We view our community as a whole inter-related system that reaches across boundaries of a single organization, sector, group or neighborhood.

In 1990, Peter Senge of MIT, published “The Fifth Discipline”, an important work on organizational learning, identified “component technologies” that are the basis for building learning organizations which led to applying these concepts to Systems Thinking for individuals. Systems Thinking is a way to look at all the factors that contribute to a particular issue and helps individuals understand how they can work together and what their roles are within an organization.

“Systems Change” which grows out of Systems Thinking is about shifting the conditions that hold problems in place. It requires that participants in collective impact initiatives look beyond any single entity to understand the system. The work requires that participants identify all factors that influence the challenge they seek to address and explore the relationships between the factors, power dynamics, and the attitudes and assumptions that influence decisions.

Senge, and his colleagues at the Center for Systems Awareness grew their work and began to explore Compassionate Systems that enable us all to establish deeper connections at a human level. Senge has said, “To cultivate compassion is to be able to appreciate the systemic forces that influence people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions. Current work on compassionate systems views compassion as the ability to both understand conceptually and empathetically what it is like to be an actor in a system, as we all inevitably are, in family and relational systems, in complex organizations, and in larger social systems. This involves systems sensing – ‘to walk in someone else’s shoes’ – and systems thinking, which seeks to more objectively understand how a system is functioning.” This work has been particularly applicable to education settings.

At The Staten Island Foundation, we were introduced to Systems Thinking and Compassionate Systems through our partnerships with FSG, the Carnegie Corporation, and local colleagues working on a collective impact effort to break down silos in education systems in order to address equity issues. The work, which has led to the emerging Staten Island Equity Alliance, challenges us to think and act in new ways that are at times uncomfortable but can lead to greater impact on the community we serve. Systems Thinking has become an essential component of how we think about collective impact efforts.

As an outgrowth of this work, the Foundation supported a number of local educators and community members to attend the Compassionate Systems training, leading to their certifications as Compassionate Systems trainers. These trainers, forming the Staten Island Hub, are now sharing their learnings with students in local schools and community settings.

To learn more, read:

Compassionate Sytems Framework in Schools by MIT and the Center for Systems Awareness

The Water of Systems Change

or visit the Center for Systems Awareness website here.