Public policy can have severe unintended consequences. What can Systems Thinking do to bring results without the collateral damage?
The Mayor of Somerville Mass. is applying systems thinking to creating public policy. An article in Governing.com informs about how linear logic drastically failed the Boston suburb of Somerville when a highway and an overpass were built right through it. The unintended consequences of the road building that seemed rational were huge for the community of the suburb.
Mayor Curtatone has had the good sense to team up with a Systems Thinking approach through the program led by Dr. Mark Esposito. Curtatone realizes that public policy often fails to “think in terms of interrelated systems”. Systems thinking and statistical analyses form the backbone of their holistic thinking. Their NEXUS initiative aims at getting City Hall and also residents aligned in thinking in a connected way about the issues they face.
But what is systems thinking and why do we need it so badly?
Systems Thinking is the offspring of a precise paradigm, one that “emerges” from the unprecedented level of interconnectedness we all live in. At its most profound level, Systems Thinking is what we need to understand higher realms of validity for human life to continue to exist. For instance, it helps us understand the lethal dangers of excessive inequality, the limits of sustainability, and a balanced approach to the exploitation of natural resources.
Systems Thinking is about seeing how interdependencies (the way we are connected) create realities that are fundamentally different from the ones represented by the connecting elements: the whole is VERY different from the sum (or any linear combination) of its parts.
A new ecology of the mind
At its most ambitious level, Systems Thinking should be aimed at creating a new ecology of the mind and tapping into higher realms of self-consciousness. It helps us access a superior, and largely un-exploited ability to develop new cognitive possibilities and act upon them. It helps us see how much faster we can close the gap between what we know and how to put it into practice. as we embrace the dynamic (and non-linear) unfolding of reality.
At Intelligent Management, we work with Systemic Thinking through powerful systemic tools and statistical methods. We believe this approach is the foundation for a more meaningful way of living our lives. We can’t wait to see more leaders like Mayor Curtatone supporting our communities along this path.
Here on the west coast, we are excited to see the emergence of a mayoral candidate, Councillor Lisa Helps, who gets it. She intends to bring a systemic approach to City Hall in Victoria, BC to radically improve services and create new opportunities for all of the city’s residents to prosper. We wish her and other like-minded leaders every success.
Angela Montgomery is the author of The Human Constraint – a book that takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the financial crisis and towards a new model for future business. The book comes with an accompanying website highlighting chapter by chapter the systemic thinking, methods and tools to achieve a new economy of sustainable wealth.