Understanding the System

“A system is a set of elements or parts that is coherently organized and inter-connected in a pattern or structure that produces a characteristic set of behaviors, often classified as its function or purpose.”  (Donella Meadows)

A system must consist of the following:

  • Function or purpose. Function is used for a nonhuman system, and purpose for a human one. Many systems have both human and non-human elements.  Purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or stated goals
  • Elements : structure define by parts and compositions
  • Behavior which involves inputs, processing of outputs of materials, energy or information
  • Interconnection: parts have functional and structural relationship between each other, relationships hold the elements together. Many of the interconnections in systems operate through the flow of information. Information holds systems together and plays a great role in how they operate
  • Systems within systems

The elements are the parts of the system we are most likely to notice. They are least important in defining the unique characteristics of the system.leverage1 Changing elements has the least effect n the system. If interconnections change, the system may be greatly altered. Function/purpose is the least obvious part of the system. It is the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior. Changes in function or purpose can be drastic / profound






In order to undertake effective Systemic Transformation that has intended realization objectives, it important to undertake analysis  related to complex systems:

  • System definition , elements, purpose,its variables and related attributes
  • Systemic potential, potentiality, capability
  • Resilience management: the capacity of a system to tolerate disturbances
  • Variety engineering : variety implies the number of distinguishable number of states of a system while variety engineering is about control and regulation reduction of variety: perturbations with high variety affect the system’s internal state (stability criteria), which should be kept as close as possible to the goal state, and therefore exhibit a low variety. So in a sense control prevents the transmission of variety from environment to system.
  • Adaptability is the ability of a system (e.g. company/organization/state) to adapt itself efficiently and rapidly to changed circumstances.  An adaptive system is therefore an open system that is able to fit its behavior according to changes in its environment or in parts of the system itself
  • Performance of the system depends on how well the parts fit together, not how well they perform individually.A system being a whole cannot be leveraged but rather places within the system need to leveraged in order to create changes.
  • A constraint is a limitation, imposed by outside circumstances or by system behavior (ourselves) , that materially affects our ability to do something and limits a person or an organization in achieving their goal. Constraints directly impact systemic capability and potentiality .