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Conversational Systems Thinking. The power of group engagement with the rigor of system dynamics…for less!. Purpose. To describe a set of skills and an approach that can improve the quality of thinking …about just about anything… without requiring computer simulation. Agenda.

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Conversational Systems Thinking


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    1. Conversational Systems Thinking The power of group engagement with the rigor of system dynamics…for less!

    2. Purpose • To describe a set of skills and an approach that can improve the quality of thinking…about just about anything…without requiring computer simulation

    3. Agenda • Overview • Seven Skills • Value Add • Leverage Points • Q&A

    4. Acknowledgements • I have had the honor to work with several inspirational systems thinkers • Barry Richmond • First articulated Seven Thinking Skills • First coined term Conversational Systems Thinking • Dana Meadows • Developer of Leverage Points concepts • Steve Peterson • Continues to push these ideas forward • Paper Barry Richmond, System Dynamics and Public Policy is a great example

    5. Continuum from Archetype/CLD ST to Computer-Facilitated SD Archetype/CLD ST Computer-Facilitated SD • Easy to Learn • Nearly anyone can write it • Some systemic insights • but can be too generic • Mostly right brain • Sexy • Years to Learn • limited to few • Most rigorous and unique • systemic insights • Heavy left brain • Geeky • Possible to Learn • Somewhat limited • More rigorous and more unique • systemic insights • Broad appeal - left/right brain

    6. Complex model Simple model Simple stock/flow map Conversational use of skills Barry Richmond’sValue per Effort graph Value Derived • A lot of clarity can be derived with little time and effort, simply by conversational application of (operational) systems thinking Big honkin’ model! Focus of CST Effort/Time Required

    7. Build Complex Models 2% Build Simple Models 15-20% Apply Conversational Systems Thinking Skills 95-100% Build Simple Maps 40-50% Venn Diagram • A majority of the population (e.g. in organization or policy discussion…dare I say in the population!) can learn and apply Conversational Systems Thinking • They would become better participants (consumers and contributors) to strategy and policy processes

    8. About the Current Age "I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien One crucially important thing we can do with the time given us is to increase our systems thinking capacity and of those around us.

    9. Seven Thinking Skills Overview

    10. Seven Thinking Skills of a Systems Thinker* *Barry Richmond

    11. 7 ST SkillsContrasting CST with Simulation SD Framing Issues Representing Assumptions Mindset & Approach

    12. The Skills Part 1Framing the Issue

    13. Profit (in Millions of $) “Much Longer Time Horizon” Lens 20 “Longer Time Horizon” Lens “Short Time Horizon” Lens 0 “Here & Now” Lens -20 Years Dynamic Thinking • Move from event to over-timeperspective • Power of group agreement on “what’s happening” • I usually get individuals to sketch out…then have small groups discuss, integrate and prioritize

    14. Dynamic ThinkingDon’t only look back! • Very interesting discussions can occur when asking to project how long it will take to achieve some objective. Revenue Let’s double revenue! How will that occur? 20 Different curves represent different mental models that can be brought to the light of day! 10 0 Years

    15. Dynamic ThinkingMalnutrition (Peru) • Here the behavior of interest is… • Why have improvements in reducing malnutrition stopped!? Understanding why it worked for a while and why it’s stopped can lead to more systemic conversations More than one of every four children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition in Peru. After steady advances, progress in addressing the problem essentially came to a halt – despite roughly $300 million a year devoted to resolving the problem.

    16. 30,000 Foot (Forest) Thinking • Boundary expansion • One way to avoid unintended consequences or poor projections • Example: Oil Production • Top map projects oil production solely on production infrastructure • Second includes finite resource, price and the impact on demand (consumption infrastructure) Production Infrastructure Supply Consumption Infrastructure Demand Production Infrastructure Supply Price

    17. 30,000 Foot (Forest) ThinkingTips • Resist the temptation to “dive into” everything you know about a part of the issue in any one sector until you’ve captured the 30,000 foot view • Use Sector Frames to help categorize • Expand boundary by questioning clouds in a stock/flow map

    18. The Skills Part 2Representing the Mental Model

    19. Operational Thinking • The stock/flow language is the operational language of Conversational Systems Thinking • It becomes a great framework for… • Representing the main chain (core infrastructure) • Determining the essence of how activities are generated (stock vs. flow) • Identifying levers through generic templates

    20. Treatment Capacity Financials Population Health Personal Health Habits Workforce Development Main Chains (or Core Infrastructures)Examples of stock/flow maps

    21. 1 2 3 Main Chains (or Core Infrastructures) An example from the CDC CDC was mandated by Congress with two measurable goals re: diabetes policy… • Rate of diagnosing diabetes • Reducing Prevalence • Reducing deaths (dying) What do you think of this strategy? Sufficient? Turns out these goals are incongruent! Prevalence & deaths (measurable) must increase if diagnosing increases!

