I’m Luke Craven; this is another of my weekly explorations of how systems thinking and complexity can be used to drive real, transformative change in the public sector and beyond. The first issue explains what the newsletter is about; you can see all the issues here.
Hello, dear reader,
Recently I’ve been reflecting on the challenges of building a workforce of systems change practitioners in Australia. The speed at which interest in the practice is growing has not been matched by the development of strategies—however loose and distributed—to attract, build and retain skills, expertise and talent. The field is exceptionally top-heavy (everyone wants a ready-made senior practitioner) and little effort has been put into imagining career pathways for wanna-be systems practitioners.
If demand for practitioners continues to grow at its current rate, we will quickly be overwhelmed by this challenge. I’ve previously agitated for a convenor convention that would bring together the different players in the work to discuss the current state of the ‘industry’ of systems change and where we want it to be. I still think that is needed. But in its absence, I’ve started to collect the snippets of activity occurring to develop and support a flourishing workforce and examples of where this is done well overseas.
🎓 Formal education: Australia lacks any undergraduate or masters-level degrees that specifically focus on systems thinking or applied complexity.There are innovations occurring at the edges, with many universities beginning to deliver individual courses (link, link, link) but nothing that approaches the depth demanded by the market. The comparison with design practice is stark where universities have rallied to develop postgraduate programs (link, link, link). Bets are on for the first Australian university to reach for something that looks similar to The Open University’s MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice.
👩🏫 Informal education: the vast majority of capability development in Australia is delivered through short courses, either by universities in the form of executive education or by systems practitioners providing their own training courses, most notably through The Systems School, The School for Systems Change, and my new employer Collaboration for Impact. These programs typically last no longer than 6 months but may often offer ongoing peer-mentoring, coaching or access to specific communities of practice. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no attempts to develop these pathways into something that looks more like an apprenticeship.
💼 Career pathways: My sense is that the systems practice workforce is currently operating in three groups: those employed by government, those working in the community sector, and sole traders/consultants. My very unscientific assessment of
the Australian job market of the past few months (trust me, I’ve just moved jobs…!) is that those that explicitly call out systems change or systems thinking capability tend to be exclusively at a senior level. There are no graduate or entry-level development programs where people are able to develop their skills and capability in a low-risk environment. To the best of my knowledge, this dynamic also presents itself in other countries without an immediate fix.
🌐 Communities of practice: As I’ve previously written, my view is that CoPs in Australia are largely focused on connecting within particular domains or specialisations in the systems practice community, rather than connecting across these different domains or specialisations to encourage lateral connections and opportunities for the wider diffusion of innovations that occur in specific domains. I’m not sure that’s a problem right now, but I suspect it will be as the field continues to grow and we need to focus more actively on the developments that are happening outside the particular echo chamber we find ourselves working in.
If I reflect personally on my hopes and dreams about the development of the systems field, my sense is a more deliberate focus on how we might build a highly-skilled, high-performing, effective and efficient workforce is needed. This is as much about how we get systems change in the places it is desperately needed as it is about providing certainty and job security to those that work in the field. If we are committed to securing the wellbeing of all Australians, we need to continue to develop our key asset—the people that work in this field and the skills they bring.
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Though there are a number of research-focused programs emerging across Australian universities, including the GLOBE Obesity Centre and the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab.
Really interesting to hear! My department at Clark University (Worcester, MA, USA) is currently trying to re-work the curriculum around systems thinking. Professors have started to incorporate Vensim into courses, but it is difficult to teach a complicated tool and shift thinking from linear to system in a single semester. I have a background in GIS and instructional design and have been thinking about how to combine them all into a course.