Juggling and my inquiry into my systems practice for managing change

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(Activity 2.7, ref. Table 2.3 in study guide)

It seems like ages ago when I wrote the post “An inquiry into my systems practice for managing change“.  I am reminded now that this is a purposeful inquiry – the purpose I identified when writing that earlier post is to achieve a better level of ability to manage change systemically.

In this inquiry the situation is my current systems practice i.e. what I do when I do what I do.  I am concerned with developing my understandings and practices associated with doing systems practice.

The juggler isophor is introduced in order to help make sense of what I do when I do what I do (and why I do when I do what I do).  It is therefore a “system tool” that helps me make sense of the situation – a tool to use in my inquiry.

Activity 2.7 and Table 2.3 suggest a number of questions to use in the process of reading the “ball chapters” in Systems Practice (Ison, 2010).  I have to say I did not do this in ‘real time’ because of the amount of material to read and concepts to get to grips with.  However, it does seem appropriate to visit them now.

The orienting questions are:

History: what does reading of each ball chapter have to say that affects how I now interpret my past understandings and use of systems practice?

Present circumstances: what does reading of each ball chapter have to say about what I am currently doing in my systems practice? Does it alter my understanding of any aspects of what I do?

Possible future situations: what does reading of each ball chapter suggest?

B-ball (see summary post)

Reading the B chapter made me consciously aware of the rich background of material I have read and studied that has relevance to systems practice even though it has not been formally ‘badged’ under the academic field of Systems.  In particular, Discourse analysis and Managing Knowledge have contributed to my past understandings.  I suppose I have realised that my past understandings are broader, deeper and much more relevant than I thought they were.

I do, however, feel a sense of imbalance – the scales tip heavily in favour of ‘understandings’ rather than ‘practice’.  I have done a lot of learning in terms of acquiring knowledge but I am concerned that this does not lead to more effective action in my work place.  My past linear cause and effect thinking attributed the cause of that imbalance to the institutions and social technologies in my organisational setting and the broader discourse and practices in the UK policy world.  I now realise that there are other factors at play including my own emotions, which include fear of ‘stepping out of line’.

Whilst, I may not always have a choice about whether or not to use a particular technology, I do have a choice about how I use them.  For example, I may have to work with a proforma but I can choose to be mindful of Systems in the words and language I use in completing the proforma.

Perhaps the most important ‘message’ I carry forward from the chapter is that in using language (whether speaking or writing), I am taking action – communicating is ‘practice’ and I can choose to be a systems practitioner in my communication.  This opens lots of possibilities because my whole job is about language and I do have quite a lot of influence on the discourse that is used within the partnership.  I just have to be cautious I do not ‘lose’ people.

E-ball (see summary post)

Whilst, I have been aware of the terms ‘wicked issues’ and ‘messes’, I have not tended to use them in the past.  I think this is partly because most situations I experience are uncertain, dynamic, full of interdependencies and so on, so there is no point in trying to distinguish them from anything else!

I cannot recall actively thinking about how to engage with a situation in the past. It is just something I did.  I focussed more on bringing forth systems of interest from that situation, rather that framings for the situation per se.

The possible exception is when I did my end of course project for TU811.  There I used the Viable System Model to understand current and potential future partnership arrangements.  However, I think I did fall into the trap of reification, whilst I did not explicitly write it I was thinking a “partnership should be a viable system”.  I suppose in my own clumsy, unaware way I could have gained more possibilities if I had thought “what can I learn about the existing and possible futures of this partnership if I engaged with it as if it is a viable system?”.  As the ‘legacy’ of this piece of work is still very much in my head, I can start to frame it differently from now on.

Thinking of the E-ball as a lens that can change colours is a helpful way of me carrying this forward into my systems practice in order to remind me that I have a choice of bringing forth the situation and that is part and parcel of being a responsible systems practitioner.

C-ball (see summary post)

Reading the C-ball chapter has made me realise that in the past, I did not think of Systems concepts as elements in a methodology I develop to act in a situation. I tended to think of full-blown methods (such as those studied in TU811) and systems diagramming – the more practical and visible components.  It is more difficult to use approaches, methods and diagrams because they require involvement from others.  I think this is one of the reasons, I have tended to feel frustrated that I am not practicing systems.  Now I will think of using Systems concepts as ‘tools’ in my methodologies which will reassure me that I am actually involved in practice.

In reframing my understanding of systems practice in this way, I can think of examples when I have used systems approaches to develop my understanding even if I have not gone on to present the results of that thinking using systems terminology or diagrams.  There was one occasion recently when I prepared a document in this way and someone commented on the quality and clarity of my thinking.

For the future, I would really like to be part of a process of doing with others in a much more explicit way as I noted in my post on the C-ball.  I have tended to think ‘big’ – systems design in huge pieces of work – and then feel overwhelmed.  I think I have to start smaller – introduce a technique or concept at a time.

M-ball (see summary post)

In the past, I have used the idea of being in a state of curiosity as a way of articulating the emotion that underlies my managing.  I think that is quite similiar to the small ‘r’ research and experiential ‘action research’ principles that were talked about.  I certainly feel that this puts me in a position to learn quickly and readily.  However, I do have a natural preference for learning from the ‘conceptual’ world rather than the world of action.  I want to open up my possibilities for learning by being more aware of opportunities to learn from the experience of  embodied action.

I have noted on a number of occasions that I am disappointed and frustrated that I do not have more opportunities to undertake systems practice with colleagues (juggle with others).  In some ways this leads neatly into my situation of concern.  It is relatively easy to show others some of the tools, but they could then be used without awareness of the different assumptions that underpin them – which is not systems practice.  The M-ball has helped me to understand that I should not close down possibilities – if through my demonstration and use of systems practice I open up the possibility for others’ to develop their awareness then this is part and parcel of me creating conditions for emergence and self-organisation.

I realise that there are two systems of interest that I bring forth from the situation I work in.  The first system of interest is “the partnership” made up of the organisations and their individual and collective ways of planning.  The second system of interest is “health and wellbeing and related inequalities amongst people in the city”.  In a sense, the purpose of the first is to address the second.  As partnership coordinator I focus first and foremost on the former.  I have seen changes in the partnership in the two years I have been involved, the partnership has gained in strength and I do see some emergence and self-organisation – I don’t think that came about through purposeful managing though.  This is a possibility – and an opportunity – for the future.

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