Systemic Change, Systematic Change, Systems Change (Reynolds, 2011)

After much searching, I’ve found an strongly-grounded academic work that makes distinctions between …

  • systemic change;
  • systematic change; and
  • systems change

… backed by foundations in Critical Systems Thinking.

Reading backwards through the article, I’ve created a digest at .

For those working around the field of “systems change”, it’s probably worth reading the original article, available open access from The Open University.


Reynolds, Martin. 2011. “Critical Thinking and Systems Thinking: Towards a Critical Literacy for Systems Thinking in Practice.” In Critical Thinking , edited by Christopher P. Horvath and James M. Forte, 37–68. New York, USA: Nova Science Publishers. Released on Open Research Online at

To liberate some knowledge buried in a long thread of LinkedIn messages started by @antlerboy , here’s a replication.

David Ing

As for something I just learned myself, I hadn’t appreciated that Martin Reynolds had already published a chapter in 2011, that I’m digested as “Systemic Change, Systematic Change, Systems Change” at . The perspective that Martin brought to the subject was deeper than I had come to myself. It pays to do literature reviews!

Geoff Elliott

David Ing Both Roger and myself know Reynolds. His paper and thoughts are included as part of the OU MSc in Systems Practice module TU811. We both tutored this module on the first presentations…

Roger James

David Ing Thanks for digging this out.

I remain surprised that the very legitimate concerns of power within human decision making expressed here are not managed out by a structured (hard) approach, instead the approach proceeds on the fallacy that the next voice will restore emancipation. This leads to the participatory cul-de-sac that is characterised by… I disavow science, deny alternative legitimacy and assert my view is the dominant one (think the political reality of citizens assemblies or some of the OECD case studies). It produces the hallmark (tyranny?) of the derided expert view but with an even shakier basis for the teachings of the new expertise - hardly progress.

Won’t get fooled again - “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (Pete Townshend 1971)

Techniques like Warfield’s ISM provide a structure for an opinion jostle. Similarly SODA incorporates ideas from personal constructs to tie the logic of disparate views together to manage the process of consensus.

Geoff Elliott

David Ing David, I was at the receiving end of a CSH study in Botswana whikst working for Beers. Picking up on Rogers points people often ware multiple hats and will tell you what you want to hear. A policeman, had, for examples, multiple roles, politician, policeman, businessman. Take your pick or flip a coin …

Footnote: CSH == Critical Systems Heuristics. See “A Mini-Primer of Critical Systems Heuristics” | Werner Ulrich

Creative Commons Licence Contributions to the Open Learning Commons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Please honor the spirit of collective open learning by citing the author(s) in the context of a dialogue and/or linking back to the original source.