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Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results

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Donors, leaders of nonprofits, and public policy makers usually have the best of intentions to serve society and improve social conditions. But often their solutions fall far short of what they want to accomplish and what is truly needed. Moreover, the answers they propose and fund often produce the opposite of what they want over time. We end up with temporary shelters that increase homelessness, drug busts that increase drug-related crime, or food aid that increases starvation.

How do these unintended consequences come about and how can we avoid them? By applying conventional thinking to complex social problems, we often perpetuate the very problems we try so hard to solve, but it is possible to think differently, and get different results.

Systems Thinking for Social Change enables readers to contribute more effectively to society by helping them understand what systems thinking is and why it is so important in their work. It also gives concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning without becoming a technical expert.

Systems thinking leader David Stroh walks readers through techniques he has used to help people improve their efforts to end homelessness, improve public health, strengthen education, design a system for early childhood development, protect child welfare, develop rural economies, facilitate the reentry of formerly incarcerated people into society, resolve identity-based conflicts, and more.

The result is a highly readable, effective guide to understanding systems and using that knowledge to get the results you want.

264 pages, Paperback

First published September 24, 2015

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David Peter Stroh

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Christy.
113 reviews273 followers
February 6, 2017
Using this with a class of only a dozen students in an upper-level course on Applied Social Policy in Portland, Maine this term, and I think it provides a clear model that students can use to work with a local "community partner" to achieve some positive social change. The best systems thinking on social and local issues gets us to root-cause analysis, and I think Stroh succeeds in giving us a way to map complex social problems that does that.

My Master's thesis adviser was Walter Buckley, a sociologist who wrote the first book in the 50s applying mechanics and systems theory to social and behavioral sciences Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook, but he mostly taught me skepticism towards systems theory, although I did inhale both Meadows' Thinking in Systems: A Primer and Wallerstein's World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. I read Senge and those folks "doing" data-driven decision making work in K-16 education systems, and tended to think that mostly a disaster (in part having to do with education not having R&D budgets but an expectation of "business like" results.) So, I was hesitate to check this one out, but it's radical in all the good ways of promoting positive social action almost in every sentence, and it gives me a bit of hope using this as one of our texts with students (joining 4000+ people at the Women's March in Augusta, Maine today didn't hurt, either!)

Stroh's "real life" examples come so quick and thick, and I wanted him to spend "time" extending his thinking before he was on to something else, that I do think it will overwhelm some students (as it did me, and I read as regularly as I can about all these social problems!) He has fascinating ideas on prison recidivism, affordable housing, rural development, immigration, and on youth including a number of issues related to education as well as child welfare.
Profile Image for Brandon.
25 reviews134 followers
April 9, 2022
I’m putting the book down at 75% because it’s become too hard to read.

I read Thinking in Systems a few months prior and was looking for a helpful follow up. At the recommendation of a few Goodreads readers, I picked this one up.

I think the real world work being done by the Author is commendable and is helping the world in a good way.

I enjoyed the first 1/3 of the book learning about how groups have approached reducing recidivism (harsh sentencing actually increases recidivism), improving childhood education outcomes, and reducing homelessness (permanent housing is the real solution, not homeless shelters) and the counterintuitive learnings that came with it.

The reasons why it became hard to read:
- toggling between different examples too frequently
- not the best scaffolding to help the reader effectively learn how to read systems diagrams (there are a ton)
- it seemed like it was written for someone who already has an intermediate understanding of systems thinking and its frameworks/language

As someone who used to do a lot of work with the homeless and generally wants to work on things that have a positive social impact, I think the concepts in the book is powerful, I just wish it was more newbie friendly.
Profile Image for Sean Estelle.
368 reviews21 followers
October 1, 2016
This book is worth reading, despite the slightly lower rating. There are lots of good suggestions, and it reinforces much of what I've already read in the network theory realm. But it is jargony and hard to follow at some points, and would probably be difficult for folks to absorb if they aren't already versed in the language of systems. I recommend Donella Meadows' "System Thinking: A Primer" if you're looking for something more introductory, then this for examples with case studies and in depth diagrams.

