312, 14 APRIL 2006, p 183

BUT:
Aral Sea July 2011
& norLhern basln
sherles resLored
& WaLer allowed Lo splll
back lnLo Lhe cenLral
basln
!,'$ 7)' !2# 89:8
Phase 2 (2012)
A second phase [of resLorauon]
was announced recenLly LhaL wlll
brlng Lhe sea Lhe lasL 20 km back
home" [Lo Lhe shore of Aral ClLy,
ln Lhe norLh.

'l hope l wlll be able Lo have a
beer by Lhe sea ln my home Lown
by 2013!' exclalms Mr uanabaer
[a local sherman]." [1hls ls
doubuul, buL lL reecLs Lhe new
opumlsm ln Lhe area.]
13 Jan 2012
Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/kazakhstan/9012718/Will-the-Aral-Sea-ever-return.html
;%,*< !,'$ 7)' = 7'*)$$/*) 5<%*% '00)11). >/' ?%%#$)4 @'3 89:A
http://maps.google.se/maps?q=aral+city&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=EieRUcCJFKTf4QSnuYGoBw&ved=0CAsQ_AUoAg
!,'$ B/*3
The Hope of Systems Thinking
The same processes
that cause the world
to unravel
more quickly than we understand
can be harnessed
to help it re-ravel
more quickly than we expect
C
O
F
F
E
E
B
R
E
A
K
System Thinking
What is it?
Why is it important?
!"#$ #&' ()($'*(+
Systems are !
! groups of discrete
elements that work together to
make a whole.
Systems are bound together by the laws of cause and
effect, and governed by flows of information, energy and
materials.
Note: People give definition to systems based on an idea of
what should happen at a given point in time. Thus, systems
have a purpose.
System Thinking
' whaL depends on whaL,
' whaL ls causlng whaL,
' where are lnformauon ows,
' where conLrol declslons are made,
' whaL lnformauon ows are crlucal,
' And how besL Lo manage or
lnLervene ln Lhe sysLem for deslred
resulLs.
Systems thinking mind maps
731*)C1 D</(-/(# ls seeklng Lo undersLand Lhe
connecuons among elemenLs ln a sysLem

Systems Thinking helps us to . . ,
% . . . move Lhe focus away from evenLs and pauerns of
behavlor E+</0< ',) 13C5*%C1 %F 5,%&$)C1G and
Loward sysLemlc sLrucLure and Lhe underlylng menLal
models



Source: Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline, 1996.
How is quality of
life perceived?
Car Ownership
Mental Models
- ()($'*( #..&/#0" 1( $/ , , .
ID /)$%C=B + ,B,&$; J Aer all, noL all Lhlngs are sysLems. Some
sysLems are slmple and predlcLable, whlle oLhers are
complex and dynamlc. MosL human soclal sysLems are Lhe
lauer.
KD F<:-+.% &A$ 4$A+L.3# 3# :#3:$#C$, 3= &A$ 7A3-$ ,B,&$; J 1hls
focus on Lhe whole ls Lhe process of synLhesls. Analysls looks
lnLo Lhlngs whlle synLhesls looks ouL of Lhlngs.
MD F<:-+.% &A$ 4$A+L.3# 3# :#3:$#C$, of Lhe Lhlng Lo be
explalned ln Lerms of Lhe role(s) or funcuon(s) of Lhe whole.
Systems Thinking as a special language
# It uses terms like source, stock, flow, sink and feedback;
# It emphasizes wholes rather than parts, and stresses the role of
interconnectionsincluding the role we each play in the systems at work
in our lives.
# It emphasizes circular feedback (for example, A leads to B, which
leads to C, which leads back to A) rather than linear cause and effect
(A leads to B, which leads to C, which leads to D, . . . and so on);
# It contains special terminology that describes system behavior, such as
reinforcing process (a feedback flow that generates exponential
growth or collapse) and balancing process (a feedback flow that
controls change and helps a system maintain stability).
Systems Thinking as a Set of Tools
1he eld of sysLems Lhlnklng has generaLed a
broad array of Lools LhaL leL us:
(1) graphlcally deplcL your undersLandlng of a
parucular sysLem's sLrucLure and behavlor,
(2) communlcaLe wlLh oLhers abouL your
undersLandlngs of Lhe sysLem,
(3) deslgn hlgh-leverage lnLervenuons for
problemauc sysLem behavlor.
Systems Thinking as a Set of Tools
Some of these too|s |nc|ude:
' 8ehavlor Cver 1lme Craphs,
' SLock & llow dlagrams
' Closed Loop ulagrams (CLus)
' SysLems ArcheLypes.
Within AtKisson Group, we think that
1. A llule sysLems Lhlnklng ls beuer Lhan none
2. More ls beuer
3. Command of Lhe Lechnlcal Lerms and concepLs
ln sysLem dynamlcs ls noL necessary Lo geL
sLarLed (can come laLer)
4. Slmple sysLem skeLches can be done
collaborauvely and generaLe lmporLanL lnslghLs
abouL leverage polnLs
At a minimum, systems thinking is essential to
understanding sustainability challenges.
& . whlch delayed me from auendlng
a meeung wlLh governmenL omclals.
& Cne of Lhe causes menuoned by my
drlver was a large proLesL
downLown agalnsL food prlce
lncreases.
& ln Lhe nexL couple of days, l read a
number of seemlngly dlsconnecLed
sLorles ln Lhe newspapers . LhaL
acLually were noL so dlsconnecLed
lor example: ln 2008, l was slmng ln a Lramc [am ln !akarLa .
Try this Puzzle?
1o LesL your susLalnablllLy sysLems Lhlnklng skllls: N37 +#$ &A$
=3--37.%E .&$;, 03%%$0&$)O .% 0+",$J+%)J$P$0& &$#;,Q

