Using the Systems Iceberg
NOTE: your assignment is at the bottom of this page. Read the following essay first.
The following description was adapted from; It's All Connected: A Comprehensive Guide to Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions by B. Wheeler, G. Wheeler and W. Church.
A tool that is helpful for understanding global issues is the iceberg model often used in systems thinking. We know that an iceberg has only 10 percent of its total mass above the water while 90 percent of it is underwater. But that 90 percent is what the ocean currents act on and what creates the iceberg's behavior at its tip. Global issues can be looked at in this same way. If we apply the iceberg model to global issues, we could say that at the tip, above the water, are events, or things that we see or hear about happening in the world, such as a bomb blast in Iraq, a catastrophic flood in China, a terrorist attack in Spain, or an oil spill in Alaska. The events that we hear about in the news represent the iceberg tip.
If we look just below the water line, we often start to see patterns, or the recurrence of events. This might be multiple terrorist attacks around the world or recurring oil spills. Patterns are important to identify because they indicate that an event is not an isolated incident.
Like the different levels of an iceberg, deep beneath the patterns are the underlying structures that create or allow those patterns to reoccur. For example the underlying structures that allow recurring oil spills might be a system of oil tankers that connect oil-producing countries with oil consuming countries. If you looked only at the event, you might think that we should just build stronger tankers and better pipelines. But if you look at the structural cause of such spills, you can start to understand and address long-term, sustainable solutions such as developing energy sources that do not rely on oil transportation.
Finally, at the very base of the iceberg are the assumptions and worldviews (or mental models) that have created or sustained the structures that are in place. The assumption that oil consuming countries should be dependent on oil producing nations and that energy dependence is normal and acceptable social behavior may be at the root of the problem. The important thing to understand is that in solving problems, the greatest leverage is in changing the mental models - applying deep ocean currents to move the iceberg, which will change the events at its tip.
Human behavior is influenced by the way we think and "see" the world. To change behavior, we need to be able to point out when "old" Mental Models are no longer useful. First we have to be able to "see" the Mental Models that influence behavior. To practice, identify an activity you have observed during your visit to Simple Gifts Farm. Is this action part of a larger pattern of behavior? What structures (organizations, physical things, rituals etc.) support this pattern of behavior? Finally, identify the mental models (principles, beliefs, values, assumptions, stories we tell.) that have created the structures and encouraged the patterns, and resulted in the activity. Here is an example�.
In this example, the structures are physical (equipment.) as well as organizational (USDA) as well as in the nature of a policy (Organic Standards Act). These structures only make sense in the context of mental models that includes certain assumptions or beliefs ("feed the soil"). These Mental Models and the structures that emerge from these produce a pattern of behavior (other organic means to provide fertility) that in turn results in a specific action (composting).
1. Part one of your homework is to identify a sustainable action you observed on a farm we visited and then list the pattern, structures, and underlying mental models using the format above (do a "iceberg" like the one above). Do this on one page.
2. Part two of your homework is to choose one of the farms we visited and then write a one-page response to the following questions:
· What farm did you choose?
· What did you appreciate most about this farm?
· What actions or patterns (the top of the iceberg) do you think might be considered on this farm to make it more sustainable? Choose one that is not being used now on that farm.
3. Finally, list and describe 2-3 structures that might help support this action that you are recommending. The structures* might be on-farm (like a biodiesel heated greenhouse) or off-farm (like a policy shift at Stop & Shop to buy local). Be creative!
* Remember, structures are semi-permanent. They usually fall into one of the following categories:
i. Physical roads, buildings, machinery
ii. Organizations such as the USDA, UMass
iii. Policies such as laws, traffic rules
iv. Rituals such as the Pledge of Allegiance
Due in class on Thursday, October 6.