Team 3: Exploring the relationship of systems research to systems literacy

Edson, Mary; Buckle Henning, Pam; Ferris, Tim; Hieronymi, Andreas; Ison, Ray; Metcalf, Gary; Mobus, George; Nguyen, Nam; Rousseau, David; Sankaran, Shankar and Tuddenham, Peter (2017). Team 3: Exploring the relationship of systems research to systems literacy. In: Systems Literacy: Proceedings of the Eighteenth IFSR Conversation 2016 (Edson, Mary C.; Metcalf, Gary S.; Tuddenham, Peter and Chroust, Gerhard eds.), pp. 64–76.


In this paper, the Systems Research Team (SRT) details the activities and outcomes of the 2016 IFSR Conversation in Linz, Austria. The 2016 SRT includes: Mary Edson (team leader), Pam Buckle Henning, Tim Ferris, Andreas Hieronymi, Ray Ison, Gary Metcalf, George Mobus, Nam Nguyen, David Rousseau, and Shankar Sankaran, with guest team member, Peter Tuddenham, anchoring the endeavor in Systems Literacy. While the 2014 SRT’s focus was answering the question, “What distinguishes Systems Research from other types of research?” an internal focus intended to provide grounding for researchers new to the Systems Sciences, the 2016 SRT’s focus is on reaching out to a broader community in order to provide a foundation for Systems Literacy. The team’s Conversation revolved around the question, “How can Systems Research be in service to Systems Literacy?” The team’s discussions were directed into two essential aspects, separate and integrated, of this question. First, Systems Research serves Systems Literacy by providing a credible foundation for the principles and practices of Systems Science and Systems Thinking in both systematic and systemic modes. Second, Systems Research provides a neutral frame for development of ethical applications of those principles and practices.

The SRT recognizes the exigency in providing foundational principles that can be effectively adopted and disseminated through Systems Literacy. The team’s narrative begins with an understanding the urgency for application of Systems Sciences and Systems Thinking to critical issues. Systems research, as with other types of research, is typically a slow generation of results; however, the body of knowledge gained through this process can be confidently used to address complexity in timely ways. The criticality of the need for salient approaches to complexity is shown in a graphic representation of some possible trajectories of applying or not applying these Systems principles in practice. The choice of how we respond to these issues relates to a process model that can be applied. Through understanding the relationship of the process model to the trajectory, the team directed its focus to developing a MindMap (Eppler, 2006) of eight essential aspects or features of how Systems Research can support Systems Literacy. These include: Systems Science knowledge base, roles and personas, maturity models, role profile, ontology/vocabulary, perspective/framing choice, frameworks, and political ecology. Each of these eight has its own process of unpacking, which was demonstrated to the Conversation participants by delving more deeply into the aspect of knowledge base. The eight relate to unpacking the Systems landscape in a coherent but loosely coupled investment portfolio (economic, social, and relational) for building systemic sensibility in such a way as to be dis/aggregated for different audiences. The week’s work culminated in a plan for “Looking Ahead,” which outlines the intentions of the SRT to continue its activities in support of Systems Literacy in the upcoming months. An example of this continued work is a workshop, “Toward Systems Literacy, the Role of Systems Research,” that was conducted at the 60th Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences in Boulder, July 25, 2016.

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