lood proLesLs ln lndonesla
1ramc [ams ln !akarLa
8alnforesL loss ln 8razll
1he number of eLhanol-drlven cars
Clobal soybean prlces
Melung glaclers and polar lce
uS corn producuon
ercenLage of undernourlshed chlldren
Rainforest Loss
in Brazil
US Corn
Production
Food Protests
in Indonesia
Ethanol-Driven
Cars
Soybean
Prices
Melting
Ice Caps
Hungry & Malnourished
Children
Why Systems Thinking is Essential to
Sustainable Development
Jakarta
Traffic Jam
Rainforest Loss
in Brazil
US Corn
Production
Food Protests
in Indonesia
Ethanol-Driven
Cars
Melting
Ice Caps
Hungry & Malnourished
Children
Why Systems Thinking is Essential to
Sustainable Development
Jakarta
Traffic Jam
US Soybean
Production
Brazilian
Soy Production
Price of Tempeh and
Tofu in Indonesia
Rainforest Loss
in Brazil
US Corn
Production
Food Protests
in Indonesia
Ethanol-Driven
Cars
Soybean
Prices
Melting
Ice Caps
Hungry & Malnourished
Children
Why Systems Thinking is Essential to
Sustainable Development
Jakarta
Traffic Jam
US Soybean
Production
Brazilian
Soy Production
Price of Tempeh and
Tofu in Indonesia
Food Protests
in Indonesia
Jakarta
Traffic Jam
Why Systems Thinking is Essential to
Sustainable Development
Food Protests
in Indonesia
Jakarta
Traffic Jam
Number of Cars
on Jakarta Roads
Ease of
Credit
Social Pressures
& Status Needs
Presence of
Collective Transport
Car Production
& Price
Car Purchase
Decisions
Population
of Indonesia
Ideas of Quality of Life vs. Human
Wellbeing?
Why Systems Thinking is Essential to
Sustainable Development
System maps like these are often called models.
Indicators feed into our mental models of all the
systems in which we live
Real World
Decisions & Actions
that Affect the Real World
Indicators We Use to
Understand the World
Our Mental Models
of the Real World
Our Strategies and
Decision Rules
. so |t |s best to make these menta| mode|s exp||c|t.
AUTOMATED
PROCESSES
REFLECTIVE
PROCESSES
Overly simple
mental model
More sustainable
mental model
Systems thinking is the practice of
examining, and improving, our mental models
Water
flows
Turn on
the faucet
Turn off
the faucet
Done
Courtesy Piotr Magnuszewski,
Center for System Solutions, Poland
Systems thinking is about understanding chains of
cause-and-effect relationship and the structures
and behaviors they create.
You can think cause-and-effect in a linear way
Water in
the Bath
Outflow

