Donella Meadows, a professor at Dartmouth College, a long-time organic farmer, journalist, and systems analyst, was working on a book titled Thinking in. We love Donella Meadows’ take on nurturing systems. “The Dance” is a great motivator to post on the bulletin board at your think-tank, school. In her article, “Dancing with Systems,” the late and beloved Donella Meadows ( ) speaks to the mystery at the source of quest for wholeness. Self-organizing .

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Meadows was one of the co-authors of the Club of Rome Report on Limits to Growth which contributed to putting the issue of sustainability on the agenda of business and governments. She was a cofounder of the Balaton Groupan international network of systems-oriented analysts and activists from over 50 nations.

Shortly before her death in Danicng had been working on the manuscript for a new book, which was to summarize what she had learned from applying the concepts and tools of systems thinking systemss working for sustainability. Donella Meadows offers a series of general guidelines, how to facilitate positive change in a system.

The list below systtems the advice Donella Meadows was able to give after more than wtih years of working in the field of sustainability consultancy, research and education. It is an excellent set of guidelines that could help you to improve your own practice, particularly when you work in the kind of complex multi-stakeholder situations that are so commonly encountered as we try to support a systems transformation towards increased sustainability. Summarized and adapted from Meadows,pp.

Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. Starting with the behaviour of the system forces you to focus on facts not theories.

It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others. But also how did we get here? And where are we going to end up? Aid and encourage the structures that help the system run itself. Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be shot at. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.

Donella Meadows Publications

Instead of becoming a champion for one possible explanation or hypothesis medaows model, collect as many as possible. Trust your intuition more and your figuring-out rationality less. Use both as much as you can, but still be prepared for surprises.

In a world of complex systems it is not appropriate to charge forward with rigid, undeviating directives.


Honour, facilitate and protect timely and accurate information! Look syztems the ways donela system creates its own behaviour. Do pay attention to the triggering events, the outside influences that bring forth one kind of behaviour from the system rather than another. Intrinsic responsibility means that the system is designed to send feedback about the consequences of decision-making directly and quickly and compellingly to the decision-makers.

You can imagine why a dynamic, self-adjusting system cannot be governed by static, unbending policy.

These are policies that design learning into the management process. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live. No one can [precisely] define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love.

Systems of Collective Wisdom

No one can [precisely] define or measure any value. As you think about the system, spend part of your time from a vantage point that lets you see the whole system.

Especially in the short term, changes for the good of the whole may sometimes dith to be counter to the interests of a part of the system. It helps to remember that the parts of a system donellla survive without the whole.

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows

Phenomena at different timescales are nested within each other. Actions taken now have some immediate effects and some that radiate out for decades to come. We are experiencing now consequences of actions set in motion yesterday and decades ago and centuries ago. It will be sure to lead across traditional disciplinary lines. You will have to penetrate their jargon, integrate what they tell you, recognize what they can honestly see through their particular lenses, and discard the distortions that come from the narrowness and incompleteness of their lenses.

Interdisciplinary communication works only if there is a real problem to be solved, and if the representatives from the various disciplines are more committed to solving the problem than being academically correct. Living successfully in a world of complex systems means expanding the horizons of caring. There are moral reasons for doing that, and systems thinking provides the practical reasons to back up the moral ones.

The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from other human beings or from the global ecosystem. As with everything else about systems, most people already know the interconnections that make moral and practical rules turn out to be the same rules. They just have to bring themselves to believe what they know. It is non-linear, turbulent, and chaotic. It spends its time in transient behaviour on its way somewhere else, not in mathematically neat equilibria.


It self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity, not uniformity. Only part of us, a part that has emerged recently, designs buildings as boxes with uncompromising straight lines and flat surfaces. Another part of us recognizes instinctively that nature designs in fractals, with intriguing detail on every scale from the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Examples of bad behaviour are held up, magnified by the media, affirmed by the culture, as typical. Just what you would expect. The far more numerous examples of human goodness are barely noticed.

They are Not News. Fewer actions are taken to affirm and. The guidelines listed above are particularly useful as they are expressed in a language that gives you a flavour of the subtlety of human interactions in multi-stakeholder dialogues and culture change processes.

Rather than using hard systems language, Meadows uses a more poetic way to remind us of a few key attitudes and practices that can help us to step out of our own way and let the wisdom of the group guide the process of finding more sustainable solutions.

The short paper offers a list of different points of intervention in a system based on a whole systems perspective. In it Donella makes the crucially important point that the most transformative and effective leverage points are addressed by acting at the level of paradigm-change, by addressing the culture change that would shift the dominant believes about the system.

Even doneola effective, according to Meadows, is the ability to transcend paradigms and acknowledge the wisdom that diverse, possibly even conflicting perspectives can bring to a situation in full recognition that each paradigm also brings with it, its own limitations and blind spots.

Daniel Christian Wahl works internationally as a consultant and educator in regenerative development, whole systems design, and transformative innovation. He holds degrees in biology Univ. His book Designing Regenerative Culturespublished by Triarchy Press in the UK in Mayhas already donnella international acclaim, and his blog on Medium has a large international following. Sign in Get started.

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