2020-10-14 RSD9

This workshop was conducted online, as with parallel breakout groups, as part of the 9th Annual International Symposium on Relating Systems Thinking and Design.

Reordering our Priorities through Systems Change Learning

Download as [PDF 1.6MB]

The original presentation can be viewed on Google Slides.

Web video is available on Youtube.


The idea of "systems change" has risen in popularity over the past few years. To make this more than just another buzzword, how might we approach it? In what ways does "systems change" mean more than just "change"? Does "systems change" build on the large legacy of "systems thinking"?

The Systems Changes Learning Circle is now in year 2 of 10 year journey. Our aim is to reify systems changes as a first-class concept. This extends prior published research on social and organizational change, based in the systems sciences. At RSD8, the Khan and Ing (2019) presentation reflected the early explorations coming from the core group. For 2020, at RSD9, we propose a workshop to share some methods in early stages of development for initiating deeper deliberations into systems changes.

Systems changes may involve:

Living systems may respond through:

Degrees of systems changes may be judged as:

The multi-day, iterative workshop still under development takes a multi-paradigm approach based on learnings grounded in five philosophies:

To convene working groups in advance of iterations on the five learnings, we now propose a Question Zero conversation for orientation, on Reordering Priorities. This workshop on Reordering Priorities can be conducted within 90 minutes, in-person or online, with parallel breakout groups.

The workshop will be structured as multiple steps:

Artifacts and comments from the group reports will be collected for summarization, possibly for publication in the proceedings. This knowledge-creating exercise will be used to refine methods for groups engaging in action learning.

The Systems Changes Learning Circle (founded 2019) is a group convening at the Centre for Social Innovation (Toronto) emerging from Systems Thinking Ontario (founded 2012). We include postgraduates and instructors from the Strategic Foresight and Innovation Program at OCADU in Toronto. Our content at licensed as Creative Commons at http://systemschanges.com . We cooperate with the Open Learning Commons at http://openlearning.cc , and the Digital Life Collective at http://diglife.com .


Emery, Fred E., and Eric L. Trist. 1965. “The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments.” Human Relations 18 (1): 21–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872676501800103.

Ing, David. 2013. “Rethinking Systems Thinking: Learning and Coevolving with the World.” Systems Research and Behavioral Science 30 (5): 527–47. https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.2229.

Ing, David. 2017. Open Innovation Learning: Theory Building on Open Sourcing While Private Sourcing. Toronto, Canada: Coevolving Innovations Inc. https://doi.org/10.20850/9781775167211.

Khan, Zaid, and David Ing. 2019. “Paying Attention to Where Attention Is Placed in the Rise of System(s) Change(s).” In Proceedings of the RSD8 Symposium. IIT -- Institute of Design, Chicago, Illinois: Systems Design Association. https://systemic-design.net/rsd-symposia/rsd8-2019/systems-change/.

Pepper, Stephen C. 1934. “The Conceptual Framework of Tolman’s Purposive Behaviorism.” Psychological Review 41 (2): 108–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0075220.

Ramírez, Rafael, John W Selsky, and Kees van der Heijden. 2008. “Conceptual and Historical Overview.” In Business Planning for Turbulent Times: New Methods for Applying Scenarios, edited by Rafael Ramírez, John W. Selsky, and Kees van der Heijden, 17–30. Earthscan. http://doi.org/10.4324/9781849774703.

Tolman, Edward C., and Egon Brunswik. 1935. “The Organism and the Causal Texture of the Environment.” Psychological Review 42 (1): 43. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0062156.