UTS site search

Master Class: Systems Thinking for Impact on Sustainable Development

Master Class: Systems Thinking for Impact on Sustainable Development

Thursday 15 June 2017

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

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 purpose of this workshop is to provide development practitioners 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.

Workshop objectives include:

  • Provide a conceptual and applied understanding of systems thinking as a way to grapple with the complexity of sustainable development, particularly with your own projects

  • Skill participants in differentiating complex problems from other types of problems and practicing a variety of practical tools to apply systems thinking, including application to case study scenarios

  • Use systems thinking to identify opportunities for multi-sector partnerships in development in the context of the 2030 SDGs

  • Explore the use of systems thinking to multiple aspects of development – within the project cycle; support country and thematic strategy development and working with in-country partners.

The workshop is highly interactive involving games, group discussion and exercises to use practical tools and resources. The workshop will alternate between presentation and small group interactive work and ensure a balance of information presentation and practical use in context. Case study scenarios will be offered to ground theoretical approaches in practice. Participants will also be asked to draw on their own project work to apply new knowledge to local settings. Take home reference materials will be provided to participants.

The workshop will be directed towards those working in the development sector, particularly NGO practitioners in Australia, and also from in-country partners. The workshop will also be relevant to business and government sectors. It is pitched at beginning/ intermediate levels. A maximum of 30 participants will be accommodated.

This is a pilot workshop. This workshop and a workshop on Applying Collaborative Approaches and Systems Thinking, by ACFID and its Development Practice Committee, will share experiences for ongoing refinement of resources on systems thinking for development practice.

The following presenters from The Institute for Sustainable Futures will facilitate the workshop:

keren winterford headshot

Keren Winterford

Keren has worked in international development for 18 years with experience working in NGO, consultancy and research sectors. She has experience working across multiple sectors of development with an interest in community development, participation, local level advocacy and citizen participation, training and facilitation, design, monitoring and evaluation. 

Keren will lead facilitation of the day drawing on technical input and practical experience of a team of ISF researchers: Isabel Sebastian; Kylie McKenna; Juliet Willetts, and Katie Ross.

Juliet Willetts headshot

Juliet Willetts

Juliet leads applied research and evaluation in development contexts, including in relation to water and sanitation, gender equality, civil society roles, climate change adaptation and development effectiveness. She has drawn on systems thinking tools in working across different disciplines and types of knowledge, including in her support to UTS:ISF’s transdisciplinary post-graduate research program.

Kylie McKenna Headshot 2016

Kylie McKenna

Kylie has expertise on natural resources, conflict and peace building in Papua New Guinea and West Papua. She is committed to interdisciplinary, transnational research that strikes a balance between international breadth and local depth. She has published widely on topics as diverse as post-colonialism, law, aid, revenue distribution, security, the environment and peace building. Kylie is a passionate teacher with experience teaching social research methods to individuals and organisations in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Isabel Sebastian headshot 2016

Isabel Sebastian

Isabel has 9 years expertise in the development context particularly in sustainable private sector development and capacity building of small to medium enterprises in Bhutan and Tajikistan. She also has many years of business management, consulting and teaching experience in applied sustainability initiatives in Australia. Her PhD at UTS-ISF involved a comparison of systems change models and explored how systems-thinking is used by leaders who champion responsible management. She has taught short-courses on systems-thinking and practice at UTS and published a working paper on systems change and new economics. Her teaching approach is based on experiential learning engaging participants in activities, discussion and reflection about insights and application of learned skills.

Katie Ross headshot

Katie Ross

Katie Ross is a transdisciplinary sustainability research specialist, who has incorporated critical-, systems-, and complexity-thinking into her wide-ranging research areas, including renewable energy, water and sanitation, governance, gender and equity, both nationally and in the development context over the past 15 years. She is keen on participatory activities, recognising that creativity and application are necessary ingredients for sharing and building on knowledge amongst participants.


15 June 2017
9:00 am


Off campus

Abercrombie Building
University of Sydney
NSW 2006


The workshop is directed towards those working in the development sector, particularly NGO practitioners in Australia, but also in-country partners, as well as those working in the business and government sectors.