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Systems Thinking and Practice

The Social Innovation Lab at the Lang Center aims to support the Swarthmore community and our partners to explore, understand, and create interventions to tackle some of our society’s most challenging problems.  To explore this space, the Social Innovation Lab in 2021/22 will embark on an academic exploration of the role of systems thinking within our campus community.

According to The Systems Thinker, systems thinking is “a sensitivity to the circular nature of the world we live in; an awareness of the role of structure in creating the conditions we face; a recognition that there are powerful laws of systems operating that we are unaware of; a realization that there are consequences to our actions that we are oblivious to... systems thinking is a disciplined approach for examining problems more completely and accurately before acting. It allows us to ask better questions before jumping to conclusions.” ( 

The Social Innovation Lab will work with our campus and community partners to better understand our community’s infrastructure and existing patterns of collaboration and connection, examining the structures and channels that drive events, practices, preferences, and behaviors.  By garnering a better understanding of our community stakeholders’ behaviors, connections, and values, we can begin to understand mechanisms that serve us well as a healthy community and identify those characteristics and patterns (including mental models and perceptions) that inhibit community cohesion.  As noted by David Peter Stroh, The Systems Orientation: From Curiosity to Courage, a “systems thinking perspective requires curiosity, clarity, compassion, choice, and courage. This approach includes the willingness to see a situation more fully, to recognize that we are interrelated, to acknowledge that there are often multiple interventions to a problem, and to champion interventions that may not be popular” initially.

As well as an essential academic, community, and knowledge-building exercise, the Social Innovation Lab recognizes that carrying out a systems approach to understanding campus community structures provides an invaluable opportunity for students to garner new skills, insights, and perspectives. Therefore, for 2021/22, the Social Innovation Lab’s Associates (SILAs) will work on facilitating the systems mapping exercise for Swarthmore College. 

Please reach out to the Social Innovation Lab if you'd like to be more involved in this work.