Language and Systemic Analysis Constructs

When we travel to another country where a different language is spoken, we expect to have to find ways to understand what is being spoken. Either we can learn the other language or we can use a translator, someone who speaks both the languages involved. In addition to other languages, there is also the specific language used in a particular type of work. Part of learning a new subject or new field is learning the language or terminology of that field.

People of different ages develop words or expressions. These evolve over time, sometimes changing their meanings. People from different cultural backgrounds will have different words or expression to describe items or what is happening. The list of things that can affect language and terminology goes on and on. And all of this affects communication.

The ability to do systemic analysis requires that we develop common language and understanding of specific terms. To do this, systemic analysis often uses sets of words, called “constructs”. The components of the these constructs are chosen because when considered separately and individually, they will allow us to explore aspects of policies and the effects of these policies on persons, families and communities.

In order to use the constructs, we first have to explore the meanings and understandings of the words within the construct. This is not the same as looking at the definitions in the dictionary. What we are looking for is how we understand these words, what they mean to us, and how we use them.

To “grow” the understanding of the words and, ultimately, the construct, the magic word is “and”. By that I mean that we are looking to add all our understandings of the words we are exploring. It is not a question of the “right” answer but rather how we each as individuals, and then collectively as a class, understand these terms.

Example: Systemic Analysis tries to come to a common understanding of the terms: acceptable, accessible and affordable. It first invites the individual or group to sit and think about the word “acceptable.” List all the components that would be necessary for something (e.g., housing) to be acceptable. Then it raises the questions: To whom or for whom does something (or the way of doing something) have to be applicable for it to be acceptable? Why? What might affect the ability of a person or family to have this acceptable (housing).

Similar questions are raised about the words “accessible” and “affordable”. In applying the term accessible, questions may include transportation, small children, age, time. For “affordable”, questions might include location, rent, heating, water, electricity, etc. How much of one’s income has to go to housing? At a minimum wage, how long would someone have to work to afford it?

Another important construct is: Legal, Ethical, Moral, Just. The same process is used, including reference to the ordinary meaning of the words and how they can be used or misused to convince others of what is right or wrong. This construct is very important, and is explored in depth under the heading on this website “Sustainable Living Wage/Income”

In helping people to understand systemic analysis, CREA invites the individual or group to reflect upon personal experience of the topic and to explore other possible perspectives and experiences of that topic.

CREA stresses the importance of arriving at a common understanding of the words being used.