Read the case study in Appendix B and draw a rich picture.
The case study describes the mess created when the government started the CSA back in the 90s. I remember this happening back in the 90s and it’s interesting that the day I start reading the case study something pops up in the news about it.
I’ve thankfully never had to deal with them, and I seriously hope I never will. Reading the case study suggested a comedy of errors, but I’m sure that it wasn’t at all funny for the people affected by it. It’s a real lesson in how not to implement a large-scale project.
I’ve read it all the way through without taking notes. I shall now read it again, more thoroughly this time and take notes as I go. I shall then draw up a rich picture using my O-level art skills from the 1980s. Continue reading
How do you read most effectively?
Oh crap. Well, I don’t think that I have an effective way of reading. I tend to just, you know, read stuff then hope I remember enough to get by. On previous courses I’ve read a bit here, a bit there and just got on with it, I didn’t really attempt to create some sort of strategy for absorbing the material. I’ve just made do with how my brain works.
However, I don’t think this will do for my next set of activities. I have a 9,000 word case study to read. I’m going to have to do a good job of absorbing this material, so I think I will just read it straight through – probably in more than one sitting – then read it again, making notes as I go. I’m then going to be drawing up a rich picture. This is expected to take five hours.
I’d better get on with that then.
How do you understand the focus on your own responses in the activities and in the reading you have done so far?
I’m still a little bewildered by it all if I’m to be honest. I’m keeping an open mind about the approach and taking each activity as I see it. I’m willing to change tack if I need to and I’m just seeing where this is all going for now.
So far there hasn’t been much deviation from the systems thinking concepts that I learned in T214, so I’m intuitively pleased about that. At this moment in time I think that things are going to work out OK. I’m worried about the project, but I’m also relatively confident that I can do it well – as long as I can apply myself properly. I do have doubts about that.
I am certainly stimulated. I love to learn and the early stages of a course are the most exciting. This usually wears off after a while!
Do you feel able to adopt any of the attitudes I have suggested?
These attitudes are as follows:
- Being open and sensitive to all kinds of information about a situation: not just so-called factual information but impressions, intuitions and hunches, including other people’s when they express them;
- Being willing and able to see the situation from all kinds of points of view in addition to my own;
- Being as open as I can be to seeing the situation and not letting my theories, presuppositions and assumptions tell me how I ought to see it;
- Not taking terms of reference, boundaries or constraints too seriously; I try to assume they may not be as rigid as they seem to be;
- Trying to find out how other people see the constraints and boundaries;
- Being wary of any solution to a complex question (including my own solutions);
- Enjoying diversity and complexity in a situation; resisting the temptation to discard inconvenient bits of information; paying more, rather than less, attention to awkward facts, impressions or ideas;
- Not minding too much if there are areas of uncertainty in my understanding, or bits of information I don’t have; being sceptical about the facts I do have.
I can do most of this. The trouble I have is with information that will appear, to me, to be irrational. I’m a fan of rational thought and some of the more out-there ideas don’t really appeal to me. I do need to bear this in mind when considering other people’s perspectives.
I’ve struggled in the past with overcoming my own thinking traps, so I do need to acknowledge my own preconceptions about situations and note them down before developing my ideas more fully.
I think I always keep in mind that any particular solution will have problems, and so nothing I produce will be perfect or cover every eventuality. I’m always sceptical about the facts that I have and will try and provide as much evidence as I can. Life, and systems, are not black and white – there’s lots of grey. All we can do most of the time is find the best solution, not necessarily a complete solution.
Looking through your previous notes and my previous questions, identify and record any ways your expectations have changed.
I think the only way my expectations have changed is in regards to how the course is structured. The Block 1 notes seem to be suggesting that I have to find my own structure. This does worry me a bit; I do like a bit of structure in my life, otherwise I can just disappear off somewhere in my head and not do anything useful for long periods of time.
I had already intended to attempt to complete every activity, so perhaps my learning path will emerge from the chaos. Emergent properties – now there’s a systems thinking concept!
Make notes on what you think are the main features of systems thinking.
