Introducing the System Thinker Notebook: a tool for thinking strategically

I’m excited to kick off the New Year with a new teaching resource: the System Thinker Notebook. I started compiling this tool last year, in response to a surge in opportunities to instruct and consult about complexity and system theory. The Notebook provides leaders and students with a creative ‘in-session workbook’ that doubles as a comprehensive ‘take-home bibliography’ of crucial concepts, resources, and strategies.

The primary goal of this resource is to help individuals and teams think more systemically and holistically about their work. I am especially interested in describing how a systems level approach might inform the way we think about strategy, research and analysis, project design, and program evaluation. The System Thinker Notebook aims to provide an accessible, shared ‘lexicon’ for bolstering the strategic capacity of groups and organizations.

A key feature of this project is that it is in perpetual development. I use the word ‘notebook’ intentionally, to differentiate this document from a proper, formal ‘book.’ I will keep adding and adapting this resource as I go along. One of the principle takeaways from studying complexity is an acute sense of how little one person alone can comprehend about the totality of the system around them: to open the door to complexity is to accept a state of personal ignorance indefinitely. Every time I teach or facilitate on this topic, I learn so much from others: pedagogy is a mutual affair. Indeed, it takes a community to think holistically. Therefore, this is a ‘notebook’ because I have no intentions of ever considering it ‘complete.’

For now, the System Thinker Notebook will principally serve as an asset to complement live, in-person instruction, consultation, and training. If you are interested in having me come and lead a workshop or training session with your staff, board, class, group, or organization, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • I will be speaking about applying systems theory to program evaluation at the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference on February 1, 2018, in Toronto, Ontario.
  • If you live in London, Ontario, you might be interested in joining the Systems Thinking Exchange — a knowledge sharing initiative I facilitate in partnership with the Pillar Nonprofit Network. Our next meeting is February 15, 2018.

40 Replies to “Introducing the System Thinker Notebook: a tool for thinking strategically”

    1. At this point it only exists as a resource piece in some workshops and consulting I am doing. As it is an iterative project, I anticipate having a version adapted for public release within a year or so. If you are interested in a copy of its current iteration, shoot me an email at contact@jamesshelley.com and I can supply you a private link ordering one.

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