Open Thinkering


Tag: reflection

TB872: Revisiting my learning contract

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

At the end of November, I was asked to come up with a learning contract. You can see my post about it here, and the table I produced can be found below. I’ll call this one Version 1 (v1).

Original learning contract

As part of the learning process, we’re asked to go back and revisit this based on what we’ve learned since doing this. So below is my updated version (v2), with new additions to the ‘Notes’ section in bold, a new colour to differentiate it, and strikethrough formatting on words I’ve removed.

Version 2 of my learning contract

I’ll admit to being quite confused by the difference between S1 and S2. I still am to some degree, although I’ve got more of a grip on it than before. As you can see, my S1 in v1 applies to a client situation, which is actually an S2. In v2 of my learning contract, I correct that.

The words in bold that I’ve added show my additional learning over the past month or so. In particular, what I’ve learned from Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of Ray Ison’s Systems Practice: How to Act about systems thinking as a social dynamic and as a process. I’ve also realised through some of the readings just how important it is to take a holistic view of a particular situation of interest. This is crucial for those in leadership positions, but it’s also important for everyone in an organisation to have some kind of understanding of the whole.

One of the things that’s fascinating is to see how my own understanding of “what I do when I do what I do” has developed over the weeks since I started this module. As my (second) rich picture shows, I’ve been reflecting on tendencies that I have to fight against in terms of perfectionism and control.

What I’ve noticed is how I have come to learn about STiP at pretty much an ideal time in my life. As I was explaining to someone recently, if I had studied systems thinking earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready; I need the lived experience for it to be worthwhile. Coupled with the academic study I’ve done and the approach I took to my doctoral thesis, what I’m doing here feels like a logical extension.

I’m particularly interested in leverage points, and have come to realise that it’s only really possible to identify them once you’ve spoke to plenty of people within a particular situation of concern, and (visually) mapped it out. I’m really looking forward to doing more of this, both for the course, and in terms of my work with clients.

Towards the end of Chapter 3, in a footnote, Ray Ison discusses Max Weber’s concept of an ‘ideal type’:

An ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is not meant to refer to perfect things, moral ideals nor to statistical averages but rather to stress certain elements common to most cases of the given phenomena.

Ison, R. (2017) Systems practice: how to act. London: Springer. p.56. Available at:

In that regard, an ideal type is not a Platonic form, but rather something which is more akin to the Pragmatic idea that something is ‘good in the way of belief’. That is to say that it’s an approach to situations which lead to good outcomes, rather than being a template for all outcomes. At least, that’s the way I’m thinking about this at the moment, before moving on to the next section of the book.

TB872: An inquiry into my practice for managing change with STiP

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

DALL-E 3 created abstract image representing the concept of systemic inquiry and personal reflection on managing systemic change. It visually captures the complex network of interconnected paths, embodying decision-making processes, problem-solving approaches, and the balancing of different life roles. The elements within the image suggest themes of communication, collaboration, diverse viewpoints integration, stress management, and personal habits, all contributing to a holistic perspective on systemic thinking. This image encapsulates the dynamics of personal and professional life within the realm of systems thinking.

Apparently, the difference between ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’ isn’t simply an example of variation between American and British English. Rather, as the course materials note, “recent British usage enquire has tended to mean ‘to ask’ and inquire has meant ‘to investigate’, but this difference is not apparent everywhere”. The TB872 module therefore uses ‘inquiry’ in the sense of an exploration or investigation.

We understand ‘systemic inquiry’ as a meta-process for project or programme managing suited to some, but not all, situations. A systemic inquiry can precede or run in parallel with a programme or project. Inquiry is a form of practice as well as a disposition and it is enhanced by acknowledging uncertainty from the start i.e. an attitude of avoiding the hubris of certainty.

To be honest, I didn’t really understand Activity 1.18, so I asked my “little robot friend” (I’ve created a GPT using the TB872 course materials, being sure to tick the option not to use them for ChatGPT’s training data). It said that this activity is an exercise in self-examination and a way to align my personal or professional practices with the principles of managing systemic change. This activity, and therefore this blog post, is only about setting it up.

As such, I need to consider:

  • Reflecting on my current practice: particularly in terms of managing changes in complex systems. This might involve considering how I approach problems, make decisions, and interact with others in situations that require systemic thinking.
  • Identifying Practices: I need to think about specific practices or habits I currently use when faced with systemic challenges. This could include both formal methods and informal strategies that I employ in professional or personal contexts.
  • Analysing the effectiveness of these practices: for example, are there areas where my approach works well? Are there aspects that could be improved? Through this analysis, I should be able to recognise strengths as well as areas for development in my systemic practice.
  • Praxis: by connecting my personal practices with theoretical concepts and frameworks I’m learning module, I should figure out how my methods align with or diverge from the principles of systems thinking.
  • Iteration: my systems literacy will improve over time, so I only need to consider what I would call System Inquiry v0.1. As I progress through the module I’ll then integrate new insights and learning.

