Systems Thinking for Assessments: beyond ‘getting the bigger picture

Reynolds, Martin (2019). Systems Thinking for Assessments: beyond ‘getting the bigger picture. In: European Environment Agency (EEA) Academy Winter School 2019, 28 Jan - 1 Feb 2019, Copenhagen.



The presentation is for the European Environment Agency (EEA) Academy Winter School on Integrated Environmental Assessment, with invited attention to the Day 4 theme - ‘Towards sustainability in Assessment’. Systems thinking is introduced in terms of being both systemic (getting the bigger picture) and being systematic (engaging with joined-up thinking in practice). Drawing on the Open University postgraduate programme in systems thinking in practice (STiP) three activities of systems thinking in practice are presented – (i) understanding interrelationships, (ii) engaging with multiple perspectives, and (iii) reflecting on boundary judgements - and explored in relation to broadening the scope of assessments from ‘environmental’ focus to ‘sustainability’ focus. Ideas of using systems as purposeful learning systems (heuristic epistemological devices) for assessing and evaluating are emphasised, whilst incorporating more typical use of purposive systems (engineered ontological devices). These are described in comparison with existing EEA model of the MDIAK framework (monitoring, data, information, assessments, knowledge) as conventional system for assessing. Two case stories are presented from the author’s own research practice to exemplify the STiP model for making assessments. Both ‘stories’ exemplify the constructivist underpinnings of STiP for making assessments; the first in focusing on developing capability through Higher Education assessment, and the second in contributing towards a more benign developmental evaluation practice for making assessments more generally.

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