Before being born, until the day we die we depend on systems
We are largely unaware of our dependence on systems, until we need them, or when they fail us — when governments and health systems seem unable to protect us from a pandemic, when the economy is in poor health and we cannot find work, when flood defence systems fail, the car breaks down, high levels of pollution impact our health, crime rates surge, we are the victim of a cyber security attack, or our internet connection fails.
Given their fundamental importance to each and every one of us, should we not have a far better understanding of systems — the way they work and their impact on us? This question led to the formation of the Critical Systems Forum, a think tank hosted by the Enlightened Enterprise Academy. It will focus on both Critical Systems Thinking and Practice, sharing knowledge and offering courses.
A widespread understanding of the benefits of Critical Systems Thinking and Practice will be valuable to government, business, and organisations of all types in all sectors. They will be able to: Mitigate system failures and underperformance; Maximise the chances of positive outcomes from systems design, change, and management; Demonstrate systemic leadership; Address problems holistically; Take better decisions; Be more innovative; Undertake organisational transformation; Get the best out of people and teams; Provide service excellence; Demonstrably contribute to societal and environmental improvement; and promote inclusion. Our work will produce a growing body of knowledge that the leaders of enterprises will be able to access whenever it is needed. They will also be able to read, or watch, up to date research and interviews from a wide range of international sources.
Dr Michael Jackson invited the Enlightened Enterprise Academy (EEA) to establish a ‘think-tank’ with a focus on Critical Systems Thinking and practice, in relation to major social, environmental, and organisational issues, and relevant to businesses and organisations in all sectors.
The invitation followed separate discussions between Dr Jackson and Paul Barnett, Founder of the EEA, regarding the design of executive education courses in Critical Systems Thinking and Practice (CST&P), starting early 2021.
That conversation was itself preceded by Dr Jackson’s participation in the conference “Undaunted: How Successful Leaders Face Up to Wicked Problems and Avoid Predictable Surprises” which took place in March 2020 at the Royal Society of Arts in London. The focus was problem solving, complexity, decision making, risk and systems thinking.
Paul also spoke on the same topic to a conference of Warwick Business School DBA cohorts prior to that and has run related conferences on topics such as overcoming the problems of organisational silos. Additionally, Paul strongly recommends Mike’s book: Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity: Responsible Leadership for a Complex World (Wiley 2019).
The Critical Systems Forum is now being designed and developed for a launch in in early 2021. A Draft Development Plan will be considered by the Steering Committee that is currently being formed.
Over time the Critical Systems Forum will provide access to a growing body of research and links to other resources. In the meantime Dr Jackson's book is a most comprehensive resource detailing the history of systems thinking to providing context to extensive reviews of the mean systems thinking approaches. It then details the Critical Systems Thinking approach and how it can be practiced.
The other resource we offer at the outset is the Draft Development Plan for the forum. It details our proposed:
Aims and scope
Activities and outputs
Politics and policies
If you would like to suggest resources that we might wish to add please email them