Systems practice and the design of learning systems: orchestrating an ecological conversation

Ison, Ray L. (2002). Systems practice and the design of learning systems: orchestrating an ecological conversation. In: Agriculture and ecosystems management (Proceedings of OECD workshop, 2002), 11-16 Nov 2002.



Human beings live in language and only they can take responsibility for how they think and act. So what understandings of response are possible? The relationship between responsibility and response-abilty is explored in the light of emerging critiques of the prevailing Western attitude to reason, viz: Lakoff and Johnson's (1999) fundamental challenge to prevailing models of Western thought. They argue that reason (on which much practice is built, including research practice) is: (i) not disembodied, but arises from the nature of our brains, bodies and bodily experience; (ii) evolutionary, in that abstract reason builds on and makes use of perceptual and motor inference present in 'lower' animals; (iii) is not universal in the transcendent sense but rather universal in that it is a capacity all humans share; (iv) mostly unconscious; (v) largely metaphorical and imaginative and (vi) not dispassionate but emotionally engaged.

Systems practice is introduced as a means to orchestrate a particular type of conversation; it is also an ecological conversation. As a species our unique selling point is that we can engage in conversation. In the process we bring forth both ourselves and our world. To converse is to turn together, to dance, and thus an ecological conversation is a tango of responsibility. A conversation is inventive, unpredictable and is always particularizing to place and people.

Drawing on experiences of teaching systems thinking and practice for environmental decision making a praxiology is outlined for stakeholder responsibility and response-ability. It is argued that capacity building in systemic inquiry and the design of learning systems are central to this praxiology.

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