Profile Image for Geoffrey Hagberg.
85 reviews5 followers
December 21, 2020
What is it: a book about how to understand complex systems (organizations, processes, communities, etc.) and how to positively change those systems.

Why I really like it: I've read three books this year that were written to be introductions to systems thinking. Maybe because I find systems thinking highly intuitive, and maybe because I've been looking for a formal structure for this kind of analysis and problem solving before I even knew it was formally structured as systems thinking, I was a little disappointed by the first two I read this year as too shallow. They spent a lot of time on definitions (a necessary step) but almost no time on how to leverage systems thinking, on its benefits, on its difference from other modes of examining the same situations or challenges (the persuasive step). Systems Thinking for Social Change stands out because it provides just enough of the fundamentals, the definitions and concepts, to empower the reader, but then takes a step further and present the real value of systems thinking. Even more impressively, Systems Thinking for Social Change presents the value of systems thinking by also introducing the reader to a set of change-management concepts separate from systems thinking, into which systems thinking plugs in as a key component. The end result is a book that explains and advocates for systems thinking, change management that incorporates systems thinking, and a handful of scenarios where those principles have been proven effective in driving social change (ranging from changing the culture of a business to changing the distribution of finances among a collection of cooperating non-profits).

You might also like: this book references two other texts a lot, so if you're interested in going further with this material, then I'd say follow the citations--for more detailed info on systems thinking, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, and for more detailed info on change management, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,353 reviews461 followers
February 16, 2023
Maybe this is all over my head, but it sounds like a lot of theater and theory to distract from the key issue. Namely: How do you get funders to fund evidence-based practice instead of constantly reinventing the wheel and wasting money on things that are proven to be useless or harmful?

I struggled through all the consultant mumbo-jumbo to find evidence in the book for the effectiveness of the author's "systems thinking" processes for solving problems. One of the examples he keeps coming back to is Housing First as a solution for homelessness. Okay, fine. But you can look up the story of Housing First (www.pathwayshousingfirst.org). It did not come from the type of Collective Impact/Systems Mapping/blah blah process described in this book. It was one person's idea based on his values and experiences; he tried it out, measured relevant outcomes, found that it worked and then other people replicated that success in randomized trials so it became recognized as evidence-based practice.

So maybe the point is to get people to adopt evidence-based practices. Except that's not what is described. All the stuff about consensus-building, stakeholders and such is just basic coalition-building that can be found in other books. And then in any case, in the example he gives of effective implementation (Community Shelter Board in Ohio, p.159), he makes it clear that having a "backbone organization" (apparently the funder--no surprise) making the big decisions unilaterally is a "critical success factor."

I can't object to Systems Thinking in theory but I am skeptical that all these complex loop diagrams actually accelerate positive change.

Profile Image for Teo 2050.
839 reviews79 followers
April 15, 2020


Stroh DP (2015) (06:17) Systems Thinking for Social Change - A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results

• What You Will Learn
• • Use systems thinking instead of more conventional linear thinking to address chronic, complex social problems.
• • Apply systems thinking as both a set of principles and a particular group of analytic tools.
• • Integrate systems thinking into a proven four-stage change management process.
• • Catalyze an explicit choice between the purpose people say they want to accomplish and the benefits they are achieving right now.
• • Apply systems thinking prospectively as well as retrospectively.
• • Cultivate systems thinking as a way of being—not just as a way of thinking.
• Structure of the Book

Part I: Systems Thinking for Social Change

01. Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough
• Distinguishing Conventional from Systems Thinking
• Refining the Definition of Systems Thinking
• Closing the Loop

02. Systems Thinking Inside: A Catalyst for Social Change
• How Systems Thinking Meets Four Challenges of Change
• When to Use Systems Thinking
• Systems Thinking for Collective Impact
• Closing the Loop

