4.01. Embedded within Systems

Embedded within Systems


As human beings, we are surrounded by and embedded within systems, both natural, such as climate and the ecosystem, and human-made, such as the economy, the internet or even society as a whole.

Rarely do the problems that face us arise in isolation. Our world is made up of many different domains (the biophysical, the economic, the political, the social) that are linked, often in surprising ways. Things take place over different timeframes and at different scales – sometimes problems emerge from the bubbling up of many smaller issues, sometimes they trickle down from the larger picture.


We cannot solve these problems without considering the system within which they take place, or without taking into account the broader implications of our solutions. This is the Systems view, and it is an important perspective to bear in mind when addressing the complex problems we often face.

All too often, though, our decision-making and management systems are based on mechanistic and simplistic representations of the world.

One of the most valuable benefits of adopting a systems lens to look at problems is that it affords you the chance to take into account the different stakeholders within a system. Often, different members of our society have different needs, desires, perspectives and behaviours. What seems natural to one group is blasphemy to another. A greater adoption of the systems lens in reflecting on a problem allows for more thoughtful and constructive debate and negotiation.

In short, a systems approach offers the chance to find acceptable compromises.