There are so many areas I could cover, but given that I’m blogging publicly about all of this I think I’ll probably steer clear of anything solely related to my family. Instead I’ll focus more on personal or work-related things.

For example (again, with the help of my little robot friend), I could consider:

  1. Decision-making processes: how do I make decisions, especially in complex situations? Do I consider multiple perspectives? How do I deal with uncertainty or conflicting information?
  2. Problem-solving approaches: how do I approach problem-solving? Do I tend to look at problems in isolation, or do I consider the wider system and potential ripple effects of my solutions?
  3. Communication & collaboration: if I consider my communication and collaboration practices, particularly in group settings or teams, how do I ensure diverse viewpoints are considered? How do I manage conflicts or integrate different ideas?
  4. Change management: by reflecting on a specific instance where I was involved in managing change, what were the strategies I used, the challenges I faced, and the outcomes that were achieved?
  5. Workplace practices: what are the systems and processes within my organisation. How do they impact my work? Are there inefficiencies or areas for improvement that a systems thinking approach could address?
  6. Personal habits & routines: looking at my daily habits and routines, how do these contribute to my overall well-being or goals? Are there systemic factors influencing these habits?
  7. Handling stress & complexity: reflecting on how I handle stress and complex situations, do I have strategies for maintaining a holistic perspective and not getting overwhelmed by details?
  8. Balancing different life roles: considering how I balance different roles in my life (e.g., professional, parent, community member), how do these roles interact and influence each other?
  9. Learning & education: thinking about my approach to learning and education, how do I integrate new knowledge into my practice? Do I consider the broader implications of what I learn?
  10. Community engagement: in terms of community activities in which I’ve involved, I could consider how I contribute and what systemic factors affect the community. How do I approach community issues from a systems perspective?

It was useful to ask for some options, as otherwise I’d probably just have looked about something specific to our co-op. Instead, I think I’ll reflect on my practice in terms of how I remain productive despite all of the different things that could hinder that (health, time pressures due to family commitments, study, etc.)

I’ll refine this further as I get into things a bit more, but thinking about my ‘practice’ in terms of the way I set up my life to be as (sustainably) productive as possible seems like a good start.

Image: DALL-E 3

TB872: Mapping my arrival trajectory

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

Doug's trajectory map with blobs (elements) and information about background, context, capacity, etc.

(click to enlarge)

The above diagram is a ‘trajectory map’ showing my arrival at module TB872: Managing Change with Systems Thinking in Practice. The approach comes from Etienne Wenger’s work around communities of practice to help them understand their identities in relation to others, as well as their past, present, and future trajectory.

[Trajectories] give significance to events in relation to time construed as an extension of the self. They provide a context in which to determine what, among all the things that are potentially significant, actually becomes significant learning. A sense of trajectory gives us ways of sorting out what matters and what does not, what contributes to our identity and what remains marginal.

(Wenger, 1998, p. 155, cited in TB872 module guide)

There were two examples given to us, one of which you can see below:

Example trajectory map (Ray Ison)

You may think that mine doesn’t look much like the example, and you’d be correct. However, I have a preference for using digital tools and so used Whimsical again. I initially tried Kumu, but couldn’t find an adequate way to represent what I wanted to include.

What is similar are the ‘blobs’ containing information, and the causal arrows pointing to and from each of them. I reorganised my trajectory map after I read that it should have a ‘temporal flow’ to it. In other words, it should be easy for the reader/viewer to understand the order in which things happened. In my case, it reads mainly left to right and top to bottom.

I found this relatively straightforward to do, as I didn’t stumble into this module but had thought carefully about what I wanted to do and why. For example, I had reflected that in the second half of my career I wanted to work on finding leverage points to effect change at scale. Systems Thinking seemed to be a good way of doing this, and fitted with my interests. I looked at the Masters-level courses available and rejected Cranfield’s MSc as it seemed too technology-focused. Likewise, although I enjoyed the UCL Short Course in Systems Thinking that I tried, it was again too technically-minded.

My aim is to use my background in the humanities to think much more on the human side of things. I’ve worked with the Open University before, and my dad loved his postgraduate studies through the OU when I was growing up. It seemed a good, flexible option, and I haven’t been proved wrong so far!