Systems Thinking

We are seeing more interest in systems thinking across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors than ever before. The UN, WHO and OECD have all called for systems approaches to join up the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UK Government Systems Thinking Community of Practice has doubled its membership from 300 to 600 in just one year. There are now eight Systems Thinking Practitioner Apprenticeship programmes in England, with more in development, and many of these are linked to Masters degrees, so there is a significant resurgence in systems education. Jobs are advertised on an almost-daily basis asking for systems thinking skills. There have never been more opportunities for systems thinkers to make a difference at all scales, from local communities through to global governance.  

At the same time, there are exciting, newly-emergent developments in systems thinking, including use of cognitive science to create a deeper understanding of what we do; improved ways to tackle conflict and marginalisation; new ways to present systems thinking to those who have not heard of it before; understanding the ‘building blocks’ of systems methods to turbo-charge their creative design; the development of emotional-awareness practices to enhance the facilitation skills of the practitioner; integrations across systems thinking, systems science, cybernetics and complexity; and the mainstreaming of arts-based methods to model human relations. This is all in addition to a rich diversity of systems methodologies that still remain highly relevant and useful to practitioners for tackling and preventing complex problems. 

In OR, the profile of systems thinking is at an all-time high: in 2022, a survey of OR Society members revealed that systems thinking was one of the top three practices they wanted to learn more about. In the last four years, our systems thinking stream has been the largest at the annual OR Society Conference. This is why it will be a great experience to participate in the 2023 Systems Thinking Stream: you will be sharing ideas with a large, thriving group of fellow practitioners and academics. 

Please join us and contribute to the growing community of systems thinkers in OR who are building the necessary capabilities to make our organisations, communities and ecosystems better places to live for current and future generations. 

There are three ways you can contribute to our stream:  

  1. Participate in two special, high-profile workshops engaging everyone in the stream. One will ask, “what is systems thinking?”, giving you a chance to explore your assumptions and learn in partnership with others about what it is that we already offer. The other will ask, “what are the most promising new ideas in systems thinking?”, so we can identify emergent, cutting-edge applications, practices, methodologies and theories that could make a real difference for the future of tackling highly complex problems.  
  1. Present a paper. This involves a short talk followed by questions, answers and discussion. Participants engage constructively with the ideas of the speakers to enhance the ideas being developed.  
  1. Run a highly-interactive, 1-3-hour workshop in the Impact Stream (the Systems Thinking and Impact streams are collaborating on this). If you have an idea for such a workshop (e.g., to give people a hands-on experience of using your systems approach), please contact us directly in the first instance to discuss it before submitting an abstract.  

We welcome the widest possible diversity of practitioners and academics, whatever systems thinking specialism you bring or research community you have engaged with previously. Please join us. 


Gerald Midgley ([email protected]). 

Affiliation: Centre for Systems Studies, Faculty of Business, Law and Politics, University of Hull, Hull, UK 

Department of Informatics, Faculty of Technology, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden 

School of Innovation, Design and Engineering, Mälardalen University, Eskilstuna, Sweden 

School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 




Gerald Midgley, University of Hull