03. Telling Systems Stories
• Storytelling for Social Change
• Shaping a Systems Story
• • Seeing the Big Picture
• • Increasing Self-Awareness and Personal Responsibility
• • Understanding the Deeper System Structure
• The Elements of Systems Structure
• • Basic Language of Systems Thinking
• • • Nouns
• • • Verbs
• • • Time Delay
• Closing the Loop

04. Deciphering the Plots of Systems Stories
• Basic Plot Lines
• • Reinforcing Feedback: The Story of Amplification
• • Balancing Feedback: The Story of Correction
• The Plots Thicken
• • Fixes That Backfire
• • Shifting the Burden
• • Limits to Growth
• • Success to the Successful
• • Accidental Adversaries
• • Other Systems Stories
• The Stories Behind the Story
• Closing the Loop

Part II: The Four-Stage Change Process

05. An Overview of the Four-Stage Change Process
• Convening and Thinking Systemically
• The Four-Stage Change Process
• Closing the Loop

06. Building a Foundation for Change
• Engage Key Stakeholders
• Establish Common Ground
• Build Collaborative Capacity
• Closing the Loop

07. Facing Current Reality: Building Understanding Through Systems Mapping
• Establish Systems Interviews
• Organize Information
• Develop a Preliminary Systems Analysis
• • Fixes That Backfire
• • Shifting the Burden
• • Limits to Growth
• • Success to the Successful
• • Accidental Adversaries
• • The Bathtub Analogy
• How to Balance Simplicity and Complexity
• Closing the Loop

08. Facing Current Reality: Building Support by Bringing the System to Life
• Engage People in Developing Their Own Analysis
• Surface Mental Models
• Create Catalytic Conversations
• • Deepening Awareness
• • Cultivating Acceptance
• • Developing New Alternatives
• Closing the Loop

09. Making an Explicit Choice
• Understand Payoffs to the Existing System
• Compare the Case for Change with the Case for the Status Quo
• Create Both/and Solutions—or Make a Trade-Off
• Make an Explicit Choice
• What Can You Do When People Are Still Not Aligned?
• Closing the Loop

10. Bridging the Gap
• Identify High-Leverage Interventions
• • Increase Awareness
• • Rewire Cause–Effect Relationships
• • Shift Mental Models
• • Reinforce The Purpose
• Establish a Process for Continuous Learning and Outreach
• How to Integrate Multiple Interventions
• Closing the Loop

Part III: Shaping the Future

11. Systems Thinking for Strategic Planning
• Two Systemic Theories of Change
• Organizing Leverage Points
• • Amplifying Strengths in the Collaboration for Iowa’s Kids
• • Achieving the Goal of a Healthy Community
• Integrating Success Factors
• • Building on Strong Relationships to Improve Regional Food and Fitness
• • Creating a Community Where All Children Are Loved and Successful
• Streamlining Choices
• How to Refine Your Systemic Theory of Change
• Closing the Loop

12. Systems Thinking for Evaluation
• General Systemic Guidelines
• • Set Realistic Goals
• • Define Clear Indicators and Metrics
• • Think Differently about the Short and Long Term
�� • Look for Consequences along Multiple Dimensions
• • Commit to Continuous Learning
• Tracking Success Amplification
• Tracking Goal Achievement
• Closing the Loop

13. Becoming a Systems Thinker
• Develop a Systems Orientation
• • Mental
• • Emotional
• • Physical
• • Spiritual
• • • See Connections
• • • Make Good Choices
• • • Cultivate Character Strengths
• Learn by Doing
• Ask Systemic Questions
• Closing the Loop


Appendix A. Vicious Cycles of Climate Change

Appendix B. Sample Interview Questions for Specific Projects
• B.1. Questions for the After Prison Initiative
• B.2. Questions for Developing Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness
• B.3. Questions for Improving Rural Housing
• B.4. Questions for Collaborating for Iowa’s Kids

