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Bridging the Systems Thinking Capability Gap

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Bridging the Systems Thinking Capability Gap: To Improve Decision-Making and Create a Better World

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Leaders in international organisations (UN, UNESCO, OECD, WHO and others), government, business, and the third-sector, declare that the primary issues they face result from increased complexity. They go on to argue that systems thinking and practice are the best way of seeking to understand and manage that complexity:

“Unless we adopt a systems approach, unless we employ systems thinking, we will fail to understand the world we are living in” (OECD, 2018). The problem is that systems thinking, as a relatively young transdiscipline, is rarely taught in universities and has largely failed to establish itself as the go-to approach for decision-makers.

In this unmissable event we will discuss the nature of the systems thinking capability gap and how we can ensure leaders and other stakeholders have the systems thinking and decision-making capacity to cope with the complexity they encounter in a VUCA world. It is all about changing our ways of thinking.

There are numerous examples of institutional failures at the local, national and international levels. Covid-19 exposed many weaknesses in our health systems. We seem unable to tackle inequality and the problems posed by an ageing population; and food, water, and energy crises are increasingly common, even in so-called developed economies. Our event will take place against the backdrop of the COP26 Climate Change Meeting in Glasgow, which is being held from 29/10 to 12/11. Few are expecting that the Glasgow talks will solve the crisis we face.

The result of so many system failures has been a collapse in levels of confidence in our political and economic systems, and of trust in our leaders. Citizens frequently complain “the system isn’t working”. And while many leaders readily accept the problems they face are systemic in nature, they seem at a loss at how to respond.

It is for this reason that the Enlightened Enterprise Academy has created a Critical Systems Forum with Dr Michael C Jackson OBE, the pioneer of the pluralistic approach to systems thinking and author of Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity (Wiley, 2019). The Critical Systems Forum will soon become an Institute, and solving the systems thinking capability gap will be a central purpose. But first we will run a conference online on November 4th to explore whether others think the problem is as pressing as we do and, if so, how we can go about addressing it.

We will hear provocations from three senior leaders who will discuss the capabilities they see contemporary decision-makers needing. There are then short responses from three systems thinkers (including Professor Jackson) outlining what they think taking a systems approach has to offer. A moderated audience Q&A session and participative discussion follows.​

The first confirmed speaker is Rupert McNeil, appointed Government Chief People Officer on 1 January 2016, joining the Civil Service from Lloyds Banking Group, where he was the Group HR Director. As Government Chief People Officer, Rupert is responsible for delivery of the Civil Service People Strategy, which sets out what the Civil Service needs to do to attract the most capable and public-spirited people and build a culture and ways of working that are as good, if not better, than anything on offer anywhere else. He provides leadership on the full range of people issues including talent, capability, inclusion, capacity, leadership, pay, performance, employee relations, culture, and behaviours.

When accepting the invitation to speak he said: "A great topic and very aligned with the work we are currently doing in the Government Skills and Curriculum unit on capability building."

Other speakers will be announced soon. Join the mailing list for further announcements.

The event will take place online on Thursday 4th November 14.00 - 17.00

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