Inflow

Perceived
Water Level
Discrepancies
& Decisions
Courtesy Piotr Magnuszewski,
Center for System Solutions, Poland
or in a more circular way, including feedback
Desired
Water Level
SOURCE
SOURCE
FEEDBACK
FLOW
SINK
FEEDBACK
FLOW
SINK
SOURCE
FEEDBACK
STOCK
Systems modeling, rst popularized in the 1970s,
involves getting more formal .. and often mathematical
1he L|m|ts to Growth (1972)
used system dynam|cs models

CLher dlsclpllnes used general
sysLems Lheory or sysLems
concepLs (e.g. famlly Lherapy,
communlcauons, neuro-
Llngulsuc rogrammlng, eLc.)

SysLems" became academlcally
professlonallzed / marglnallzed
ln 1980s and receded lnLo Lhe
background . unul Lhe 1990s
(Senge, 1he llh ulsclpllne,
1994)
See extra s||des at the end of th|s
set for an |ntro to these terms
However ...
& A llule sysLems Lhlnklng
can breed fa|se conhdence
LhaL a soluuon has been
found
& Cauuous, humble, tr|a|-
and-error, |earn-and-try-
aga|n approaches are
advlsed
GROUP SYSTEM
DIAGRAMMING EXERCISE . . .
Dalys Triangle adapted by Donella Meadow (1998)
Dalys Pyramid Reinterpreted
Dalys Triangle to
AtKissons Sustainability Compass
Nature
Society
Wellbeing
Economy
Lconom|ca||y
kespons|b|e & V|ab|e
Soc|a||y kespons|b|e Cohes|ve
and |nvo|ved

Lnv|ronmenta||y hea|thy and
kespons|b|e
nea|thy & nappy

uene susLalnablllLy
erform gap analysls
CaLher sLakeholders
CrlenL key acLors
Choose lndlcaLors
Measure and reporL
erformance lndexlng
Compass . . . An Orientation Tool and Thinking
Lens for Sustainability and Transformation
The Compass Points in Practice
; H ;'*2,) H
LnvlronmenLal lmpacL, resource use, wasLe,
ecosysLems and hablLaL, waLer, energy, cllmaLe
change
I H I0%(%C3 H
roducuon, consumpuon, employmenL and work,
money, lnvesLmenL, debL, buslness, lnnovauon

