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Develop habits of an informed systems thinker

We develop habits of an informed systems thinker by exploring and understanding the larger systems at play that reveal interconnected people and issues and increase our awareness of how our decisions and actions impact others.

When faced with a problem or question, we might be inclined to dig right into finding a solution. Being a systems thinker means taking time to map the bigger system that surrounds our problem and seeking out information to better understand how one piece relates to other parts of the environment.

Cultivating knowledge

Below is a collection of video and audio case studies that highlight this practice in action.

Reasoning and practice

Engage in reasoning and reflection with the following questions to immerse yourself in this practice:

  1. When taking action to address systemic change, what information do you need to gather?
  2. How are you ensuring you’re working with accurate information about the person, place or environment with which you are collaborating/interacting?
  3. Are you addressing the core issue or just a symptom of the problem?
  4. How might your decisions or actions affect others? How might other parts of the system support or hinder your efforts?
  5. What data, resources and learning are supporting your decisions? What evidence are you seeing that the solution or decision had a positive impact?
  6. How do you disseminate or mobilize knowledge?
  7. How do you recognize and incorporate others’ perspectives when designing for systems change?
  8. How do you work with and influence stakeholders?


The activities and resources below were designed for individual and group development of the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to engage this practice.

One tool to help us start to see the big-picture in various environments is systems mapping. Mapping the systems at play in your current context can begin to reveal the people, events and processes that are interacting and forming patterns. Systems maps provide an exploration of the system, communicate understanding, and allow for the identification of knowledge gaps, intervention points, and insights. This is a practice we can do individually as a reflective practice or with students to help them develop a big-picture outlook. The below map is a starter map that once completed can be built upon with more complex mapping tools.

Time required: 20-30 minutes

Habits help us live in more constructive and healthy ways that improve our lives and the lives of others in our environments. When we consider how we interact with others and the world around us, we are envisioning the larger systems at play and our roles in them. By having informed habits that are aligned with these systems, we can take action that helps everyone live better lives and make improvements or changes where needed.

Time required: 30-45 minutes