Systems Thinking

In this graduate seminar, we will consider living systems from a particular perspective: the efforts of individuals and organizations to effect purposeful change in areas of opportunity or concern. In order to better understand the challenges of grappling with social and ecological complexities, we will discuss theories of design, learning, and identity; systems concepts such as feedback, boundary, and affordance; and ways of evaluating the effectiveness of one’s inquiries and engagements.

Our studio practice will emphasize visual thinking, and we will use a variety of techniques for diagramming and representing social situations. Methods will include concept mapping, influence mapping, and analog mapping; models will include system archetypes, the logic model, and the landscape (regime shift) model. The resulting maps that we produce (individually and collaboratively) will serve as lenses for examining one’s understandings, comparing one’s understandings with others, and considering strategies for purposeful Action.

We will use an ethnographic approach to learn first-hand about the ways in which others have engaged with efforts at purposeful change. The instructor will invite experienced visitors to the class, selecting these visitors based on the instructor’s appreciation of and interest in their work, as well as affordances for engagement with them. We will call these visitors our “partners” or “clients” or “collaborators” and will collectively seek to learn about their work, using the mapping techniques described above. Students will present these mappings at an end-of-semester exhibition.

Analogously, each student will individually identify and interview an outside “partner” or “client” or “collaborator” – i.e., someone whose work the student appreciates and wants to learn more about. Students will develop a visual vocabulary for reporting back on this interview in the final presentation and paper of the Semester.

Students will be expected to co-create and participate in an active learning community and to support each other in exploring a wide range of potentially controversial and/or personally challenging issues.