Core Issues in Systemic Analysis

When we are faced with the barrage of information, facts, and ideas that come at us, trying to figure out how to make sense of it all can be overwhelming. Do we look at isolated facts, get upset with them, and then realize that there are simply too many of them for us to respond to? Or do we realize that there is a way to assemble this information so that we can see patterns of behavior and patterns of response?

Learning to think systemically teaches us how to organize both what comes in by way of information or ideas and what needs to go out in terms of our ability to bring about change. Then, when we wish to respond, we can couple our desire with that of others and begin to see possibilities of positive change. Thinking systemically requires that we be able to acquire a picture, in photos, in charts of how the pieces of information, ideas and facts fit together. When we see how this fact or issue fits into a broader picture, the effect of what we do in linking it with the efforts of others creates a synergy of actions, where the whole is greater than the addition of the parts. For example, how many times have each of us heard about a child diagnosed with leukemia? We get calls asking for prayers. We think about how horrible it is and we do what we can to respond to the family’s needs.

When we think systemically, however, we begin to realize that many of these requests for prayers and supports are coming from families who have all lived in a particular place at a particular time. We begin to see patterns. This moves us to look for causes in that particular location, and to think about what can be done to bring about the changes needed to remove those causes. When we begin to act, we may discover that the causes involve many institutions and groups, for example, regulatory institutions that set the siting rules for factories or facilities with toxic emissions; governments that appoint regulatory commission members; corporation whose campaign contributions provide access to the decision makers and whose representatives may serve on the relevant committees; and communities who have or do not have the economic or political power to protest the siting of the facilities in their neighborhood. We organize the facts so that we see patterns emerging. We ask ourselves what the basic or core issues are with regard to these groups. These core issues form the tools for systemic analysis.

Three of these core issues are Access, Control, and Benefit.

Access. The opportunity to participate, to make one’s voice heard, and to acquire what is needed. Who has access?

Control. The ability to determine the actions and the life situations of others. This ability may be exerted formally as in legal or governmental structures, or informally, as in various forms of coercion. Who has control?

Benefit. The increase in wealth, or access to desired goods resulting from actions taken. Who benefits? The questions raised are the guide to our investigation of the problem. We can ask them without having to know the answers; the answers we find will lead us to action.