Systems Thinking

The Systems Thinking Special Interest Group (ST-SIG) is for Systems/OR practitioners who are using, or want to learn about, systems theories, methodologies and methods to prevent or address highly complex organizational, social and environmental problems.

We have an inclusive understanding of systems thinking, and value contributions from all the theoretical and methodological traditions using that term. We also welcome insights from the closely-related fields of cybernetics, systems science and complexity.

The SIG has a broad aim of fostering interest in, and increasing knowledge of, systems thinking. We provide a forum for practitioners to share their experiences and learn from one another, and also to support academics in their applied research and teaching. We are particularly keen to enable collaborations between practitioners and academics, in the belief that significant, synergistic innovations can arise from open-minded learning between people working in different contexts.

We aim to host quarterly sessions with guest speakers, and the production of a newsletter is under discussion. We will also continue to host the Systems Thinking stream at the annual conference of the OR Society. For several years, this has been the largest stream at the conference, with 60+ paper presentations and thriving dialogue and debate. We will make sure these annual get-togethers continue.

As this is a new SIG, we are still developing what we want to offer the Systems/OR community, and we welcome ideas for things that you yourself would like to organize (preferably online, as the membership is geographically dispersed). Feel free to contact our Chair, Sadaf Salavati  [email protected] with proposals.

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

Committee Details

Sadaf Salavati Chair
Gerald Midgley Co-Chair
Anita Mirijamdotter Co-Chair
Ali Hamidi Secretary
Murad Eminov Secretary

Join this Special Interest Group

Sign in to receive Systems Thinking news.

If you would like your colleagues or clients to sign-up for this group, you can email them an invite.

Sign in Do not have a login? sign-up now


Join us for our next event

When Our Institutions Go Awry:
The Use of Boundary Critique to Evaluate and Improve Public Policy and Administration

Date: 24 May 2023, 13.30 - 15.00

Register here

The research that David Lilley will present is part of a quest to understand why health, wellbeing, and equity are not being prioritised in public policy and administration, and to develop means of responding to this situation. It draws on the redevelopment of a large Australian public housing estate as a case study.

Werner Ulrich’s Critical Systems Heuristics was adapted to create the Human Systems Coherence Framework, a tool for identifying and critically examining the boundaries of individual policies and projects, as well as their interrelationships. It was used as the basis for conducting interviews with project stakeholders (n=27), analysing project documents (n=4), and analysing proximal and distal public policies (n=28). The emphasis was on identifying the actual rather than stated purpose of the redevelopment project, assessing the coherence between purpose and other project boundaries (internal coherence), and assessing coherence with other policies and projects (external coherence).

Although unstated in official accounts of the redevelopment project, its actual purpose was assessed to be the generation of surplus funds to maintain the housing agency’s operations, and a reduction in the agency’s maintenance liability, in a climate of little to no Treasury funding. Low levels of internal and external coherence were observed regarding social and other explicitly-stated objectives, while high levels of coherence were observed with regard to the actual objectives. High levels of coherence with external policies and projects provides evidence that the project is part of a broader phenomenon, rather than being an isolated case.

Stakeholder recommendations and demands for change were assessed as focusing on instruments and settings rather than purpose, thus limiting them to reformational rather than transformational change. They were also found to lack internal and external coherence, thus limiting their persuasiveness, any strength that may be gained through collaborative effort, and their likely impact should they be adopted.

Templates and tools for engaging in boundary critique and transformational change will be presented, together with recommendations for their use in effecting change in challenging public policy and administration contexts.

About the Speaker

David has spent over 20 years working on place-based initiatives intended to improve outcomes for disadvantaged individuals and communities, in roles spanning the public, private, for-purpose, and university sectors. This has included positions as Manager of Social Planning, Research, and Evaluation for the renewal of public housing estates in New South Wales, Australia; the founding Director of an early childhood collective impact project in Western Sydney; the Deputy Director of the Health Equity Research and Development Unit in Sydney Local Health District; and a variety of consulting roles. He is concerned about the decline of citizen-centric public policy and administration, accompanied by increases in instrumentalism, managerialism and market mechanisms.


Book Launch: Sustainable Self-governance in business and societies:
the Viable System Model in Action by Angela Espinosa

Date: 31 May 2023, 15.30 - 17.00 (Online)

register here

When Stafford Beer invented the Viable System Model (VSM) to design effective organisations that were better equipped to deal with environmental complexity, he was well ahead his time. More than ever, contemporary organisations understand the need to be both viable and more sustainable, which requires them to develop adaptive and self-governance capabilities. In this webinar, Angela Espinosa will introduce her recent book, published by Routledge, with the same title as this webinar. In the book, she summarises her own perspective on, and developments of, Stafford Beer’s pioneer work on organisational viability, putting an emphasis on clarifying the need to progress towards more self-governed and sustainable organisations and societies. She will explain the ‘viability and sustainability approach’ and her ‘Self-Transformation Methodology’, which she has developed and used extensively over the last few decades in consulting, research, teaching and doctoral supervision. She will offer an overview of a broad range of applications of this approach in different contexts (health, education, corporate networks, communities and nations). She will conclude the webinar with critical reflections on the learning from this approach, and the open research paths the book reveals.


Get in touch

Related Documents

Sort By
  • Title
  • Author
  • Published
  • Rev
Title Author Published Rev
WISDOM YoungWomen4OR Announcement WISDOM 04/11/2022 1.20  
Reinvigorating Soft OR 2022 John Ranyard, John Hopes and Emma Murray 21/04/2022 1.30  

Latest News

January 2023

The OR Society awards: calls and deadlines

Each year, The OR Society celebrates and recognises advancements and successes with a selection of curated medals, scholarships, and awards. Find out more and the deadline dates here.

Read More

May 2022

Training courses: let us know what you think

We are keen to hear about what you think of our training courses. If you have a few minutes, please help us improve what we do by completing this short survey. You will help us provide a better service to the OR and analytics community!

Read More

May 2022

Highland Council discusses bin collection route optimisation with residents

The UK's geographically-largest council uses the language of operational research when communicating with its residents on the subject of refuse collection route optimisation, implying it recognises both the practical and PR value of good decision-making.

Read More

You may also like...

The OR Society's Analytics Summit, which takes place every year in London. Run in conjunction with the Royal Statistical Society, the Annual Analytics Summit brings together speakers and exhibitors from the very cutting edge of analytics to deliver a one-day, one-stop shop for learning about how big data and analytics are shaping the future of organisational decision making. 

Find out more

External of IET, Savoy Place, London