1.2 Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity

  The world has become increasingly networked and unpredictable. This is reflected in, for example, climate change, rapid digital transformation, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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  The world has become increasingly networked and unpredictable. This is reflected in, for example, climate change, rapid digital transformation, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Vast complexity pervades the social, political, economic, and environmental domains. Decision-makers at all levels are required to manage the consequences of complexity. Simple solutions to complex issues are usually inadequate and risk exacerbating the very problems they are designed to solve. Leaders of international bodies such as the UN, OECD, UNESCO and WHO, and of major business, public sector, charitable, and professional organizations, have all declared the need for systems thinking an essential leadership skill for managing the complexity of the interrelated issues they face.

   This session welcomes papers which discuss systems thinking, and the various systems and cybernetic approaches, and which show how they can be employed to navigate complexity. Papers that illustrate their arguments using examples of practical application will be much appreciated.

  The argument of ‘critical systems thinking’ is that the various systems and cybernetic approaches have different strengths and weaknesses and have to be used in combination to tackle different aspects of complexity in a way that will lead to overall, sustainable improvement. Papers that offer critiques of particular systems and cybernetic approaches are therefore very welcome. They should suggest how best to use them in combination, and reflect on what ‘improvement’ means (from systems and cybernetic perspectives).

  Finally, papers that discuss how systems and cybernetic approaches can be used to assist restructuring in the post-Covid world are encouraged.

Discussion points

  • What is complexity?

  • How can systems and cybernetic approaches help us deal with complexity?

  • What are examples of the use of systems and cybernetic approaches to manage complexity

  • How can different systems and cybernetic approaches be used in combination to manage complexity?

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the different systems and cybernetic approaches and how do these impact their ability to manage complexity?

  • Can a ‘general systems’ framework be established to co-ordinate such activity?

  • Can a communication space be established for systems thinkers operating from different systems/cybernetic traditions?

  • What does ‘improvement’ mean from a systems perspective?

  • What kind of society do we want post-Covid?

  • How can systems and cybernetic approaches help us to restructure society and its systems of governance, health, education, etc., post-Covid?

  • How can new information technologies be used alongside systems approaches to help us achieve what we want?

Coordinators