Systems Change Requires Systems Tools: Moving Beyond the Obvious – Saras Chung

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Systems Change Requires Systems Tools: Moving Beyond the Obvious.

Systems Change Requires Systems Tools: Moving Beyond the Obvious.

Saras Chung, PhD, MSW

Saras Chung, PhD, MSWFollowingJun 5 · 6 min read

Advocates for social justice talk about systems change. However, what does it mean to change a system? Knowing how to do this requires us to see beyond the fact that there is a system and that intervening for change is not that simple. Many of us have now witnessed the unintended effects of greatly intentioned interventions making things worse rather than better over time. From “Zero Tolerance” in schools to “No Child Left Behind” and the unintended consequences of school turnaround efforts, we have plenty of examples of how our efforts to help actually hurt. Failed efforts can be attributed to our incomplete understanding of systems and their dynamics.

For instance, what are the components that describe a system? How do its parts relate and counteract one another over time? Experts in systems and their dynamics are called system dynamicists. Jay Forrester, the founder of this particular field, was pivotable in describing the characteristics of systems from which we as social activists can learn.

To truly be effective at systems change, we must be committed to learning and understanding the language and mechanisms of systems. We must move beyond elementary concepts and use the tools of systems. We must be rigorous. The following is a simplified list of steps to move beyond a nascent understanding of systems — from recognizing there is one, to uncovering its dynamics.

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Systems Change Requires Systems Tools: Moving Beyond the Obvious.