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Systems thinking 1


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Short introduction to systems thinking from the point of view of futures studies

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Systems thinking 1

  1. 1. SYSTEMS THINKING Master’s Degree Programme, FutuS2 Futures Research Methods Otavan Opisto 15 February, 2012 Anita Rubin
  2. 2. Systems Thinking is ... …a way to understand phenomena and events, their characteristics and the relationships between them as one entity; …a family of methods/methodology which creates a flexible and manifold tool to help human problem-solving in practice.
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  4. 4. The principles of systems thinking A system is • created by the Nature or human beings, • physical, abstract, or human, • a whole separated from its environment by a border (eg. skin, cell membrane, water pipes, Declaration of Independence…) • open or closed. A system is built on a hierarchical way. It is composed of different levels which have their own laws. Those laws cannot be directly derived from the laws of a higher level, but the laws of a certain level affect the functions of the levels below them. Peter Checkland 1985
  5. 5. Systemic world view • Universal principles of organisation apply to all systems 5 (physical, chemical, biological, social) • Mechanistic world view: Full understading of any phenomenon can be achieved by reducing it to its basic components and analysing those parts. Universal anwers can be achieved this way. • Systemic world view: Phenomena are more than their parts. Universal answers can only be achieved by exceeding the material basis and concentrating on the abstract characteristics of the system.
  6. 6. Definitions of a System A System is… … a limited number of factors (actors, actions, interactions) between which there are continuous tensions and connections to distinguish them as separate wholes; …an organism which functions according to laws and rules of its own. The organism is composed of smaller organisms, but it cannot be directly understood by merely analysing its sub-organisms. … a group of characteristics which form a whole and the parts of which are related with each other in a definable way.
  7. 7. The Hierarchical Nature of Reality 7
  8. 8. The Hierarchy of a System • To be eligible for being defined as a system, a being has to have at least two parts which are interconnected. • The parts of a system form sub-systems (i.e. a human being  blood circulation  blood cells  genes  human being, etc.) The top system is called super-system. The super-system is always more abstract and more general by nature than its sub-systems • As such, a system is always more than a mere sum of its parts, or sub-systems. • The higher in hierarchy a system functions, the more abstract and general it is by nature (i.e. a human being  family  community  municipality  state, etc.)
  9. 9. m/2010/07/social-determinants-of-stress-response. html
  10. 10. 10 Critical information Inflowing information which grows in amount or quality and for which the system is not properly prepared is called critical information. The more critical information is flowing into the system, the more unstable it becomes and the closer it approximates to a chaotic state. The system’s ability to self-regulation determines the level of its order. i.e. The Universe is not merely a combination of phenomena acting on their own, separate laws, but a whole of intermediating complex systems. (Checkland 1985)
  11. 11. Natural and Human Systems 1. Natural systems form the Nature as we know it. 2. Human systems have either been consciously built, or they have emerged as a result of human actions. • Rational material systems (= planned by people) (i.e. the distribution network of electricity in a city) • Planned abstract systems (= human-made conceptual wholes) (i.e. mathematics, philosophy, education system, etc.) • Operational human systems (= the systems which have been created in order to carry out some purpose or to reach a goal (i.e. a choir, or political parties) 3. Transcendental systems (of which we cannot know anything)
  12. 12. 12 Self-regulation and fluctuation New energy or information into human systems causes fluctuation in its internal processes. At the same time, the system pursues development (= fluctuation) with the help of cumulative and positive feedback. Tendency to self-regulation (to achieve balance by using amendatory or negative feedback.) Tendency towards more and more specific and diverse state. Dissonance?
  13. 13. • receives matter, energy and/or information from its environment (=input); • changes that energy, matter and/or information to some other form, and • produces that matter, energy and/or information back to its environment in a changed form (= output); • while it simultaneously maintains its own inner condition (=homeostasis) by eliminating extra fluctuation (of matter, energy and/or information) and by disturbing the influence of external factors; …/… Open system
  14. 14. Open system (cont.) • Aims at negative entropy, i.e. strives for survival and maintaining its opertion; • is hierarchically composed of sub- and super-systems; • aims at separation and specialisation. In the feedback process, the system utilises energy which it takes from its outer environment. The feedback process is important as the conveyor of information transportation and the success and development of the system are dependent on the functionality of the feedback. Therefore regulation is crucial in maintaining the system’s economy.
  15. 15. The Emergent Nature of a System The third law of thermodynamics  Specialised energy  The law of entropy
  16. 16. 16 To understand a system… …focus has to be turned on • the technical form of information output (i.e., how it is transmitted and what symbols are used); • the accuracy of information (i.e. how well the symbols describe the acitivities of the system); • how effective the information is (i.e., how that information influences the environment of the system and how the output process is necessary for the survival and managing of the system).
  17. 17. The Role of Feedback in Open Systems Negative feedback • necessary for the self-direction and learning ability of the system; • guides the system to keep on the right track. Positive feedback • result, product, i.e. output • the sum of avoided negative alternatives. .../...
  18. 18. Homeostacy • the ability of a system to maintain its inner condition; • takes place by eliminating redundant fluctuation and the disturbing influence of external stimulae or noise. In keeping up the economy of the open system, the crucial process is regulation.
  19. 19. Human-made systems The systems which have been created by human activity can be divided into three wholes: 1. Planned material systems which are formed as the result of purposeful planning (eg. the heating system of a building). 2. Planned abstract systems are large, human-made wholes which may also include conceptual and deliberately-designed parts (eg. school). 3. Planned functional systems which are composed as a result of people fulfillling some mission or carrying out an assignment. They form systems in order to create something, or to act together, or to achieve a goal, etc. (eg. The Finnish learning system).
  20. 20. Learning beings and learning systems Open systems are”learning beings” (Kuusi 1999; de Jouvenel 1967) which • are controlled by deterministic natural laws and their own will; • are less predictable than non-learning beings and systems, and, • their characteristics, abilities and needs can be observed. The aim of a learning being is its survival, development and reproduction. These processes call for processes which can be passive (eg, registering perceptions in memory) or active (retrieving them back to conscious consideration and changing them into activity).
  21. 21. Learning beings and learning systems (cont.) • Learning organisation is a special case of learning beings. • The essential feature of an organisation as a learning system is its self-understanding (its conception that its function has a direction and meaning).
  22. 22. Non-learning beings • are open systems but in a different way than the learning beings (closer to closed systems); • are predictable when their history (previous stages, states etc.) is recorded and can be established eg. by time series, and their present state is known; • may seem like non-predictable, if their origins or state of the beginning cannot be stated on sufficient accuracy (eg. machines, thermostats, gases); • are not able of self-regulation, and • therefore are on the way to decomposition of their parts, i.e. entropy.