Understanding ways system parts interact to influence one another and that which generate feedback for further consideration is a powerful process for deciphering complexities of policy choices.
Systems thinking enables the simplification of otherwise complicated problematic and intractable challenges in public policy spheres resisting conventional wisdom. Basically, systems thinking involves conceptual mechanisms, knowledge, and tools for clarifying complex problems with precision. Public policy is a system with different moving parts and those elements indicating characteristics of the policy body.
Therefore, to achieve the policy success, systems thinking approaches should be employed and utilised and to enable grasping of the intricacy of systems-thinking tools, which allows for strategic, critical and holistic thinking via synthesis and processes as against reductively and individual events and pieces and, non-linearly or in circles so as to unravel the association between component parts, while considering the whole as one entity to determine their relationships.
Dissecting the objectives of public policy and subsequently studying them as single entity incentivises identification of intended and unintended ramifications. In most cases, accidental policy outcomes are usually delayed and unwanted.
By recognising the unforeseen consequences that prevent the erroneous attribution of proximal events helps the wider systems understanding with its many feedback links and to halt violent and regrettable policy surprises.
More so, the behaviour of human-environment systems arising from feedback interactions between component parts demands that individual parts should be unpacked and studied together to assess possible reactions during implementation phase if policy goals are to be successfully achieved.
Regrettably, apart from inadequate planning for policy implementation, lack of systems thinking capabilities in public bureaucracy accounts, in no small measure, for public policy failures rather than red tapes (complicated structures and regulations in place to control activity) for unbridled delays that ensue in public management.
However, systems thinking provides critical means to solve the challenge of complexity dilemma through the integration of group think and robust policy-making that requires blending world views.
Systems thinking involving a degree of research influence on policy
Systems thinking involving cross-sector feedback: Social Policy, Urban Planning and Public Health (Pair Blending)
The overwhelming emphasis on specialisation in the 21st Century for quality service delivery in policy spheres and non-policy domains has been flawed by systems thinking competencies.
For instance, one does not need to be an expert in urban planning, public health and social policy to adequately handle the three parameters simultaneously. It takes system-thinking tools to be able to unearth the mystery of blending different world views. With systems thinking, the prognosis of feedback that generates unintended ramifications is identified, addressed and nipped into the bud before rearing up its ugly head.
It, thus, makes one departs from dealing with symptoms instead of roots causes; an eye opener to novel means of scrutinising possible undesirable feedback that stalls policy deliverables and incentivises innovative thinking and effective solutions.
The benefit of systems thinking is harnessed when skills are built to manage and facilitate the group dynamic of multi-tasking teams amenable to pursuing variability in views and challenging hypotheses in problem-solving.
The public bureaucracy should have the courage to instill in its workforce culture of openness and conduct honesty, transparency and total discussion of policy issues to achieve results. The un-discussable must be tabled for debate and all aspects considered and acknowledged.
More than tools collection and methods, systems thinking is an underlying value for problem-solving not only in public policy making and implementation but also the global economy. It, indeed, recognises the complication and inter-dependence of organisational issues, new challenges that require a paradigm shift in problem solving, idea generation and decisions processes.
Eventually, institutions that utilise systems thinking experience quality decision-making and vigorous policy implementation and, therefore, enjoy greater success.
That public (civil) servants from America to Zimbabwe (A-Z) are poorly remunerated, hence the unwillingness of professionals to take up positions in bureaucratic institutions cannot, however, be underestimated.
No matter the validity of this claim, contemporary bureaucratic organisations, coupled with manpower higher education, and sophistication resulting from continuous in-service training, have produced professional competencies in managing public policy and implementation.
However, beyond the professionalism of public management officials is the awful absence of systems thinking and innovation. To, therefore, revolutionise public administration worldwide, there needs to be a culture of critical and new thinking, result-driven commitment, systems thinking, and information technology readiness to avoid top management working on archaic and automatic decision rules.
By ALPHONSE KUMAZA
Senior Tourism Officer
Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture