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Introducing the Critical Systems Thinking and Practice Deep Dive Programme

After successfully delivering two cohorts of our “Introduction to Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity” programme, we were not expecting difficulties getting interest in the third cohort, but we were. It took a little time, and a few conversations, to find out why.

Geoff Marlow, a participant and a dialogue guest on both of the first cohorts observed that most participants seemed to already have some limited knowledge of systems thinking and were looking to broaden or deepen that knowledge. They were not seeing it as an introductory programme.

We had realised a number of people on the programme fitted the profile Geoff described, but had not appreciated that this described most people on the first cohorts. It was also a good description of the profile of the people who had signed-up for the third cohort.

In the spirit of the recent management thinking fad for the importance of being “agile,” we reviewed what changes were needed as a result. In this process we also took account of the fact a significant number of participants in the first programme has been asking for a follow-up programme to go deeper still, and we were already developing plans for a Deep Dive Programme in response.

We quickly concluded we need to cancel the third cohort. We then concluded we need three programmes including:

  • An Introductory Programme, which will be short (four weeks) and assume no prior systems thinking knowledge.

  • An Exploratory Programme, which will be a revised version of the existing eight-week programme, covering the development of systems thinking and the various systems thinking approaches and their use in theory, illustrated with case studies.

  • A Deep Dive Programme, that will be practice focused, project-based, and action-learning focused programme. It will explore how each of the systems thinking approaches might be useful in relation to the project, in an exercise that involves facilitated teamwork over a six month period.

All the programmes will be delivered online and to a global audience.

This article introduces the Deep Dive Programme that we plan to start in January 2024 in more detail. Further articles will give more details about the Introductory programme which will start in the March / April 2024, and the Exploratory Programme which will be offered in September 2024.

The Deep Dive Programme

The programme will focus on the applied use of Critical Systems Thinking and Practice tools and methods. In the jargon of learning and development, it will be an action-learning focused programme. It will still include explorations of all the theoretical perspectives, as previous cohorts did. But it will give equal, or greater, weight to the practical application, Critical Systems Practice.

More specifically, the project for the first cohort of the Deep Dive Programme will look at the ways in which Critical Systems Thinking and Practice can be applied to the creation of a National Health Strategy in any country.

The Governments of nations are very often working on policies to design or re-design strategies for the development of systems for health, energy, education, transportation, industry etc. As part of that process, they often commission reviews that are guided by a Terms of Reference document, a remit for the review. They usually involve some systems thinking, but it is often inadequate, and rarely as comprehensive as a Critical Systems Thinking and Practice would be.

The programme will focus on the first two of the four Critical Systems Practice Steps which are the “Explore” and “Produce” stages.

In the Explore Stage a draft Terms of Reference would be analysed and refined by the group using a variety of systems thinking approaches, as Critical Systems Thinking advocates. In the Produce Stage the use of Critical Systems Thinking and Practices would inform the design of an Intervention.

We would look to carefully document this whole process with a view to using the learning to publish a report or book based on the insights gained. And our current thinking is that this would be published so that anyone involved in the design or re-design of a national health system in any country might benefit from it. It would help them understand the benefits of Critical Systems Thinking and Practices in the design of systems and in policymaking. And these lessons are likely to be beneficial in the design of all the other systems beyond only healthcare.

If the project goes as well as we hope, we may invite you to stay involved and go to the next stages, putting the work done up to that point into practice. We already have many established connections in the healthcare sector internationally, and we think they may be interested in contributing to the intervention. That intervention would then look to produce policy recommendations and the methodology for understanding how to go about adopting them, based on the views of a range of credible and authoritative stakeholders.

Whilst the focus of the project will be healthcare, we encourage participation from people who are not part of the healthcare profession. The insights gained will have relevance regardless of the sector you are interested in. We simply chose healthcare since it is something that everyone has some experience and understanding of, and we feel it will be easy for people to relate to.

For these later stages of the project, we would need to ensure there is sufficient interest from you, potential stakeholders, and those that might supply the necessary funding. We are not, therefore, committing to these additional stages yet, but we would love to try and facilitate such a project if there is the interest, will, and means to make it happen.

An Invitation

You are invited to consider applying to take part in this programme if you have some prior knowledge of systems thinking, or will can spend the additional time that would need to be invested to get up to speed with others on the programme.

In the latter case, we can support this by giving you access to the multimedia content used in the exploratory programme which includes an extensive video library, the book and a range of documents and other resources.

Participation is by application only, unless you were a participant in the two cohorts of the programme we ran already.


The Investment

  • The investment required to participate is £1,995 based on a single payment.

  • Payment plans are available to spread the cost over 6 months.

  • And our usual discount policy applies.

  • If you were a participant in one of the first two cohorts you should have received an email from us already, with details of the special price for participation in the first cohort of this Deep Dive Programme.

Any Questions?

You may ask questions by email, or email to arrange a call:

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