7 H 7%0/)*3 H
Covernance, equlLy, Lransparency, securlLy,
culLure, lnsuLuuonal managemenL, levels of LrusL
J H J)$$&)/(# H
PealLh, educauon, self-expresslon, happlness,
relauonshlps, famlly, creauvlLy, quallLy of llfe
ISIS ACCELERATOR
The Compass as a Tool for Systems Thinking
Environmental
Impacts
Resource Use
& Waste
Ecosystem
Integrity
Efficiency &
Productivity
Financial
Aspects
Work, Jobs,
Incentives
Rights,
Laws & Justice
Culture &
Institutions
Social Trust &
Public Safety
Personal Health
& Happiness
Self-Development
Opportunities
Families &
Relationships
It helps us think about issues from many different perspectives
Compass Exercise
Nature - identify some
Environmental causes/
drivers and effect/
responses linked to your
central indicator
Economy identify
some Economic
causes /drivers and
effects / responses
linked to your central
indicator
Wellbeing - what
Individual Human
Wellbeing causes /
drivers and effects/
responses linked to your
central indicator
Society - what
Community - Social
Cultural drivers and/or
responses linked to
your central indicator
Identify one Central
Indicator for this Picture
Three Ways to Create a System Map
You can choose your preferred approach:
& 1he I|gsaw uzz|e Approach
! uL all Lhe puzzle pleces (lndlcaLors + oLher sysLem elemenLs) on Lhe
Lable and sLarL seeklng cause-and-eecL llnks, pauerns, and loops
& 1he Menta| Mode| Approach
! SLarL wlLh your exlsung sLorles or bellefs abouL how Lhlngs work, Lhen
maLch Lhe lndlcaLors Lo Lhe menLal plcLure you have - and make
ad[usLmenLs based on new lnslghLs you have abouL Lhe connecuons
and causal relauonshlps
& 1he Start w|th Cne Approach
! SLarL from one lndlcaLor - usually, one reecung a Lrend LhaL you have
a speclal lnLeresL ln lnuenclng - and begln Lo ask, WhaL ls causlng Lhls
Lo happen? (And whaL ls causlng LhaL? and so on.) And whaL eecL ls lL
havlng? (And whaL eecL ls *<'* havlng? and so.)
We will use a mapping method called Start with
One because it is the easiest to teach quickly
& SLarL wlLh one key lndlcaLor
& llnd cause/eecL llnks Lo Lrends
ln all 4 Compass olnLs
& LlaboraLe ouL Lo 2-3 layers away from Lhe cenLral Lrend - e.g.,
cause > cause > cause > key lndlcaLor > eecL > eecL > eecL
& ldenufy feedback loops, especlally LhaL llnk from eecLs back Lo
prlmary causes.
& ldenufy Leverage olnLs: places where lnLervenuon ls
posslble and where rlpple eecLs are expecLed
& uescrlbe Lhe leverage polnLs
ONE KEY
INDICATOR
2)($'*( 31#4&#**154 67#*.8'
CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
EFFECT
ONE KEY
INDICATOR
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
2$'. 9 : 2)($'*( 31#4&#**154
CAUSE
CAUSE
CAUSE CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
ONE KEY
INDICATOR
CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
2$'. ; : 2)($'*( 31#4&#**154
CAUSE
CAUSE
CAUSE CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
ONE KEY
INDICATOR
CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
2$'. < : 2)($'*( 31#4&#**154
!"#$%&'( *#+', -.#&/+0 /1 23#4 53,#0# 6/7',
Overall
Water
quality and
quantity
Riverine
aquatic and
terrestrial
biodiversity
Effects on
Human health
Outdoor
recreation on or
near river
Cost of raw water for use
in manufacturing
Revenue Prots
(Income Expenses)
Reputation of
the company
Economic
Growth
Ability to catch sh and
other commercial
species in the river
Public perception of
the problem
Outside
Investment
Discharge from
Industry sources
Corruption
Government
Policy
Regulations and
laws
Factories
complying with
the law
Enforcement
of the law
Education
Drivers / Causes Responses/ Effects
Riverine
aquatic and
terrestrial
biodiversity
Effects on
Human health
Outdoor
recreation on or
near river
Ilegal Discharge
from Industry
sources
Corruption
Government
Policy
Regulations and
laws
Cost of raw water for use
in manufacturing
Revenue Prots
(Income Expenses)
Factories
complying with
the law
Reputation of
the company
Economic
Growth
Ability to catch sh and
other commercial
species in the river
Public perception of
the problem
Outside
Investment
Enforcement
of the law
Education
Overall
Water
quality and
quantity
Drivers / Causes Responses/ Effects
!"#$%&'( *#+', -.#&/+0 /1 23#4 53,#0# 6/7',
The Key to Systems Thinking is
Understanding Feedback
% In most cases, changing one factor will impact on another
factor, which will then affect the first.
% Feedback will either reduce the impact of the change, or will
amplify it.
Source: Adapted from UNDP Young Leaders in Governance Systems Module / LEAD and Sustainability Institute.
2005.
Pollution Levels
in the River
Illegal
Discharge of
waste water
from Industry
sources
Cost of treatment of
water for use in
manufacturing
Company
Revenue Prots
(Income Expenses)
Number of
Factories
complying with
Water Efuent
laws
Feedback is when the system turns in on
itself, and inuences its own functioning
# Feedback can be hard (real
stuff) or soft (information)
Some hard
feedback is
on
its way
around ...
with a delay
# Feedback can push a system
to keep doing what its doing
(positive, reinforcing) ...
# ... or it can counter whats
currently happening
(negative, balancing)
2)($'*( 31#4&#**154 67'&01('
Gladstone
Region


I|gure out how trends,
dec|s|on-mak|ng, and
|nformanon ows are
||nked together |n mu|np|e
cause-eect re|anonsh|ps
Step 1:
Map the Links
The Next Step: Finding point of Leverage to
change the dyamics of the system
Gladstone
Region




