Knowledge – Systems Thinking


Abstract: A structured approach to describing and analysing the system in which interventions are being considered, helps to create a clear and understandable development program.
Technology Readiness Level: 9 (way of working successfully applied)
Landscapes: any
Keywords: system, engineering, nature, society, mapping, cause-effect

This knowledge page presents experiences with the use of system thinking and system diagramming in the Building with Nature programme. The construction of a jointly agreed system representation helps to cross discipline boundaries and to see the big picture. Also, such a system representation facilitates sharing and comparing differences in opinions, values, histories, interests, etc. in relation to the design requirements. Moreover, learning is facilitated by monitoring changes in real life and adapting the representation of the system to the monitoring results. The aim of this knowledge information is to discuss the contribution of systems thinking to Building with Nature-design processes.

The Building with Nature innovation programme uses a triangle to depict the relationship between three components that are relevant in BwN-design of water-related infrastructures: nature, society and engineering.

Building with nature triangle: nature, society and engineering

Nature encompasses hydro-morphological processes (wind, waves and currents, sedimentation and erosion, water- and wind-induced sediment transport) and ecological processes (food webs, ecosystem engineers, the influence of bioengineering). Engineering represents all human interventions to the natural system (dams, dikes, canals, reclamation projects, etc.). Governance and society represents the institutional system, both formal (laws, regulations, standards, decision-making structures, contracts) and informal (political power, networks, negotiations, established practices, stakeholder involvement). An ecodynamic design is the result of interactions between these three components.

Five steps of designing Building with Nature

As described in the general section of this Guideline the first of five steps in designing Building with Nature approaches is to understand the system in question (see five step figure). This seemingly straightforward and obvious step has proven a difficult hurdle to take. The concept of systems thinking may be a useful tool to get a full comprehension of the system from all three perspectives.

This knowledge information presents experiences with the use of systems thinking and system diagramming in the Building with Nature programme. It will not replicate existing information on systems thinking which can be found in great wealth on the internet. Whenever necessary, sources of information on the internet are mentioned. After a short framing of the understanding of systems, experiences with the application of systems thinking and system diagramming in a case study are presented. The aim is to discuss the potential contribution of systems thinking to ecodynamic design processes.