The hidden power of Systems Thinking - governance in a climate emergency

Ray Ison
Ed Straw
14 september 2020

In the age of the Anthropocene the need for new ways of thinking and acting has become urgent. But patterns of obstacles are apparent in any action, be they corporate interests, lobbyists, or outdated political and government systems. In this presentation Professor Ray Ison and Ed Straw will show how and why systemic failure in governance is at the heart of the collective incapacity to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies. They will go beyond the analysis of the problem and demonstrate how incorporating systems thinking into governance at every level would enable us to break free of historical shackles. A new generic governance system with three additional elements is proposed. To make the new system functional, recovery of our systemic sensibilities, investment in cybersystemic literacy and systems thinking in practice (STiP) capability is needed. In addition to praxis reform old institutions that restrict STiP will have to be discarded and new institutions invented, through new constitutions. Ed and Ray propose 26 principles for designing/enacting systemic governance.

About Professor Ray Ison

Ray Ison is a Professor of Systems at the Open University since 1994, his research and scholarship spans the biophysical and social and is primarily interdisciplinary and collaborative. At the Open University, he was the head of the former Systems Department and Director of the Environmental Decision Making Program.

In addition to this he is also involved in: (i) managing and presenting the post-graduate program in Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) and undertaking associated Systems scholarship; (ii) contributing to the activities of the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice (ASTiP) Group, including leading an initiative to create a LEVEL 7 (Masters) Apprenticeship for the Systems Thinking Practitioner based on the UK Apprenticeship Levy and (iii) undertaking international research.

About Ed Straw

Ed Straw has spent a working lifetime in systems thinking and organizational performance and development, from his university education to his career in management consultancy and as a partner in Coopers & Lybrand and PwC for 26 years, UK and global board roles, government and political party adviser, chairman of Relate and Demos, public appointments and publications.

He researched and wrote Stand & Deliver: A Design For Successful Government, drawing on 450 interviews with ministers, lords, political advisers, MPs, peers, civil servants, journalists, academics, engineers, DJs and many other citizens (2014). Its thesis is that the reason governments fail, or are rarely as effective as they would want, is that they have never been designed for their modern remit. The book proposes a design drawn from organisation and applied systems theory, termed the Treaty For Government.

This work has been taken further through his role as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University in the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice group and by working with Professor Ray Ison. The result is a new book: The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking: Governance in a Climate Emergency, a paper on Biodiversity Revisited, a blog for the OECD/OPSI, a paper for Environmental Conservation, as well as active roles in several systems thinking organisations: Independent Constitutionalists UK, Compassionate Communities, and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University.