Monday, 18 February 2013

I need some systems thinking advice

I've been thinking a lot about systems thinking in the last three weeks or so but after:
...I've hit a brick wall.

I mentioned in my very first systems thinking post that I thought that our system was more complicated than the case studies I heard about at the conference; now I'm convinced this is the case. The value steps of the distance learning administration case study (UoL login only) were "I enquire, I apply, I pay and register, I study, I am awarded and graduate" - but the support the Career Development Service provides to students doesn't fit into to a tidy little process. Perhaps I'll be proved wrong and after finally getting through 'Check' (it's taking us forever) we'll have a tidy little series of value steps, but I doubt it.

Systems thinking seems to lend itself to processes (see Who's using it? in UoL). At the conference the examples were definable processes; the breakout sessions were about expenses, maintenance and DL administration, and the keynote (UoL login only) was about selling insurance; but I don't think what we do can be boiled down to a process. Our 'process' is more akin to the 'I study' step of the DL administration example, i.e. a one to four year period where lots of stuff happens, much (most) of it requiring students to learn and develop independently, and that seems to me to be far too messy and unpredictable to be summarised in as a series of value steps. 'Help me get the graduate job or further study that I want' is always going to be more complicated than 'make me a student' or 'make me an employee'.

How far we can get with this depends on whether or not it will be worthwhile concentrating on just narrow aspects of our system, which we could then (potentially) patchwork together. This is what we had planned to do originally in order to keep things simple (starting with student appointments in the Hub) but then we realised that what was going on in the Hub couldn't be considered independently of what was going on elsewhere. I think it could work with our Leicester Award programmes because I imagine they can be boiled down to a relatively simple series of value steps similar to those identified for DL administration, but I'm struggling to see how we can pull this together across all our areas of our activity.

So I'm completely stuck. And I think the reason I'm stuck is that what we do isn't a simple process. I'm committed to getting this working but I'm struggling to get it any further unless we really narrow the focus.

Can anyone give me some advice? Or point me in the direction of some messier, non-process based case studies? What am I missing?

1 comment:

  1. Systems Thinking vs. Edupunk (motto "Just Do It"). Hmmm.