Leverage Points
Figure out how trends,
decision-making, and
information ows are
linked together in multiple
cause-effect relationships
Use that analysis to
identify the best leverage
points for introducing
change
Using our knowledge of the system to make self-sustaining
change
Step 2:
Find the Leverage Points
Step 1:
Map the Links
Find the Leverage Points
Where you can lnLervene wlLh a new ldeas (e.g. pro[ecLs, program,
Lechnology, pollcy, eLc.) LhaL wlll change Lhe sysLem relauonshlps
Lowards Lhe dlrecuon LhaL you wanL and be reecLed ln your maln
lndlcaLor.
CAUSE
CAUSE
CAUSE CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
EFFECT
ONE KEY
INDICATOR
CAUSE
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
EFFECT
CAUSE
2$'. = : 2)($'*( 31#4&#**154
Program
Overall
Water
quality and
quantity
Riverine
aquatic and
terrestrial
biodiversity
Effects on
Human health
Outdoor
recreation on or
near river
Discharge from
Industry sources
Corruption
Government
Policy
Regulations and
laws
Cost of raw water for use
in manufacturing
Revenue Prots
(Income Expenses)
Factories
complying with
the law
Reputation of
the company
Economic
Growth
Ability to catch sh and
other commercial
species in the river
Public perception of
the problem
Outside
Investment
Enforcement
of the law
Education
Climate Change
Technology
Policy
Program
Example: Find the Leverage Points
How do you nd a good leverage point?
1. Look for dense webs of
connecnon
2. Look for |oops
3. keep ask|ng, "Ckay, but how
do we 0A+%E$ that?"
4. If you hnd reasons you need
to add to your system map
. that's good!
J<'* /* F))$1 $/-)
*% K(. ' #%%.
L)>),'#) M%/(*
Group Presentations
A Systems approach provides us with . . .
# ueeper lnslghL: undersLand componenLs and Lhelr
llnks ln Lhe sysLem, you wlll undersLand lLs
behavlor.
# More eecuve and long-Lerm Leverage: B<'(#) a
componenL or llnk ln Lhe sysLem, and you wlll change
Lhe sysLem behavlor.
# 8euer Soluuons: Solvlng problems almosL always
lnvolves changlng sysLems E/.)(6F3 '(. 0<'(#) *<)
$/C/6(# F'0*%,.
1hree reasons why you should wanL Lo
undersLand feedback loops
& 1o understand system behav|or, because you
cannoL undersLand +<3 a sysLem does whaL lL
does wlLhouL seelng Lhe feedback sLrucLures
& 1o understand rap|d growth (or shr|nkage)
pauerns, whlch are drlven by ampllfylng, or
dampenlng, feedback loops. (Lxample of an
ampllfylng feedback loop: Lhe more we .%
Lhls, Lhe more we +'(* Lo do Lhls .)
& 1o hnd the best |everage po|nts, whlch oen
lnvolves &,)'-/(# %, 0,)'6(# F)).&'0- $%ops
(also known as vlclous cycles andvlrLuous
cycles)
Three reasons why doing systems thinking without
understanding feedback is still OK and worthwhile
& Someumes see|ng a s|mp|e cause-and-eect
re|anonsh|p for Lhe rsL ume ls already a greaL
Aha! experlence, and wlll reveal new acuon
opuons
& Lven slmple connecuon mapplng can reveal
counter-|ntu|nve 0A+.%, of cause-and-eect - an
even blgger aha! wlLh even more acuon-opuon
pay-os (and Lhe sLarL of feedback-Lhlnklng)
& lL ls lmporLanL Lo &, even aL a slmplled level,
because 1%C) sysLems Lhlnklng ls usually beuer
Lhan (% sysLems Lhlnklng ... and 1%C) wlll usually
lead Lo C%,)
In closing what systems thinking
tells us
We can'L lmpose our wlll upon a sysLem. We can llsLen Lo
whaL Lhe sysLem Lells us, and dlscover how lLs properues
and our values can work LogeLher Lo brlng forLh someLhlng
much beuer Lhan could ever be produced by our wlll
alone.

We can'L conLrol sysLems or gure Lhem ouL. 8uL we can
dance wlLh Lhem!"

N O%()$$' @)'.%+14 PO'(0/(# +/*< 731*)C14Q 899:
SYSTAINABILITY ASIA / ATKISSON GROUP
www.atkisson.com
www.systainabilityasia.com
robert@atkisson.com