Systems thinking, for me, involves the process of describing and understanding systems as wholes. Rather than taking a reductionist view of a system, a wider scope is strived for and systems thinkers attempt to understand how each component of a system might be connected to (and interact with) other system components. All systems involve some level of connectedness, and this must be understood.
Systems thinkers use intuition to make initial statements about how systems work. This isn’t some ‘new agey’ way of making things up as you go along, but a method for us to use our existing knowledge of a subject and apply it to a system using modelling and reflection. It’s about avoiding over-thinking a problem and taking a high-level view, from which more detail can be gathered.
Systems thinkers will look at problems from multiple perspectives. In systems involving people each person will have their own worldview and perspectives and these must always be considered when attempting to understand social problems.
This will do for now. There are other systems thinking concepts that I haven’t mentioned, but the crux of systems thinking is about understanding the whole (holism) by figuring out how everything is connected.
Update: 25/1/12 12:45
The course notes have brought up an interesting way of looking at systems thinking. There’s that famous saying about “not seeing the woods for the trees”, meaning that we are often so focussed on details that we miss the larger context of situations. Systems thinking is about looking at the wood in order to see the trees in context.
It’s also true to say that as systems thinkers we will never be able to understand everything that might happen within a system. All we are trying to do is improve our understanding of systems enough to see where we might see emergent properties of the situations under study. The study of climate change is a good example of this – our climate is so complex, with many interdependent properties, that a purely reductionist view of certain parts of the system would fail to bring much enlightenment. However, a systemic study – involving a broader look at the whole of the problem – gives us a better idea how all the various parts might interact, giving us a clue as to what may occur in the future.
Once the whole is better understood then reductionist methods can give further understanding to how each connection in the system might work. Reductionism is great for detail in isolation, systemic thinking works for a more high-level, broader view of problems. Using the two together will give better results. This already happens in many sciences, whether they consider it system thinking or not.
More questions about my expectations of this course.
What activities do you expect to undertake in studying a level 3 course?
Short answer? Similar to a level 3 course but harder. Continue reading
This one is going to be very short.
Add any further thoughts about your expectations.
You may feel some of the expectations you had have already been changed. Add any postscripts about this to the notes you made earlier. Make it clear in your notes these are postscripts and what has happened to change your views.
Um, I’ve not really expanded on any of my expectations after writing about Activity 2. I think I must have had a pretty grip on the requirements for the course, perhaps because T214 has given me a good grounding on systems practice principles.
I’ll be sure to go back and re-read this all later and make adjustments where necessary.
This activity is a short one.
What do you understand the course title to mean?
T306 is called ‘Managing Complexity: a Systems Approach’.
There are two halves to this, so it looks like I need to define “managing complexity” and “systems approach”. I’ve not yet read the course notes on this so this will be my own imagined definitions based on prior learning.
So, ‘managing complexity’ means having a situation that is complex (messy or difficult) and applying some tools to control it, to reduce unwanted effects or to increase beneficial outcomes. I imagine that I will be needing to plan a course of action that will help cope with complex situations.
The ‘systems approach’ bit means (to me, so far) that I will need to take a systemic approach. In order to manage the complexity I will need to use systems practice tools (like diagramming, action learning cycle) to understand how the system under study works as a whole (an holistic approach) and apply some new tools (that I don’t yet have) to some part (or all of) the system in order to control or manage it.
From the course notes I know that there are some project planning tools coming up and lots of new definitions. I’m not too worried about being wrong about my attempted definitions above, so I will just let these stand and look back later to enhance my reflective learning.
And so, my T306 activities commence. This is the first of a very large collection of activities for my Open University course T306 Managing Complexity: A Systems Approach. I’m actually starting early – the course doesn’t officially start for another two weeks – but if I don’t start now I will inevitable fall behind later. This is a 60 credit course and requires around 16 hours a week study.
I do not know how on earth I’m going to find 16 hours every week. I’m guessing I’ll be working on my activities every lunchtime at work, along with not watching any TV or otherwise enjoying myself. I’m sorry life; you are on hold.
So, the first activity is about me reflecting on my reasons on taking this course. This is a LOT of reflection to do. Here we go, after the jump: