THE HIDDEN POWER OF SYSTEMS THINKING Governance in a Climate Emergency

In many of my recent blogs I have begun to focus on how we can implement transformational change. During my time as the CEO of a new company in the fastest growing city in the UK- Milton Keynes in the late 1990s, I found myself engaging with some of the foremost creative and influential academics in what was then the Centre for Complexity and Change at the Open University. One of the many outcomes of this collaboration was a piece of research by one of its students-Alexandra Di Stefano- on the company I was running. Her PhD was entitled -BEYOND the RHETORIC: A Grounded Perspective on Learning Company and Learning Community.

The creative initiatives the company took with the local business communities , schools and the 4 universities, from a systems perspective, had a profound effect on national education policy, because the company became the precursor of a national network of regional Learning and Skills Councils. Anyway , to the point of this blog! Alexandra’s work and her supervisor Professor Ray Ison introduced me to the importance and impact of systems thinking and practice. Ray and the OU systems team have pioneered work on systems thinking and practice for almost 50 years.

Last month , Ray and Ed Straw published a persuasive and well written book called the Hidden Power of Systems Thinking( , which shows how the failure of governance at all levels(national, regional , local and organisational) is fundamentally at the heart of “the collective incapacity to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises.”

As the preface of the book states:” it is an invitation to think differently. Because the world is in a fix”. And, it goes on to argue very persuasively that we need purposeful change to fix the world’s wicked problems. But not first order purposeful change(i.e. doing the same things more efficiently) but second order change (i.e. changing all systems)which embraces governing for emergence in a new and complex new epoch called the Anthropocene.

Published by Steve Martin

Steve is a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and has spent nearly 40 years facilitating and supporting organisations and governments in ways they can contribute towards a more sustainable future. Over the past 15 years he has been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies and Government Agencies such as the Environment Agency and the Learning and Skills Council. He was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future and has served as a trustee for WWF(UK). He is an Honorary Professor at the University of Worcester and President of the sustainability charity Change Agents UK. He is currently a member of the Access Forum for the Peak District National Park and is supporting the local district council on its Climate emergency programme.

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