    22. Main Chains (or Core Infrastructures)Homework for Session 3: Map the expenditureAn Example from working with GA Legislators a. Map current or desired initiatives onto main chain c. d. b.

    23. Main ChainsTips • Although you can map non-physical, it’s likely best to make core infrastructure physical • A structure mapping the building Support for a program at Boeing becomes a chain of Advocates and Resistants • Non-physical variables can then drive these more physical flows

    24. Activity (Flow) Generation • Understanding whether a flow is generated primarily from a stock or flow can lead to insights in where focus has been and what might be done • Have conversations with stakeholders regarding the essence of how something is generated

    25. Resource Gap-adjustment Compounding Draining Co-flow Activity (Flow) GenerationGeneric Templates Templates • Stock-based • Resource • Compounding • Draining • Gap-adjustment • Flow-based • Co-flow Using generic templates helps identifies levers

    26. Co-flows External resource Example: Auto manufacturerStrategy to reduce auto-related fatalities • Manufacturer classified initiatives as active vs. passive • Turns out using generic templates made it easier to classify • Features by automakers to reduce fatalities can reduce: • Accident probability • Fatality probability • But can also reduce: • Autos (UIO) • Miles driven (VMT)

    27. s s o Limit to Growth Balancing Loop Supply Balancing Loop Demand Balancing Loop o s s s Closed-Loop Thinking • Showing feedback loops that drive changes in dynamics • Reinforcing • Counteracting (Balancing) • Can do so just as well in stock/flow maps… • And you don’t lose the main chain nor levers identified Can do with/without generic templates

    28. Healthy and Chronic Population discussionCST Exercise with GA Legislators • Current treatment strategies might create a vicious cycle (Reinforcing Loop) • More demand & spending for treatments on the Chronic Population means less spending on the At Risk Population means more Chronic Population needing treatments) • What might be the most effective way to limit this loop’s impact? Reinforcing Loop

    29. The Skills Part 3Framing the Issue

    30. Scientific Thinking Process Observe/Identify Issues • In applying CST use same confidence building process you would with a model • Building confidence not proving truth • Iterate through applying skills • Revisit reference behavior • When building maps start small - core infrastructure • Best if core infrastructure is physical • Add a piece of structure, discuss implications, revise and add from there Build/Revise Causal Theory Develop/Test Strategies Communicate & Disseminate Solutions & Insights

    31. Value Add in Practice

    32. Pulls out concept of systemic orchestration • Operational strategy maps identify where systemic orchestration will determine strategic effectiveness • Knowing timing and magnitude is just as important as knowing levers! 6 month delay 3 year delay

    33. Annual deaths Years Identify Unintended Consequences Rigorous approach to improving mental models Policy Question How can we reduce the number of people dying with AIDs? Expanding boundaries leads to… If our primary strategy is to develop interventions that increase the lifespan of the Infected Population, what will happen to the rate of “dying” over time?

    34. Able to Identify Leverage Points • Conversational Systems Thinking – because it applies stocks and flows – allows better analysis using Donella Meadow’s “places to intervene in a system” framework • Her list of leverage points (next page) works from constants (e.g. productivity terms) down to rules and mindsets that determine the system • CST allows you to examine the gamut of her list

    35. 12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards) 11. The sizes of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows 10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures) 9. The length of delays, relative to the rate of system change 8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to correct against 7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops 6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information) 5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints) 4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure 3. The goals of the system 2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system - its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arises 1. The power to transcend paradigms Identifying PoliciesPlaces to Intervene in a system* In order of increasing effectiveness *Donella Meadows, Sustainability Institute and author of The Global Citizen http://www.sustainer.org By using CST, you can more easily explore implications of policies with regard to leverage

    36. Summary Dana Meadows said: We have just enough time… starting now!

    37. A Brief Bibliography