Appendix C. Multiple-Archetype Diagrams

Appendix D. Additional Resources
• Books
• Websites

About The Author
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
436 reviews156 followers
July 19, 2019
Not what I was looking for. This is partially on me, since the "practical" part should have given it away. But the practical value of the book seems limited. Although it is grounded in solid theory and some interesting empirical examples, I did not enjoy the book on any level. It is full of jargon heavy consult speak and its intended audience is public and private management workshops. The main point of those workshops with their brainstorming sessions seems to me to be to support the coffee catering industry - and, of course, a whole ecosystem of BS artists and consultants. The promised high stake strategic interaction between key stakeholders never seems to materialize. While I do not doubt the author's intentions or expertise, I doubt the value and efficacy of the lessons contained in the book.
Profile Image for Mysteryfan.
1,571 reviews19 followers
January 27, 2023
The book describes using systems thinking to solve complex problems, avoiding unintended consequences, and achieve longer-lasting success. It reviews some problems that occur when groups with differing agendas try to work together. The book would probably be a useful textbook in a class but I can't recommend reading it alone. The writing style is dense and the diagrams are hard to understand. He does provide some brief bullet points at the end of each chapter but they are too high-level to be useful
Profile Image for Nathan Surendran.
1 review4 followers
March 7, 2016
I'll write a better review later, but the best single thing I took away from this book was a very simple observation. I've heard in many different settings the discussion of the problems of not getting 'exponential change' in terms of not perceiving negative changes in systems we rely on such as ecosystems until it's too late (e.g. Albert Bartlett's lecture: http://bit.ly/1vtJk0L, or the 1 minute 'impossible hamster' clip from the New Economics Foundation: http://bit.ly/1ANz4C4).

There is a simple observation in this book that was new for me. The author flipped this thinking around and observed that the changes that many are working towards are also exponential in nature, and that many get discouraged and quit before they see the fruit of their labours multiply and create lasting change. At only 1 doubling periods before the completed work of reaching everyone with beneficial social changes, only 50% of people are reached, 25% at 2 doubling periods, 12.5% at 3 doubling periods, 6.25% at 4 doubling periods...
Profile Image for Alise Miļūna.
57 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2021
An inspiring guide to systems thinking as a language for understanding chronic, complex issues and developing strategies to solve them. Emphasizes taking responsibility for our role in the problem, improving system-wide relationships rather than just our part, awareness of short-term and long-term effects, and collective learning. Includes common systems archetypes, Stroh's version of Donella Meadows' leverage points for effective intervention, tips for facilitation, and several case studies. Although these focus on public sector social work on issues such as homelessness and criminal recidivism, I agree with Stroh that the tools can be applied to issues as diverse as "climate change, the expanding influence of money in politics, or a rift between you and a loved one." (p. 232)
Profile Image for S..
544 reviews124 followers
March 28, 2020
Alright, so I learnt a few new things related to what can System Thinking be about, the issues it can tackle and probably of few hints at how homelessness might be better cornered. However, I cannot confidently say that I understood the diagrams.

This is more a guide book to a "System Thinker", not someone's first book to read about system thinking and that's my mistake !

Not sure if I'll dig more about this topic ...
Profile Image for Brian.
48 reviews1 follower
December 13, 2015
Good, thoughtful, nearly step-by-step guide to solving 'wicked' social problems.
'A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.'
Profile Image for Rhys Lindmark.
99 reviews30 followers
September 30, 2020
Pretty meh. Felt waaaayyyy too much like a consulting guide. And weirdly, there were only ~5 case studies that they kept coming back to.

