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Systems Thinking

The term systems thinking is a broad description for the process of understanding complex systems behaviour. In the context of the STEEP project, systems thinking has been applied to the issue of energy master planning.

Systems thinking is based on the idea 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. A systems thinking approach is grounded in the principle that the only way to fully understand a problematic situation is to understand the parts in relation to the whole.

To achieve this holistic picture or map of interconnected parts, the particular issue at hand needs to be understood by the stakeholders using a particular Problem Structuring Method or PSM. A number of PSMs were considered in the development of the STEEP project before the most appropriate method was identified as Hierarchical Process Modelling (HPM).

HPM enables analysis of the understanding and performance of a system in terms of the processes that are necessary to achieve the trasnformational goal of the system (the messy problem that requires intervention). Each city will therefore engage in a process of stakeholder workshops, where a conceptual model of the target transformation consisting of the various processes, which constitute an overall objective (an energy efficient zone), will be mapped out for each city district. This modelling process will also rate how well each city is doing in its performance of each of these processes, therefore helping to identify where action needs to be taken.

In the context of the STEEP project, the implementation of the systems approach described above requires engagement with project partners and wider stakeholders in each city district. The modelling process in each district will be a continuous iterative process based on feedback and discussion, rather than strategic planning. The ongoing modelling process enables stakeholders to gain more knowledge about the problematic situation thus leading to the creation of a learning system. As areas for improvement are identified, actions will be drawn from each model to form the basis of an energy master-plan with relevant objectives.

By engaging stakeholders in process modelling, STEEP hopes to facilitate a more sophisticated approach to the issue of energy planning at the district and city level. For a full introduction to systems thinking and our approach however, please see our online webinar, produced by the University of Bristol and which can be found in the resources section.