Tutorial: Systems Theory in Strategic Practice

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This tutorial will help you use systems theory and mapping methods to understand and make change in the world around you.

Instructor: SCOTT MATTER, Associate Director, Shaping Futures, Department of Premier and Cabinet New South Wales, Australia



This video has been edited to protect the privacy of participants in the live tutorial.

Whether we work on new products and services, strategy, or wicked problems, we are intervening in complex systems. These systems can be surprising and frustrating—they often refuse to change in the ways we want them to, head off in unexpected directions, or just seem too collosal to influence or anticipate.

Systems theory and methods give us tools to think and act with. Learning key vocabulary, core principles, and some simple mapping techniques can help you understand and influence systemic change.

This tutorial introduces systems concepts and tools to enhance your strategic practice. Participants will apply theory and methods to map a system relevant to their work, then collaborate to clarify and deepen our understanding of the insights and interventions we can generate.

Bringing systems theory and methods into your practice will help you to:

  • Understand change and resilience in complex systems
  • Use core concepts to describe systems and systems dynamics
  • Use rapid system mapping techniques to document and describe relevant systems
  • Anticipate and adapt to unexpected or unintended consequences
  • Identify leverage points for strategic intervention


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Scott Matter is an Associate Director with Shaping Futures, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet’s strategic intelligence and foresight unit. He has been working to understand and influence change in complex systems for over 20 years. He holds a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from McGill University, and has worked in four countries across three continents. As an academic, he has research and teaching experience in international and community development, political ecology and sustainability, transnational social movements, and social change. For the past eight years, he has worked in the private and public sectors in Australia, practicing and leading strategic foresight, strategic design, and service design projects. He is committed to a critical, engaged anthropological practice to foster social, economic, and political transition toward a more resilient and regenerative relationship among humans and the rest of the planet.

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