I like the idea of expanding on systems traps, but this wasn't it.
Profile Image for Bryan Sebesta.
121 reviews17 followers
November 14, 2019
I give this book five stars. That is not because there weren't dry parts–in fact, given that I have little training or background for social change writ large, that was almost inevitable. But that is due to my own lack of training. I could sense, reading this book, that I was learning something momentous. Consider:

Building more homeless shelters is a short-term fix that diminishes the problem's visibility and makes participants feel good, but doesn't ultimately solve anything. The real problem is lack of permanent housing for the homeless. ("Fixes That Backfire.")
Government welfare programs can create unhealthy dependencies and incentives for the poor to stay poor. ("Shifting the Burden.")
When confronted with increasing crime, political leaders often encourage harsher penalties for criminals. But often those penalized are parents, and so their children grow up without one or both of their parents. This creates a really bad situation for children, increasing the likelihood that they will grow up without strong emotional support or educational success–and become criminals later. Thus a new crime wave emerges 10-15 years down the road, and often, a new round of harsher penalties is suggested–exacerbating the problem. (A combination of "Shifting the Burden" and "Fixes That Backfire.")

These are just a few of many, many examples of systems problems (and, in the parentheses, the common "archetypes" found in systems–shifting the burden, limits to growth, etc). And the trick is knowing what a system is and how it behaves and the language–yes, the language!–you must use to describe this. Systems thinking is, in fact, another language, with its own jargon: feedback, growth, stability, diversity and resilience, time delays, unintended consequences, leverage, etc. On the one hand, its easy. On the other hand, its not. Systems describe chronic problems, what some call "wicked" problems–problems in the world and relationships that were never intended, but stick with us despite our best efforts to solve them (poverty, homelessness, climate change, accidental adversaries in love and families, etc).

An additional thing I learned. Whenever I read the news, I am often reading about events–things that happened. I learned a long time ago to be wary of reading too much into events separated from contextual analysis–that is, trends. Trends have much more explanatory power than events. There are 2.5 million people incarcerated in the United States today, but that means nothing divorced from time data. Is that good or bad? It's not until I learn that there were 200,000 people incarcerated in the 1970s. Now I can be dismayed, and see the urgency of the problem. But trends are not the end of it either. Trends to not explain the causal factors: the economic policies, the psychological truths, the structural racism, the politics, the various acts of different actors, none of whom mean for the prisons to fill with 650,000 new inmates each year. (One tenet of systems analysis is that people are almost always well intended, but do not often see the ways they contribute to the larger problems.) So beneath events and trends lie systems. Though not from this book, this quote seems pertinent:

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. –ROBERT PIRSIG, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

This is a momentous book. It teaches a language I wish I had learned a long time ago. So many of the problems I face, I realize, are illuminated by systems thinking. Systems are everywhere. I don't usually get excited about language or frameworks, but this one has me positively elated. It's like I can see the world fresh again, or at least know that beneath the world I see lie hundreds of thousands of systems. And this book gives one the vocabulary to describe them: accidental adversaries, the bathtub analogy, limits to growth, success to the successful, amplifying and balancing loops, etc. It's a marvelous, marvelous thing.
Profile Image for Nargiz.
86 reviews
June 3, 2017
“System Thinking for Social Change” is a semi-useful book.

David Stroh applies system thinking paradigm on how to address pressing social issues. The book gives some concrete guidelines on how to unfold a complex solution to resolve social problems like mass incarceration, homelessness, and universal pre-school program. The narrative supposedly walks a reader through “systems thinking” framework. Yet, the author lacks strong writing skills, and he can’t keep a reader interested throughout the book. Stroh has a couple of useful examples, which kind of explore system thinking. At the same time, this exploration misses the essence of those projects. To make it perfect, he needs to give more instances with essential info. Diagrams (figures) are difficult to understand. He doesn’t reveal how to create it. He says that main stakeholders, sometimes given key variables, should build these cause and effect diagrams. That sounds as an effective technique in the brainstorming process. How to perfect those diagrams at the late stages? How will the validity of cause and effect diagrams be checked? What if a diagram is biased?

