Networked thinking and action –
mastering complex problems

Theme

Awarded a

Worlddidact Award 2018

“particularly praiseworthy educational solution”

“extremely well suited for use in schools”

The book on the theme:

Andreas Becker: “Networked Thinking in Politics, Economics and Everyday Life: Why it is so difficult and how it still succeeds”
(Vernetzt denken in Politik, Wirtschaft und Alltag: Warum es so schwierig ist und wie es dennoch gelingt. )

Climate change and turbulence surrounding the euro – the financial crisis and fragile intergenerational relationships: Why is society confronted with so many momentous problems – both on a large and small scale? And why do these difficulties often continue to grow? The main cause of this lies in the failure to take a suitable approach to complex topics.

Instead of taking precautionary measures, the people responsible often only react when they begin to suffer from negative consequences. Furthermore, existing difficulties are viewed and addressed in isolation, even though they are frequently interconnected. And in spite of transformation and turmoil, the world is seen as static, as if there is no potential for change. As a result, society often combats the symptoms instead of the causes and we never get with a handle on these problems. If you want to master both large and small challenges, there is no way around networked thinking and action.

Over the course of the modules, participants gain an understanding of complexity and networked thinking, using extremely action-oriented methods. They learn to recognise the most important errors and keys to success when dealing with complex problems and situations. A diverse range of tools and checklists enable the participants to deal with complexity in their own lives. They also learn to soundly evaluate (political) measures using their newly-acquired knowledge. On the whole, the theme reveals a new perspective on the world and encourages independent, constructive-critical thinking and effective action.

The module order follows a common thread which runs through the content. Aside from a few exceptions, modules can also be used individually without any previous knowledge (please consult the overview of each module).

The modules are currently only available in German, except for one example module which is also available in English and ready for download.

Module 1: Why networked thinking?

Where do the problems facing society come from? Short-sighted ways of thinking are one of the main causes. The complexity of the world is often overlooked: The majority of people think and act on individual issues in isolation instead of in contexts – and perceive situations to be static, instead of considering dynamics and developments. This linear way of thinking and acting makes it harder to get a handle on problems. It also magnifies existing problems – on both a small and large scale. This is why networked thinking is so important: It is a prerequisite for mastering changes and problems, as well as reaching all sorts of goals. This module demonstrates the need for networked thinking and action using a diverse range of examples of contemporary thought, and provides an introduction to the theme Networked thinking and action – mastering complex problems.


Module 2: Why are false conclusions drawn from related circumstances?

“Listening to music helps you lose weight!” “The more we earn, the better it is for our health.” Time and time again, print media, television, radio and the internet present over-simplified conclusions from studies. Even political decisions can be partly based on over-simplified conclusions.

If a statistical connection is established between two factors, it is often erroneously implied that they must therefore necessarily be connected by a direct cause-and-effect relationship, where one factor causes the other. But this conclusion is incorrect. It overlooks the fact that a situation or issue generally has a number of causes, which themselves in turn have causes. This way of thinking has cut corners on two occasions, and therefore leads to actions that have little or no effect.

In this module, the participants familiarise themselves with the most common errors made when identifying causes. In addition, they will learn how to recognise the causes of a situation or issue themselves.


Module 3: Forecasts – reliable tools for planning the future?

We are confronted with predictions every single day – on the development of the economy, tax revenue or the stock market. Some of these predications are made up to 40 years in advance. They provide entities such as states, social security schemes and businesses with a basis for planning and action. Important decisions for the future are based upon these long-term predictions. But do they always deliver what they promise? Or might they even create problems if their results are taken as the basis for action? This module develops answers to these questions.


Module 4: Why is it problematic when a society focuses on permanent growth?

Politics, economics and trade unions rely on permanent (economic) growth. Even tax revenue is supposed to constantly increase, and the same goes for capital investments for private pension schemes. In this module, participants learn that constant growth is not possible in limited systems. In addition, participants gain a sense of the enormous and typically underestimated dimensions that exponential growth – which is so often demanded – can take on. And finally, they engage with possible alternatives to a growth-driven society.


