I had gradually absorbed systems thinking in a range of ways since my early 20’s and tried to apply it in my work in social work services. Concepts such as ‘boundary’, ‘feedback’, ‘emergence’, ‘complexity’, all seemed helpful in creating cracks in the appearance of things that allowed new relationships to slip in and play a part in our way of looking at the world.
The human factor in systems is important and I loved the discovery, over time, of patterns of research that enabled different voices to be heard and different meanings to be articulated – getting beyond the idea that there is a single correct view of what matters.
But it is difficult to get beyond a vague idea that ‘everything matters’ and is interconnected. How do we come to an understanding of how and how much a particular thing matters. And it is even more difficult to see how a collection of particular things interacts – and what the wider consequences of interventions in a complex system might be.
Being introduced to system dynamics was a revelation. It is possible to shape a model of a complex system which can reflect the interplay of different relationships over time and do it in a quantitative way – so the impact of changes in this or that factor within the system can be presented visually on graphs, the changes that offer the most leverage can be seen and generally we can get a better understanding of how the system works.