Introducing situations cleanly

In Systems Thinking in Practice, we tend to refer to the ‘object’ of our inquiries as ‘situations’.  There are variations on this term such as problematic situations, situations of interest or situations of concern which I have discussed in previous posts such as the ones in this search result.

In everyday situations, we tend to introduce situations with quite a long explanation.  We often talk about how we think the situation came about, what the impact is and so on.  We may even force a certain framing on the situation through phrases like “by saying x I mean y angle, not really z”.  The difficulty I experience when people do this is it can be hard to really understand the focal point of their concern because they are bringing in lots of different angles.  I also think that the person themself may not actually have got to the point where they have actually distilled the focal point of their concern.  When this way of introducing situations is done, it also mixes up the introduction with the start of an analysis or understanding of the situation – an understanding that may have come about without using systems concepts and approaches as epistemic devices. Continue reading

Food shopping in an uncertain world

Like many people, I have been shocked at the problems created by panic buying of food supplies.  But I’ll also confess I have perhaps followed it more than others because my brother (Prof Richard Wilding) is a supply chain specialist and is being interviewed and quoted on the problems.

Whilst there are the really extreme cases that we see of people buying up (sometimes with a view to sell on) huge volumes of in-demand products, I suspect that everyone is putting a little bit more in their shopping baskets.  All these small changes do add up – they add up to empty shelves and less supplies for those who can only shop weekly due to finances and/or ability to carry or store large volumes of food.

So what should I do?  Should I adapt my food shopping for an uncertain world, and if so what is reasonable and ethical?

I’ve realised that I can’t adapt unless I examine what I do now – how do I go about managing the larder (including fridge and freezer)? Or, what do I do when I do what I do? Continue reading

Zooming in on experience

When I think about it, the word ‘experience’ can be interpreted in different ways.  Google tells me that it is “practical contact with and observation of facts or events” (noun) but it is also a verb “to experience” meaning “encounter” or “feel”.  These definitions convey a sense of closeness – an experience is something that we see, touch, hear, feel – we use our senses and emotions when we ‘experience’.  We relate to an experience – it’s not something happening over there somewhere. Continue reading

The practitioner and the situation

Recently I wrote a post on Situations which ended as follows:

But, in spite of all the commonalities, there is a distinction in the way that TU811 treats situations of interest compared to the way TU812 treats situations of concern…

In TU811, it is perfectly possible to adopt a first order stance – using systems approaches to analyse a situation of interest that you stand apart from. You can take the mindset of a consultant asked to advise or make recommendations to someone in government or in an organisation. It is possible to be objective and distant, to lack ownership of and for the situation. I say possible, you don’t have to engage with the situation that way but you can still engage pretty effectively as a systems practitioner if you do.

In comparison, when TU812 talks of situations of concern, they tend to be situations you experience directly – something you are part of. This means a first order stance is more constraining and it is more appropriate to adopt a second order stance. Here your personal engagement with the situation and the other people who are part of it matters. Your emotioning, understandings, actions and interactions can have an influence on whether the situation improves or declines. Your own action and interaction matters.

In the last few days, I have been reflecting on this in the light of closer reading of the work of Ison (2017) and various works by Checkland (e.g. 1985) which formed the basis for Ison’s conceptual model of what it is to think about practice.

The particular aspects I have been reflecting on are the way in which the practitioner and the situation can be perceived to relate to each other.

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When I studied the OU systems thinking modules, TU811 and TU812 (in that order), I remember getting a little agitated that TU811 used the term ‘situation of interest’ and then TU812 used the term ‘situation of concern’.  I did try at the time to understand the difference.  Looking back now, I did write a blog about this at the time but mostly I just decided that of all the new language I was coming to terms with it wasn’t worth trying to work that one out.

But recently, I have found myself coming back to this. I think I am mulling it over because I can’t decide which of the two terms to use in my thesis.  This is where my thinking is currently taking me.

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Perspectives on ‘health system’

Not sure what it is but I keep seeing the phrase ‘health system’ at the moment.  It always seems to be in the context that it should be obvious to the reader what the ‘health system’ of interest is – as if it isn’t open to different understandings.

So let’s pick this apart a little…

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Health is controversial

I can’t count how many times I’ve at least hinted at the phrase in the title of this post.  Following Ison (2010, page 231/232), my stock phrase is something like  “wellbeing and health concerns, are characterized by interdependencies, complexity, uncertainty and controversy and involve multiple stakeholders with different perspectives”.  It’s these type of characteristics that lead us to call health a ‘wicked issue’ or a ‘mess’.

But I suppose I’ve never really taken stock of just how ‘controversial’ health is.  I started thinking about this the other day and realised that a lot of the time the ‘multiple stakeholders with different perspectives’ can’t even agree how to word the questions, let alone any of the ‘answers’.  What’s more when people want to illustrate the ‘wickedness’, they often don’t even take on ‘health’ in its entirety they break it down into example issues or more focused concerns like obesity or sexual health – it seems that ‘health’ is so wicked you have to chunk it up.

So I thought I’d try and summarise my thinking on this controversial concept – in doing so I hope that I will bring into focus the nature of what makes the territory so difficult to negotiate through.  By the way, I’m making no attempt to ‘hide’ where my own perspective lies!

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My Research as an ‘event’ in a longer stream of inquiry

My last post set me off on a stream of thought in relation to what I am doing in my research – is it inductive? is it deductive? is it emic? is it etic?  I’ve started to realise that it is best to think of these pairs in terms of dualities, rather than dualisms. Through the research, there is an interplay.  But also I realised that my Research Project (with a big R and big P) does not stand alone – it is located in a wider stream of inquiry and it’s location in time impacts on what it is and how I relate to it. Continue reading

A need for social learning?

The UK government outlined their ambitions relating to the domain of wellbeing and health, in a range of publications including:

At the time of writing the related Health and Social Care Bill 2010-2011 is currently before parliament.

Stakeholders in the city where I work have responded to these changes as an opportunity for a step-change in the way in which we organise ourselves to work together to improve wellbeing and health and reduce inequalities in health. Senior leaders of the main statutory partner organisations have agreed to what is locally referred to as “a whole system approach” to the implementation of these changes. Continue reading