The book is semi-useful, so you can find beneficial info on system thinking, but not comprehensive. This book will be helpful for social advocates and community organizers.
Profile Image for Cath Ennis.
Author 4 books11 followers
June 27, 2019
I struggled a bit with this book - I just couldn't quite engage with the text as deeply as I wanted, and kept finding myself skimming over things and having to go back and re-read them. However, I can't really pinpoint why, as there's nothing overtly wrong with the book and parts of it were very interesting and useful. I did find the diagrams to be a bit too confusing, and perhaps there were too many details of specific projects rather than more general syntheses, but overall it probably just wasn't the best match for me. I preferred Thinking in Systems: A Primer and will likely keep referring back to that book as my go-to reference.
12 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2020
If you have ever looked around at the world and said to yourself, "I feel like we can be doing better than THIS," then you should read this book.
Profile Image for Laura.
10 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2022
I really enjoyed this book as a person who has a lot of familiarity with these concepts and the idea of "grasping things by the root." If you are new to the concepts of problem vs symptom solving, theory of change, critical thinking, and project management, it's easy to get lost right away with this book as it moves pretty quickly. Some other reviewers have suggested alternative books for better starting places.

Overall, this book is a great guide for helping organizations of any kind learn how to do a systems mapping. This may seem needless to some as at first glance it doesn't necessarily seem like a problem solver in and of itself, but when you begin to think about building systems based off of root problems, it becomes clear why you would need a systems map. As Stroh argues, your theory of change is at the heart of any good organization as it will inform decisions made and redirect when an org begins to feel scattered or ineffective.

Stroh also adds really great sections on the importance of evaluating our own mental models, ego, and biases and seeing how they affect the larger system. I really enjoyed the emphasis on personal accountability to a mission and learning to work in synch with a mission as opposed to operating as an independent contributor, removed from the org and all it's parts.

My (hopefully) helpful hint is to start with Chapter 13 - Becoming a Systems Thinker. Funny enough, this is the last chapter in the book, but I feel like it should have been the first. It will really orient you as to the scope of this work and what lenses you will be looking through as you read the book. My other suggestion- and I think Stroh suggests this in Chapter 13 as well- is to read this book with your org or cause in mind. You can even use one of the anecdotes that he supplies. Really putting these ideas into a specific context will make for an easier time conceptualizing systems thinking.
Profile Image for An Te.
383 reviews25 followers
July 9, 2020
A helpful primer to get readers to think outside the box. Well, if you've ever worked and thought you could easily get to the nub of a problem or even evaluate your work in a meaningful sense and found yourself coming up with the short straw and looking a bit silly, then this is the book for you.
Thinking in systems is an art. Why? As you draw on so many disciplines, you soon begin intuiting, almost by feel, which factors do (or not) feature in an answer to a delimited question. The philosophy is simple enough. Reality does not operate on a uni-lateral disciplinary mode but at many levels, simultaneously. This may appear overwhelming, however, David helpfully breaks down the essentials of thinking in this new way.

He outlines the vision, values and mission of those trying to tackle the problem and to well-describe reality. Next comes the representations (in the form of interdependency maps, which can be derived through all manner of resources from interviews, articles, books, newspapers). These maps identify potential success factors, which you want to press and leverage. If time and resource is short, as it ever is, you will identify high-leverage factors to focus on. You then streamline, if needs be, for the wider team and public dissemination. Then comes the evaluation to which you must use simple and clear metrics of assessment.