Module 5: Why is it so difficult to influence an event?

Regardless of whether on a societal level, in a company, an association or daily life: it is difficult to influence an event. The reason: natural and social systems are complex. In contrast to technical systems, their behaviour usually can neither be reliably predicted, nor constrained.
This module nurtures the participants’ understanding of complexity and provides a foundation for successfully addressing complex situations and problems.


Module 6: What happens if you intervene in an event?

The world consists of a myriad of complex systems, which determine natural and social processes and events. But although complex systems form an integral part of our daily lives, only a small number of us understand their basic functions and characteristics. Consequently, politics and economics in particular intervene in complex systems, but the measures they use do not lead to the desired goal. Moreover, problems may be magnified, rather than mitigated.

This module introduces the characteristics which play a significant role, especially in interventions in complex systems. These characteristics are introduced to the participants and made accessible with the aid of light-hearted examples from everyday life and society. This equips the participants with the tools for understanding complex systems and for recognising complex interrelationships.


Module 7: Why is it (usually) impossible to solve complex problems?

Complex topics and problems are distinguished by the fact that there are many influential factors and these are interconnected with each other. In addition to this, situations change over time by themselves (internal dynamics), and unpredictable, disruptive factors often emerge unexpectedly. All in all, this means that complex problems usually cannot be solved. The misconception that this is nonetheless possible leads to costly and ineffective measures sometimes with largely unintended side effects.

To get a handle on complex problems, it is important to recognise that not all significant influential factors can be controlled. Developments do not conform to your own ideas and desires. In this module, participants gain an understanding of this and learn about the consequences for concrete action.


Module 8: How do complex systems organise themselves and adapt to change?

A lake, a forest, the climate – a family, a community, the entire economy: Complex systems organise themselves within frameworks such as laws, which are externally prescribed. Who (or what) does what and how they respond to external intervention, however, is not determined by an external, central entity. Social systems use self-organisation as a mechanism for remaining operational, adaptable and stable. This allows them to survive and continue to develop in a changing environment. In this module, participants learn about the importance of self-organisation, how it functions and how it can be used to address complex systems.


Module 9: How do complex systems regulate themselves so that they remain stable?

Systems use self-regulation to remain stable and retain their functions, even during disruptive changes in environment. This is true of the human body temperature as well as a plethora of social systems. It is important to take advantage of the force of self-regulation rather than hindering it, as happens in society through excessive bureaucracy, subsidies, debts and striving for unrealistic goals.

This module helps participants to gain an understanding of the fundamental importance of self-regulation in society, as well as the function of this principle. Finally, they learn which measures and actions inhibit or prevent self-regulation.


Module 10: How can we identify important topics?

A range of different tasks needs to be completed – but where do you begin? And which tasks can be ignored? Everyone is familiar with this situation from their everyday lives. However it does not only occur on a personal level, but also on a societal level, affecting politicians and managers as well as students, pensioners and other social groups. If important topics are overlooked or need to be addressed without preparation, there is a risk of negative developments. Whilst at the personal level, this remains limited to the individual and their surroundings, when it comes to economics and politics, the consequences impact many people. It is crucial to proactively identify any imminent problems and necessary actions, and to set the right priorities. It seems easy, yet is proven to be a challenging task. In this module, participants acquire the necessary skills to do this.


Module 11: How can you effectively set goals?

Regardless whether you are tackling a simple task, planning an important project or making a life-changing decision – setting goals is important in everything you do. It provides clarity on what you actually want. You can only determine how to reach your goal once it has been clearly defined. And finally, goals are required as a benchmark for reviewing whether the action taken has yielded the desired results.
This module is the first tool from the toolkit for dealing with complexity. It helps participants understand what is important when setting goals, thereby shedding light on decisions in politics and society, and also offering support in daily life.


Module 12: How can we tackle complex situations and problems?

