On 6 April, Dr Rika Preiser, along with Prof Ray Ison and Dr Louis Klein took part in a panel discussion exploring Systems Thinking and Sustainability.

A massive expansion in demographics, technology, and economic activity has ushered in the age of the Anthropocene as the new reality of the 21st century. As more of us pack into cities, as technology becomes ever more pervasive and we alter Earth systems on an ever-larger scale, many of the systems that now surround us and coordinate our everyday lives are no longer given by nature but instead created by us. The complex sustainability challenges of a water crisis, energy transition, climate change or pollution are the product of the very systems we create and support our way of life, with these systems in turn created and sustained by our ways of looking at the world, our paradigm. This insight has led many to the conclusion that a shift to a more sustainable world will start with a shift in our ways of thinking to a way that helps us to better see and act in relation to the whole – the promise of systems thinking. In this discussion we will explore the relationship between systems thinking and sustainability, what’s the connection? How can systems thinking inform new ways of governing that are relevant for the Anthropocene and develop new ways of organizing that creates better alignment between people and the planet?

Rika Preiser is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University (South Africa). Her research explores how an interdisciplinary engagement with Complex Adaptive Systems can inform conceptual frameworks as well as practical applications for Systems Change toward resilient Anthropocene futures and Earth Stewardship. Rika holds Masters degrees in Journalism and Social Anthropology, completed a PhD in Philosophy and is the co-editor of Critical Complexity.

Ray Ison has been a Professor in Systems at the UK’s Open University since 1994, and is a member of the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice Group. From 2008-15 he also developed and ran the Systemic Governance Research Program at Monash University, Melbourne. Ray has published numerous research papers addressing this intersection between systems thinking and sustainability, and is the author of the book “Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World”, as well as the new book “The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking: Governance in a Climate Emergency”.

Louis Klein is the dean at the European School of Governance, and is president and founder of the Systemic Change Institute and the Systemic Excellence Group. Louis also serves as director at the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM), as director at the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC), as VP of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) and as VP of the International Federation for Systems Research (ISFR).

Access a recording of the discussion here. 

Read more about Systems Innovation here.