Learning for adaptive management: using systems thinking tools to inform knowledge and learning approaches

Practical Action Publishing
Publication Type:
Systems Thinking and WASH Tools and Case Studies for a Sustainable Water Supply, 2019, pp. 107 - 132
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This chapter explores how learning theory and systems thinking tools can help WASH organizations select the most appropriate processes and tools to facilitate learning, leverage greatest WASH impacts, and support their staff to optimize their learning potential. We draw on two key systems thinking tools: the Cynefin framework developed by David Snowden and Donella Meadows’ leverage points. The Cynefin framework can be used to help actors identify what kind of WASH situation an organization is operating within, and which learning tools and processes might be most useful for each situation. The concept of ‘leverage points’ can support a process of stepping back to consider the kinds of changes needed and intended, which ‘levers’ could create such changes in a WASH situation, and which learning processes are best suited to a particular leverage point. By using these tools from the outset, organizations can make informed, strategic decisions about where to place scarce resources for knowledge and learning to increase leverage, and maximize WASH outcomes. This chapter concludes that learning can be a key driver of sustainability transformation and impact, but only if inequitable power dynamics are challenged, critical thinking is employed, and learning is truly shared and applied to real-world problems.
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