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Systems thinking describes concepts, tools, and methods that examines the relationships between components of a system. It is often used as an approach to problem solving, and is a set of practices within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. Systems thinking involves understanding a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose its entirety.

Systems thinking is championed on the premise that there are emergent properties of systems that do not exist when systems are decoupled into smaller parts.  Problem-solving in this way involves pattern finding to enhance understanding of, and responsiveness to, the problem. This involves developing common understanding of the problem space at different scales.

Systems thinking methods and frameworks help determine critical decision processes that address risk, vulnerability, adaptation and adaptive capacity relative to climate change.

The Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) allowed us to identify nodes of influence and potential leverage points. They “provide a language for articulating our understanding of dynamic, interconnected situations. They can be considered sentences that are constructed by linking together key variables and indicating the causal relationships between them. By connecting CLDs, a coherent story can be told about a particular situation or issue” (Williams & Hummelbrunner 2011, pg 31).




Data source

Identify key variables

Factors, conditions, decisions that affect or are affected by the system.  Understanding an actor’s ability, willingness or capacity to act is fundamental to framing messages and mechanisms.

Interview and workshop transcripts are converted to a ‘mind map’. The mind map was explored to describe and identify key variables.

Develop Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD)

CLDs are a visual representation of the relationships between key variables. They are often developed in a workshop setting as a group exercise which can facilitate learning.

The team, maps the interactions between the key variables identified from the mind map.

Causal links between key variables outlined in the mind map provided a model of influences on current decisions.

Establish critical nodes

Reinforcing and balancing loops as sub-systems within the system are useful for “finding appropriate leverage and entry points for changing a situation” (Williams & Hummelbrunner 2011, p 43)

The causal loop diagram is analysed for reinforcing and balancing loops as a group activity. The critical nodes driving these loops were highlighted.

Identify leverage points

These are points in the system where decisions are often made and where interventions can change adverse dynamics or enhance positive dynamics.

Leverage points that addressed the gaps around each critical node are identified from individual and collective/combined decision maps and the mind map.

Identify intervention strategies.

Intervention strategies are mechanisms that can better facilitate a change in practice towards adaptation through multiple affordances.

Intervention strategies and novel mechanisms are developed.



Williams & HummelBrunner, 2015

Maani and Cavana (2007)







 Content Editor ‭[1]‬


​Case Study: Innovative and targeted mechanisms for supporting climate change adaptation in the primary sectors

The report describes the system in which adaptation to climate change occurs and the factors that influence climate change adaptation, providing insights into how individual and organisations make decisions and how the system in which they operate functions. Thus providing a multi-level understanding of the context in which climate change adaptation does (or does not) occur.

loped an understanding of the decision making environment of the farming and forestry sectors. The analysis identified that the context for information requirement for climate change adaptation needs to address the following:

  • Address the willingness and ability to act of decision makers;
  • Identify diversification potential;
  • Provide more climate change related information on productivity and biophysical characteristics;
  • Understanding the influence of the market (market demand), and
  • What are the effects on business profit and return on investment

None of the drivers are specifically climate change related, but address aspects of normal business and risk management.

The analysis revealed a number of critical levers where information and interventions can be targeted to strengthen the primary sector resilience and facilitate changed behaviour.

  • Creating more confidence in climate change adaptation options;
  • Enhancing the clarity of information provided, including the use of more targeted messaging;
  • The development of more cross-sector, multi-scale collaborative policy design;
  • Focus on issue-based solutions;
  • Progressing the ability to act under uncertainty; and
  • Increasing market foresight in relation to potential climate change impacts.

There are three key areas where intervention could result in system changes that would increase the uptake of business-level adaptation, protecting production and export earnings:

  • At a personal level: by increasing social capital and enhancing the belief of ability to act and the reasons required for action. This would increase self-efficacy and through targeted information, allow a measured view of the risk and impacts on their business, thus activating the personal willingness and ability to act.
  • At the farm level: by exploring through extension or case study, the diversification potential of the land-based unit, and aiding farmers to develop a plan for long-term farm sustainability.
  • At a governance level:  by adequately monitoring and collating climate science at the farm unit to allocate resources to maintain farm productivity, while also, reducing the level of subsidies or mitigation measures which limits the farmer from realising the full long-term impact of climate change on their business.




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