Knowing systems thinking

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Grow OD

11 / 3 / 2016 10.19am

In March 2016 we hosted, Knowing Systems Thinking in Manchester. The event provided an introduction to systems theory and an understanding of its practical applications in a living system. 

Access all our resources from the day and listen to our special edition of the DoODcast which goes behind the scenes of the event and also shares the challenges OD leads working on 'Devo Manc' are facing as they support the merger of health and social care for 2.7m people.

‘Knowing’ and understanding systems thinking

To frame our event and help delegates understand systems thinking we looked at John Heron’s ‘Ways of knowing’. Heron takes the concept of knowledge beyond traditional boundaries of academic thinking and describes four ways of ‘knowing’ that together create a holistic, deep and valid way of understanding something.

  • One: Experiential knowing, this happens through direct face-to-face encounters with a person, place or thing. Knowing happens through the immediate experiences of perceiving something. This is the solid grounding on which presentational knowing is built. 
  • Two: Presentational knowing takes the lived experience and translates it into an expression revealed through drawing, sound, movement and metaphor. Presentational knowing helps us make sense of our experiences. This leads us to propositional knowing, the most common and accepted way of knowing.
  • Three: Propositional knowing is knowing about something and expressing it in intellectual terms through ideas, theories and written statements.
  • Four: Practical knowing is a skill, a knack, a competence and is a result of the other three ways of knowing. We become able to do something and we know something practically. 

Resources from the day

If you missed the event these resources will help you develop your knowledge and understand how the theory has been practically applied in the NHS.

  • Doing systems thinking
    Download the presentation given by Anne Benson and Coreene Archer from the Tavistock Institute. This presentation shares an overview of key systems thinking theories and models that underpin our practice.
  • Blog: Exploring patterns that connect
    Gareth Evans, senior organisational development officer at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, illustrates how systems thinking can help us notice and understand patterns of behaviour in our organisation, drawing on an example we may be familiar with – the team member who isn’t managed. 
  • Patterns that connect: Systems thinking in Wales
    Learn how senior organisational development officer, Gareth Evans used systems thinking in his trust. Download his presentation slides which covers how he applied the theory to his work 
  • Thinking about systems and thinking systemically
    This hand-out, which 
    accompanied the presentation by Gareth Evans, examines how we think systemically versus how we think about systems. 
  • Through a lens (a little less) darkly: A story of a line, some triangles, trust and a spider
    Dave Harris, director of people and organisational development at Cheshire Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, shares how he used human systems dynamics theory as a basis for his OD strategy in this presentation from our March event.

DoODcast: Systems thinking and Devo Manc

In this special edition of the DoODcast, recorded at our Manchester event, our speakers share a summary of their work, advice for practitioners and how they are applying systems thinking in their NHS trusts.

We also follow Helen Parker, Associate Director of Organisation Development at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, as she meets with OD leads from across Greater Manchester. Helen meets with her fellow practitioners to discuss the implications of Devo Manc and how as a team they will collaboratively support the many different healthcare organisations to work together in a new and unprecedented way.


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