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Systems thinking for impact on sustainable development

7 August 2017

"We can't solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein.

course notes

A master class on systems thinking for impact on sustainable development was held by staff at ISF as a side event to the recent RDI Conference. The workshop provided practitioners working in the field of international development with an understanding of systems thinking as an approach to help us engage with complexities of sustainable development. By taking a holistic perspective, new opportunities emerge which can help to address underlying causes of social, environmental and economic injustice.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a transformative development agenda through collaboration between the public, private and civil society sectors. This emphasis on partnerships rightly acknowledges the interconnections between social equity, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity. Yet, working across sectors on complex social, environmental and economic problems is challenging!

The workshop provided a conceptual and applied understanding of systems thinking as a way to grapple with the complexity of sustainable development. Workshop participants practiced a variety of practical tools to apply systems thinking, including application to case study scenarios. We also used systems thinking to identify opportunities for multi-sector partnerships in development in the context of the 2030 SDGs. Systems thinking was applied to multiple aspects of development – within the project cycle; support country and thematic strategy development and working with in-country partners. Participants were provided a gift of take home cards on systems thinking tools.

In the spirit of systems thinking, workshop participants were encouraged to experiment with their learning following the workshop and shared via email with the presenters and other workshop participants their practice.

Participants report backs of their practice included:

I plan to use it in my research in Haiti from next week. I will adapt the mapping tool in relation to the use of the marketplace environment and to risk management. Thank you again for this inspiring workshop.

Thanks so much again for the masterclass - super interesting and helpful!  

So, I have been trying to use Systems Thinking to solve a problem related to a current piece of litigation that I am involved in. The litigation is very complex, and covers a number of areas of law - public international law, intellectual property, internet law, and a whole range of facts.  I went to Office Works and got myself some A3 paper and tried the "Rich Pictures" approach - that was really helpful to get everything out to see how all the areas of law interact - that worked really well. 

The workshop you held was one of the best I've been to. David and I were really jazzed when we left and inspired to do more on systems thinking!