The world is complex. Nevertheless, many people find it difficult to respond appropriately to complex situations, problems and systems. This module covers the most common errors made when dealing with complexity and demonstrates methods for successfully mastering complexity, both on a personal level as well as in politics and society. This module equips participants with a tool that allows them not only to assess challenges in complex world affairs, but also to successfully shape all phases of their personal projects.


Module 13: How can we prepare ourselves for the always uncertain future?

Society bases action on conceptions of the future which largely do not ever come true. And because the world is unpredictable and full of surprises on a large and small scale, the future is always uncertain.

This module demonstrates how by examining several possible developments (scenarios), we can prepare for this uncertain future, make appropriate decisions and find the best methods to attain our goal.


Module 14: How can we estimate the consequences of actions and test out the future?

Every single action has consequences – even doing nothing has consequences. But which desired and undesired consequences will concretely emerge from different courses of action? This can be revealed through impact assessments. Impact assessments should form the basis for decisions, regardless of whether they concern personal or societal questions. The consequences of actions can be predicted by testing out actions in advance conceptually, or by using a model. Actions are simulated.

The future is always uncertain. But in spite of this dissatisfying fact, we must nonetheless plan and act for the future – as an individual, as a company and as a society. Simulations also enable us to test out what the future could look like for individual areas.

In this module, participants gain an understanding of how to test out the future by simulating the consequences of actions in order to reach reflected, well-grounded and forward-looking decisions.


Module 15: Which questions us help to understand situations and problems?

How are you? Where is the talk taking place? Why haven’t you cleaned the kitchen?
Questions are an integral component of everyday communication and help shape our society. Everyone asks questions; however, not everyone is conscious of the possibilities and opportunities that questions offer. Questions are not only used for communication or to gain information in everyday life. They enable much more, such as critically calling circumstances into question, and understanding complex topics or situations in order to form a basis for your own opinion.

The goal of the module therefore is to open the participants’ eyes to ways of asking questions in a targeted way.


Module 16: How can creating diagrams help us to understand complex relationships?

Understanding complex relationships from texts, for example, often proves to be a difficult task. This is due to the fact that texts are linear – one sentence follows after another – and there are limited options for organising the information. In addition, the author’s flow of thoughts does not always constitute the best possible structure for ensuring text comprehension. The same issue emerges when documenting your own knowledge.
Diagrams, on the other hand, are able to depict contexts clearly and comprehensibly. Not only that, they encourage you to structure your thoughts. In this module, participants become familiar with various types of diagrams and their advantages. Participants make use of important types of diagrams using practical examples.


Module 17: System analysis: How can we understand complex systems?

How can we successfully influence an event in a goal-oriented manner and achieve our goals while expending as little effort and causing as few side effects as possible? We need to be familiar with the complex interrelationships and dynamics within the relevant system.
System analysis is a tool that offers insight into the causal networks and behaviours of a complex system. It builds up a structured overview of the causes of problems and points to possible solutions. Vicious circles, self-strengthening dynamics for success and self-regulatory, stabilising feedback loops in the system become apparent.

Two versions of this module are available: In the Comprehension Version, participants gain an understanding of the use and function of system analysis through the example of organising an open-air theatre event. This is also included in the Implementation Version, where participants additionally learn to conduct simple system analyses themselves.


Module 18: How do creativity and intuition support networked thinking?

Networked thinking and action must be tackled systematically. Only with systematic action does it become possible to identify the important topics, set the right priorities and effectively establish goals. And preparing for this always uncertain future requires a structured approach. Methodical action, including monitoring success, is based on a rational, systematic thought.

And yet networked thinking is more than merely structured planning and action. Creativity and intuition open up opportunities to depart from the well-trodden path and develop new possibilities for action. They open up new ways of thinking, horizons, and possibilities. Creativity and intuition complement systematic approaches. In this module, participants learn what is possible with creativity and intuition, and how these qualities are nurtured and utilised.

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