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Systems Thinking

Elizabeth of iFacilitate successfully completed her Master of Science (MSc) in Systems Thinking in Practice with the Open University in November 2015. To do so, she studied a range of postgraduate modules in which she learnt of the techniques, models, methodologies and traditions of Systems Thinking, and of what it means to be a systems practitioner. The final step was undertaking a research inquiry and the writing of a dissertation on the topic of ‘What helps, what hinders in applying Systems Thinking to Professional Practice in Conflict Transformation?’ The completion of this step now opens the way to take forward the work and develop means to support practitioners in applying Systems Thinking to practice in conflict engagement and peacebuilding.

My Story

I first came across Systems Thinking while studying a postgraduate module in 1998 which formed part of my first Open University Masters in Environmental Decision-Making. I was fascinated by the approach and the methodology but I had little opportunity to apply this learning after completion of the study. My interest was reawakened in 2010 when the Open University introduced two new postgraduate modules on Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) and provided the opportunity to continue to complete an MSc in STiP. This opened up a new world for me not only through my studies and research, but in the opportunities it afforded to meet experienced practitioners in Systems Thinking and other learners. My involvement with such communities of practice supported my learning, and helped to develop my confidence and my knowledge of the application of Systems Thinking to practice.

In the same time period, I was focussing my work interests in conflict engagement and peacebuilding. My study, research and training was underpinned and enhanced through dialogues with practitioners, conversations during my travels in countries that had experienced the impact of violent conflict - such as Croatia, Northern Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel - and my experience in developing educational materials and in supporting learning on conflict. My developing knowledge and awareness of the richness of the field of Systems Thinking caused me to wonder increasingly why I could not see more evidence of its application in the fields of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. Thus evolved the question for the research dissertation.

An extended abstract can be downloaded below.

Contact Elizabeth ( for further details of the work. She will be writing up and extending the findings in the near future.


Peacebuilding: dealing with complexity and change. How can the field of systems thinking help?

on Mon, 12/10/2012 - 20:10

To start, I must clarify what I mean by the field of systems thinking. Here I am referring to the field of study, discourse and practice that has its roots in the second world-war when scientists from different disciplines found themselves working together on military problems.  A system is considered to be one whose elements are interconnected and interdependent to form the whole and display properties of that whole rather than those of the component parts.