Concept Dissection

I’m taking the How to Write a Research Paper course at Continuing Studies . The instructor, Tina Villella has been really helpful in pushing me to write in a more concise and specific way.  We are analyzing the paragraph that I wrote months ago:

“Create a model of  leadership development that focuses on the  interconnections of the elements of complex systems. Understanding  these system dynamics will lead to the intentional teaching and learning of particular skills, knowledge, attitudes and values needed  to effect change for the betterment of society; particularly changes  towards a more just and sustainable society.”

Tina gave me a set of questions that I intend to respond today:

1.  leadership development – Do you have a specific field in mind?   Leadership development for whom?

Leadership is multidisciplinary and depending on the field it will be studied and perceived differently. For instance, in higher education we focus on the student leadership development that happens in a university environment, most often when students are involved in student groups or are holding a position. Most of the research on leadership development and higher education has a framework on social change, the focus is on developing committed citizens.

I have been thinking in a very abstract way. On one of my blog posts I mentioned the idea of looking at higher education, organizations, corporations, high schools, non-profit, community and government. But I realize that it continues to be unclear. What am I looking for in each of these contexts?

I think I’m referring to the disconnect that exists amongst such contexts:  A leadership educator that works for a community centre or a non-for-profit organization might not know about the research that’s happening in higher education, or might not be connected to the same networks of a leadership consultant for the private sector. At least it happens to me. I just know about leadership in the context of higher education and most of the time I wonder if I’m being true and effective in teaching leadership (for students whose field is not higher education), considering that I’ve never worked in the government sector, the non-for-profit or in the corporate world.

So based on what I just wrote it looks like I’m focusing on the leadership educators. Am I really thinking about training for leadership educators/facilitators, no matter what field they are in? Is the model targeted to educators and not the learners? Maybe…I need to explore this further, it feels quite confusing right now but it makes sense somehow.

Am I failing to be concise? I hope not. One example I have is when I facilitated a workshop on conflict resolution (and I know how to do it in a counseling/residence/educational setting), but the participant asked for ideas when approaching a member of parliament. Well, I have never done that or learned about it. It requires knowledge from a new system (new lingo, mental models, values, attitudes). So I have the option of staying in JUST the field of counseling or -somehow- extending my lived experiences and knowledge to the political/government context.

Oh, I like this!

2.  complex systems – Which systems?  What field?  Complex systems is  a very broad term that tells the reader nothing.

It’s true that the systems thinking concept can be meaningless for some people. In my writing class no one understood what I meant and it was difficult to explain. Systems thinking is not my area of expertise, I haven’t read enough about it, but I know this is a key element of my research. I have wrote about it before and according to Wikipedia:

Systems thinking is 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.

…it proposes to view systems in a holistic manner. Consistent with systems philosophy, systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entirety of the system.

I have put in bold font those statements that speak to me. Most of this idea of systems thinking comes from my experiences interacting with some friends, community members and activists whose perception of how the world operates is very linear. They fail to see the bigger picture. Radical activists fail to understand other mental models, therefore their effectiveness in making change or in getting their needs met decreases and their frustration increases.  It is the us Vs. them mentality. It is also the lack of awareness of how we are all connected, for instance when we talk about climate change.

If leadership educators find a way to learn first then embed the language of systems thinking into their curriculum, the next generation of decision-makers will be more likely to find better solutions to our complex problems. (I guess this is an hypothesis). And I came up with this idea that theatre is a good methodology to facilitate the learning of systems thinking.

3.  system dynamics – What system dynamics?  You need to narrow this  down to a particular field/area/location.

I think the answer to question 2 responds this question too.

4.  betterment of society – Any particular sector of society?  And  again, where, exactly?  The world, a region, a country?

Betterment of society…When I think about it I think in abstract ways. I think of justice (trying to answer question 5 ). I think of sustainability (question 6).  Ok, I’ll dive into my brain:

Justice meaning the golden rule (and I understand this can be subjective). Meaning love, for other beings (people, animals) and for all parts of the Earth. When I say betterment of society I don’t think progress, I think harmony, awareness, balance, equity, access. I think of self-realization, respect.

I think of society’s major problems: climate change, poverty, hunger, war, AIDS, consumerism, etc.

(I’m tired of writing and I’m loosing focus…  I know that there is something here that really needs to be analyzed. I cannot  focus on society as a whole. I need to be specific.

Am I thinking about youth and adults, those who have the privilege of being in an educational setting and eventually will be the decision-makers.  Or is it the Global South, say Mexican youth from marginalized communities. Is this about developing agency? (I will explain this later) but why the focus is now on the learner when I had said it was about the educator.  Mmm I’m confused. I  will stop.)

5.  just – by whose definition?  This is a very subjective term that  needs to be defined for the purposes of your specific goals.  You will  also need to clarify what is “unjust” (in the future, of course) and  how and why.

6.  sustainable – in what aspects?  infrastructure?  Again, you will  have to define what you mean by sustainable.


Published by Val Cortes

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1 Comment

  1. I *love* these answers, especially those for the last questions.

    I also like that they will help you focus your reading now.

    As for sustainability, a definition I heard recently, from the Brundtland Commission, and that seems appropriate:

    “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

    Now this definition focuses on sustainable *development*, but you might find it useful anyway.

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