What makes a systems approach?

In the last week, I have been part of a great conversation in the LinkedIn STiP alumni group about systems approaches.  It started with a question from Arwen asking what other systems approaches there are out there, other than the ones that made up the core part of our TU811 Systems approaches for managing change curriculum.

Before that thread disappears too far into the archive, I wanted to capture here some of my key reflections.

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The use and abuse of measurement

There seems to be a bit of a thing going on this week about terms like measurement, targets, payment by results, outcomes.  It has been going on a while in conversations I have had (both face to face and on-line) and a number of systems bloggers are writing about it but it all seems to be getting a bit busier this weekend…it seems to be coming to a head.

So to start with I’ll mention all the activity that has prompted me to turn to the keyboard to add to the conversation – or if not adding to it then at least summarising where my own thinking is going to. Continue reading


Way, way back I wrote a post on Systems perspective on health and wellbeing where I touched on the problems associated with performance frameworks derived from the concept of ‘outcomes’.  Although the post was ages ago, it’s still something that is current in my mind – not least because my friend who I mentioned in that post is currently writing a paper about this very issue.  I read through an early draft and am looking forward to his next version.

My exploration into projects, which started with this post, has just brought me into touch with some interesting material – you know, when someone else explains really well what you have been thinking but have been unable to articulate. Continue reading

If not a Project, then what?

I’ve got a feeling that this is going to be quite a long post because I have spent the last two weeks grappling in my head with something that concerns me.

I’ve never been one for Programmes and Projects – with capital ‘P’s – with all the trappings of templates and documentation and traffic light reports but recently I’ve found myself yearning for more structure and more shape to what I am doing. I’ve started to wonder if – in my wholesale rejection of Project methodologies, I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

True it has been a bit of a extra messy time with particular big fluxes of events and issues over time.  Lots and lots of uncertainty – maybe the woolliness is getting to the point when I am lost – and if I’m lost then others around me probably are too.  I have started taking action at work to change this but I do want to explore – if not a Project, then what? Continue reading

Clinical metaphors

I have just realised how many medical-like metaphors are out there in the world of organisational research/development.  This insight was prompted by my reading of Coghlan and Brannick (2010) which took me off on an interesting tangent…

We ‘diagnose’; talk of organisational ‘pathologies’ and go on to ‘intervene’.

One such example is in the use of the Viable Systems Model – the model can be used as a diagnostic ‘tool’ and Hoverstadt (2008) draws attention to a range of ‘pathological’ archetypes.

So I started to think about what was behind these metaphors… and the possibilities and problems they could bring. Continue reading

Elevator pitch – revisited

It was a while ago now when I wrote my post called “Elevator Pitch“.  I know it rang bells with a few of my fellow students  because the idea of the elevator pitch has come up in module forum and email exchange since.

Distracted thought process….are we yet former students or ex-students, I am not sure? Former or ex- has the built in message that you have stopped learning which seems very non-systemsy – perhaps this is like being a ‘provisional’ driver…mmm back to the point

It is raining today (no allotment  😥 and Alex busy with his French) so I found myself flicking through a recent book purchase called “Gamestorming: a playbook for innovators, rulebreakers and changemakers” (Gray et al, 2010, O’Reilly).  To my surprise I came across a ‘game’ called Elevator Pitch. Continue reading

The social technology of (performance) measurement

The other day I was in a relatively informal meeting with 4 others when I found myself in a rant about ‘measuring’ – outcome indicators; performance measures; targets – whatever you want to call them, in essence they are all attempting to describing something in numerical terms.

The trigger for my rant was someone saying the recent corporate line – that we needed to agree on a small number of measures that would be used as Outcome Indicators (means of quantifying the achievement of an outcome) for our ‘priority’ outcomes – in fact we are to agree on precisely 3 measures for each priority outcome.

My rant started with the words “But why” and my argument fell into two broad areas. Continue reading

Lean and Vanguard

It seems that Lean and Vanguard can evoke extreme reactions from some systems practitioners, whilst others seem much more accepting.  So far they are the only things I have come across that seem to create controversy in the systems world.

I have to confess to feeling a little niggled when Lean and/or Vanguard are conflated with systems thinking amongst those who are not ‘in the know’.  But, what I have realised is, I don’t really know enough about either of those approaches to use others’ interest in them as a way of helping them enter the ‘real world’ of systems thinking and practice. Continue reading

Taking a design turn in my systems practice

Updated 15 February 2011

(Activity 2.33)

Ison (2010, 260-262) describes the concept of a ‘design turn’.  I am finding it one of the more difficult concepts to get a handle on so I will use this post to explore my understanding of the concept and apply it to my systems practice.

Before I do, I want to quote what is – to date – my biggest and most significant insight from studying TU812.  Of course, I kind of knew it before but having it pointed out made me realise its significance:

The direct consequence of the profound changes in the character and role of organised knowledge is that the future most now be regarded as increasingly a human artefact – an art-in-fact.  The future can no longer be regarded as a natural object, a fact already there or objectively determined by present trends.  It must be chosen.

Hooker (1992) cited in Ison (2010, 261)

So this is why design is important.  It is part of the way we choose the future.  Every design will create ripples that becomes its legacy or artefact.  So what is design?

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Getting to know the C-ball: Contextualising

(Activity 2.30 based on Chapter 7, Ison (2010))

The C-ball is for Contextualising. Ison (2010) summarises it as:

symbolises the act of Contextualising a particular approach to a new situation (page 58)

So it includes choosing methods, tools and techniques and adapting the use of them to the situation as part of Practice Continue reading