Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 13 November 2008

Systems thinking – it’s all connected

Here the beginnings of my mind map of systems theory topics.  The knowledge area (KA) of systems is HUGE.  I got a little taste of it the past two days during a Fielding Research and Practice (RaP) intensive session.  This session was taught by two faculty members from different disciplines; Dr. Fred Steier, who’s focus is Systems and Dr. Christine Ho, who is an anthropologist.  The class was small, which afforded deep discussions relevant to world issues from a systems perspective.

For example, we talked about the current world food crisis.  In the 1960’s – 70’s most developing countries were self-sufficient in their basic food supply.  In the 1980’s, the World bank implemented policies based on their definition of successful countries, based on the premise that countries should import their food and export their crop production.  Therefore, they made loans in Mexico to support large-scale farming of commodities to ship to the U. S.  as well as the investment in supermarkets and stores like Walmart that would import mass consumption goods to Mexico.  Corn was imported from the U.S. and produced by farms that were subsidised by the U.S. government.  The small local farms that produced corn in Mexico went out of business and people moved to the cities for work.  Mexicans are now eating more processed foods with a resulting huge increase in heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Now that the corn prices have risen dramatically due to the shift toward biofuels, food prices have risen by 60% in the past two years and wheat/rice prices by 80% in the last year.

What does this have to do with systems?

Each aspect of the world food crisis is a sub-system connected to other sub-systems connected to larger systems.  The above discussion involves economic, food, health, and political systems (to name a few).  How do we understand and solve these problems?  Needless to say, much of the discussion was depressing.

But there’s one obvious conclusion from this one example: everything is interconnected and has impacts (visible and not) on all parts of the system and other systems.  By changing our perspective to viewing these problems in a systems viewpoint, we have opportunities to find creative solutions that have more chance of success than by only focusing on one symptom of the problem.  Over a year ago, I posted on the topic “You can’t solve the problem at the same level of thinking that created it” – seems like this idea keeps returning to my awareness.


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