Demanding Change: Is there an epistemology of systems? – Richard Veryard

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Demanding Change: Is there an epistemology of systems?

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Is there an epistemology of systems?

@camerontw is critical of a system diagram published (as an illustrative example) by @geoffmulgan in 2013.https://platform.twitter.com/embed-holdback/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH0sInRmd190ZWFtX2hvbGRiYWNrXzExOTI5Ijp7ImJ1Y2tldCI6ImNvbnRyb2wiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjo3fX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1446747532726439940&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fdemandingchange.blogspot.com%2F2021%2F10%2Fis-there-epistemology-of-systems.html&sessionId=996108b93f55cba35b9f7e40f8358d3519e94c48&theme=light&widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&width=550px

To be fair to Sir Geoff, his paper includes this diagram as one example of “looser tools … without precise modelling of the key relationships”, and describes it as a “rough picture”. I don’t have a problem with using these diagrams as part of an ongoing collective sense-making exercise. Where I agree with Cameron is the danger of presenting such diagrams without proper explanation, as if they were the final output of some clever systems thinking.

To extend Cameron’s point, it’s not just about which connections are shown between the causal factors in the diagram, but which causal factors are shown in the first place. Elsewhere in the diagram, there is an arrow showing that Low Use of Health Services is influenced by Poor Transport Access or High Cost. Well perhaps it is, but why are other possible influences not also shown?

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Demanding Change: Is there an epistemology of systems?