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Thursday, August 6 • 16:30 - 17:00
Systemic Praxis for doing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS)

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Implementing the (2015-2030) sustainable development goals (SDGs) provides opportunities and challenges for profiling the resonance and relevance of systems thinking amongst policy practitioners (policy advisors,  policy makers and policy managers and administrators).  It may also provide an opportunity for  reconciling the sometimes disparate contemporary traditions of complexity thinking and systems thinking amongst systemic practitioners.  The two traditions draw different emphases on three uses of the systems idea – ‘natural’  systems (e.g., complex adaptive systems), mechanical – ‘purposive’ - systems (e.g., computerised agent-based modelling of complex systems), and  social – ‘purposeful’ – systems (e.g, design and implementation of interventions).

Some ideas are floated to help capture opportunities in the ensuing flux of events, people and ideas associated with the implementation of SDGs.  Drawing on the lineage of traditions in complexity and systems thinking, the author plays with ideas of boundary critique and complex adaptive systems as ways of exploring purposeful systemic praxis.

Praxis is understood as theory-in-action in order to transform a situation (cf. Paulo Freire: 1921-1997).  Systemic praxis is understood as transformation from emergent change in three interdependent factors: (i)  an operational change in patterns of inter-relationships regarding issues at stake; (ii)  an ethical change in viewpoints and perspectives amongst stakeholders; and (iii) political change in boundaries and relations of power amongst stakeholders and their stakeholdings. The ideas of systemic praxis framework outlined is an adapted version of boundary critique derived from traditions of critical systems thinking of Werner Ulrich and American philosophical pragmatism associated with Charles Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952).

Drawing on Nichomachean ethics and practical wisdom (cf. Aristotle: 384-322 BC), systemic praxis can be manifest through systemic failure (bad praxis or ‘dyspraxia’) as much as systemic improvement (good praxis or ‘eupraxia’). Examples of systemic failure in ‘doing’ sustainability are illustrated with ideas of The Iron Triangle used for understanding complex realities from a political economy viewpoint (e.g., J.K. Galbraith and Amartya Sen) and political activism (e.g., Arundhati Roy and Angela Davis).  Other examples of ‘dyspraxia’  are illustrated in terms of (either/or) dualisms as distinct from (both/and) dualities;  for example, reinforcing a division between ‘planning’ of SDGs through the UN Working Group on Sustainability, and the enacting or doing of SDGs.  Dualism notions of ‘deliverology’ remain prevalent in contemporary management systems relating to sustainable development.

Systemic good praxis (eupraxia) is regarded in contrast as a duality between systematic and systemic; between purposive and purposeful systems thinking in practice. A three-fold strategy for doing SDGs is suggested.  Firstly, ideas of adaptive action,  suggested by Glenda Eoyang influenced by complex adaptive systems,  provide a means for understanding inter-relationships – getting unstuck. The process engages practitioners with summative evaluation.  This prompts questions of systemic design, the second phase of good systemic praxis.  Here, the Vanguard method influenced by process systems thinking from John Seddon, provides a helpful Check-Plan-Do (CPD) model prompting awareness of formative evaluation.  The third phase requires an interplay of summative and formative evaluation through developmental evaluation, initiated through the works of Michael Q. Patton.  Good systemic praxis involves generating value.  Rather than considered as ‘phases’ the three attributes of praxis are more properly understood as continually iterative.  A further important attribute of good systemic praxis is to draw on stakeholders’ own experiences and skill-sets to provide the grounding for doing SDGs purposefully and with beneficial impact.  

Presenter / Artist
avatar for Martin Reynolds

Martin Reynolds

Senior Lecturer, The Open University
Systems Thinking in Practice Postgraduate Qualifications Director Distance learning Developmental Evaluation ISSS Regular Environmental responsibility

Thursday August 6, 2015 16:30 - 17:00 CEST
Reindeer Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

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