I have yet to touch on precisely how you go about this, but it's all about being inclusive and understanding. No view is omitted. But the final plan of action may not include it as you have a set question in mind. As a brainstorming tool, this book will be indispensable to any policy maker or individual concerned with trying to impact real-world changes. (It's not a way to think all the time, as it can get rather tiring but the team perspective sounds most exciting to me!)
Profile Image for Evan Gravely.
15 reviews
February 18, 2021
This was a well-written guide for systems thinking in the social sector, but ultimately not what I was looking for. The book seems geared towards consultants working on highly collaborative, multi-stakeholder issues at massive scales (like ending homelessness). In my context - working with small non-profit organizations with limited capacities and missions/mandates - I found it difficult to discern how to apply systems thinking where capacities are limited to working on a small part of a larger system (ie, a single leverage point). As a “newbie” in the systems thinking technical realm, I wonder if there are approaches to “bounding” a system, or scoping a “piece of the whole” that your initiative contributes to without necessarily being accountable, as a sole entity, for solving the problem in its entirety. Maybe I’m missing the point, or that this points to the need to develop collective impact capacity, but it also leaves me without a clear direction for how to apply this work.

Also, many of the diagrams didn’t seem to make sense. The book introduces a way to notate whether a change in one variable increases or decreases a corresponding variable but doesn’t seem to apply these in their system maps, making them incredibly hard to interpret. Was this intentional? I don’t seem to be the only one who struggled with the diagrams so I wonder if this was a publishing error or an oversight by the authors.
Profile Image for Alexey.
165 reviews1 follower
April 19, 2020
Systems Thinking – достаточно короткая книга (6-7 часов), описывающая применение системного анализа (П.Синге, Д.Мэдоуз и др.) к социальным интервенциям. Книга сделала для меня открытие – открыла всю небольшую вселенную книг про системный анализ, знание которого доносилось до меня в разных ипостасях, но никогда не было структурированным. Самый старый пример – это системный анализ из лекций на геофаке, откуда у меня осталось заблуждение, что "Д.Мэдоуз" расшифровывается как "Дэнис Мэдоуз", а не "Донелла Мэдоуз". Ну и разумеется, каждому географу промыли мозги про "пределы роста". Методологический аппарат системного анализа – на мой взгляд, очень полезен при исследовании и планировании интервенций в социальных системах. Несмотря на важное персональное открытие, книга – весьма плохо написана. Во-первых, написана она так, как будто ее писал SEO-шник: количество постоянно повторяемых ключевых слов (системное мышление, архетипы, обратная связь и т.д.) просто зашкаливает. Для русскоязычного читателя малоинтересными окажутся и примеры социальных интервенций – они охватывают, в основном, оч.специфический вопрос бездомности в американском контексте – сама ситуация отличается как от российской, так и от европейской. Я могу точно рекомендовать изучить системное мышление, но начинать, думаю, нужно не с этой книги.
Profile Image for Peter O'Brien.
170 reviews7 followers
March 22, 2019
“Becoming a deeply skilled systems thinker takes time, but it is definitely possible. We’ve learned that, on one level, systems thinking is child’s play: We are born with the capacity to see connections and understand (though not necessarily tolerate) time delay. We’re also learned that the very work of applying systems thinking tools and practices not only hones that capacity but also shapes who we are and how we see the world. This orientation in turn increases our effectiveness in applying the tools and practices.”

Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

Systems Thinking for Social Change is nothing less than a compressive guide to the systems thinking process and how to implement it to solve complex and chronic problems. The book goes to great lengths to detail how to identify, illustrate and then problem solve wickedly complex and chronic social problems. While the book is more focused towards solving social problems, the processes and practices can just as easily be reapplied to any manner of problems, whether they are socially focused or not. Added value is drawn from the books many references to real-world case studies and how systems thinking was used to overcome the detailed complex problems.

Overall, a highly knowledgeable, but very tedious read that works much better as a reference guide.
Profile Image for David.
55 reviews2 followers
July 3, 2019
While the book is plainly written and mostly accessible, that serves more to highlight its weaknesses than its strengths. It's a very repetitive text, perhaps presuming that people won't read cover to cover? It was a slog in doing so.

That said, the ideas are fairly compelling and I'm definitely interested to learn more about systems thinking in other books. I just hope that the other books don't rely so much on visual maps that are extremely difficult to understand. Maybe there's something about helping to create them that makes them more intuitive, but I found them to be total spaghetti monstrosities.

