Knowledge – Systems Thinking

Lesson Learned

Lessons have been learned on:

  • Really ‘understanding the system’ is not an easy task.
  • ‘Representations of sub-systems’ can be helpful but do require a good deal of system knowledge.
  • Cause-effect diagrams are effective tools
  • For external communications other tools are needed.
  • Understanding the bigger picture and having tools to learn how to capture differences in knowledge and diversity in perspectives of actors in BwN-designs is a crucial element of Building with Nature. In literature (and on the internet) there is a wealth of information on system representation methods and tools. Yet, the practical application of systems thinking in the IJsselmeer case proved more difficult than anticipated.
  • Translation of disciplinary knowledge (like in figures 5 and 6) into representations of (sub)systems did help to get the bigger picture. Representations are characterized by a focus on a specific element of the system, without explicit reference to assumptions or perspectives of other people. Attempts to cross boundaries between social and natural systems, however, gave some difficulties. The mindmap in figure 7 is such an attempt. The result is not easy to read, and one must have a certain level of system knowledge to benefit from it.
  • The ambition to co-construct cause-effect diagrams in the community of practice resulted in hybrids like in figure 9. The system representations were made after the CoP-meetings (based on drafts produced by CoP-members) and difficulties were encountered to design a coherent representation that was recognized by all CoP-members. Still the resulting diagrams convey a rich and comprehensive summary of a multidisciplinary analysis.
  • The final diagrams have value, but mainly as a reporting tool for the overall discussions, as a communication tool within the CoP and as a structuring principle for CoP-members. For communication purposes outside the CoP simpler representations are needed