Ison (2010, 19) says that what constitutes systems practices arises in social relations – if an observer attributes the adjective ‘systemic’ to behaviour they observe or the writings of another. The observer could be the practitioner themself or another party.
So when I am ‘doing systems practice’ what is it that marks out that behaviour for me? What makes me feel I am doing it for ‘real’?
The first and most obvious thing that comes to mind is I draw to make sense of things. My work notepad is full of half-drawn diagrams as I have attempted to bring forth a system of interest and describe it. Unfortunately, I can’t use these diagrams in full-form to communicate with others as they are not familiar with the discipline of diagramming, but I do sometimes draw blobs on pages with them! For the first time recently, I drew a full systems map on my note pad and then ‘translated’ the findings into a report I was writing. (In case you are wondering, the report went down well). So diagramming – as taught by the OU systems courses – is a regular way of touching base with the systems lineage.
The second thing I do very regularly now is quick purpose definitions. A systems to do P, by means of Q in order to R – I like the discipline of making the “ladder” to help me focus in on a particular level of abstraction. As I do this I think of Checkland and do a quick check as to whether I need to expand the definition with CATWOE.
The above two are regular and almost second nature practices. Sometimes I draw more explicitly on the systems approaches I explored in TU811 – systems dynamics; viable systems model; Soft systems methodology; and, Critical system heuristics. In doing that I evoke the authors associated with these particular approaches.
Increasingly now that I am studying TU812, I also engage in reflexivity – thinking about my thinking. It is not second nature yet and I cannot do it in ‘real time’ – but I am getting better at considering the assumptions built into the practices I am part of.
The other more recent development is being alert to others’ single cause-effect explanations and critiquing them. This usually involves shouting at the news!
So there are times when I am doing what I would call systems thinking and practice. But it doesn’t yet seem fluid – as if it is coming together in a full practice dynamic – either at a point in time or over time.