One of my favorite parts was a handful of paragraphs at the end where he talks about defining good metrics to benchmark progress. He gives three examples that I thought were so good I almost wished the book had been written about designing good success metrics instead.

All in all, not a bad read, but I would try to find it at the library if you can. And don't be afraid to skim.
20 reviews
May 25, 2017
This book presents a clear picture of systems thinking in action by referencing examples in everything from education to homelessness to crime. Although dry at times, these examples help propel the book forward and serves as a good introduction to systems thinking. However, I do finish the book still a bit uncertain about how to apply systems thinking to create real change: often people are only brought together to rethink their role in a system in the face of a catastrophe that catalyzes this rethinking. The book does not mention how this meeting of the minds is best facilitated for problems like climate change and education when the negative effects are slow but sure. All together, I feel that I have a new framework for thinking about complex problems, but not too many answers. But that's the nature of complexity right?
Profile Image for Chris Friend.
352 reviews16 followers
February 7, 2023
This book was not made for people like me. It’s made for people who want to maximize their their leverage points and stay oriented toward action as they strategize paradigm implementation across dynamic stakeholder groups.

Wading knee-deep through corporate-consultant buzzwords elicits eye rolls on occasion, but the author means well. The content is provided in short, simple bursts, highly organized but minimally elaborated. On the upside, the presentation makes the text easier to digest; on the downside, there’s less material to chew on.

I listened to the audiobook. I believe much of this text is presented in lists with boldfaced text to help readers visually structure the information in their minds and rapidly navigate the content. It just doesn’t translate well for aural processing.
Profile Image for Tore.
61 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2020
This is a good book, very practical. I liked the tools for classifying situations based on what kind of feedbacks (reinforcing or balancing) can be seen found the system, such as "fixes that backfire", "shifting the burden", "Accidental Adversaries", the bathtub and more.

I also enjoyed the emphasid of seeing one's own role en i more objective way. Making aware both the positive and possible harms one brings to the system, and building a realistic way to take respondibility for the outcome.

It seems a bit repetative since it keeps coming back to the same data and the same ideas over and over again, from sloghtly different perspectives though, but that is probably because it is more of a manual than a popular science book.
Profile Image for Larkin Tackett.
456 reviews3 followers
April 9, 2021
Why, despite our best efforts, have we been unable to solve complex social challenges? This is an example of a focus question that Stroh calls on us to ask ourselves to begin systems change work. The longer I'm been a professional working in the social sector, the more I want to spend my energy helping redesign systems that oppress people who have been marginalized. From his explanation of system mapping to social system archetypes, this text will be an important guide for my work moving forward. He writes, "Understanding why a system operates the way it does despite people's best efforts to improve it requires that they move from blame to responsibility, independence to interdependence, and short-term to long-term thing." These are moves I'm committed to making.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
Author 3 books7 followers
September 7, 2022
This book has helped me dive deeper into the complexity of organizational and societal issues, and make the connection between appreciative inquiry, positive deviance, and systems thinking. So many of our entrenched problems are the result of short-term fixes with long-term unintended consequences, burden shifting, unaddressed constraints, and escalation. The patterns are not always easy to see and are even harder to break out of once identified. The case studies help to bring the concepts to life and illustrate how powerful taking a step back can truly be in the change process. The author brings in a little bit of the spiritual dimension but not at a level sufficient to address how to integrated the morality aspect into systems thinking.
Profile Image for HalKid2.
549 reviews
July 4, 2017
First, full disclosure. I picked this up because it was recommended to me to help guide my work with a non-profit. I read some, skimmed some, skipped some of the book.

On the plus side it has some very useful information about how to think about "big picture" solutions to to pervasive problems. And I think a full understanding of the material would help people facilitate change in an organization's thinking. However, it was pretty dry, even dull to read. So, if you're interested in helping an organization shift to a more strategic kind of problem-solving, I'd recommend this book. Just be prepared for it to feel like reading a textbook.
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