CSL4D : aim

Concept & Systems Learning for Design             CSL4D is an informal, private initiative for exploring the combined use of concept mapping and systems thinking for learning in business, development, and education. Originally, the D in CSL4D stood for Development, but in 2014 it evolved that the broader scope of ‘design’ was much more appropriate (see my 6 posts on design).

“Qualsiasi dato diventa importante se è connesso a un altro.” Umberto Eco*

(Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another.)
But only if it simultaneously reveals its relevance.” (Sjon van ’t Hof)

And let me add: “…., in a system the parts have reality only by virtue of their [meaningful] relationship to other parts.” Churchman, 1968, in Challenge to Reason p. 181  ↗.

In purposive systems (i.e. human activity systems such as in business, development and education) the parts bear special relationship to the whole, i.e. the part can be evaluated in terms of its system effectiveness.

CSL4D is an offshoot of the HIPPO foundation, which was created in 1997 to strengthen low-lift irrigation development along Sahelian rivers. The HIPPO foundation lives on as Hippo Perspectives.

HIPPO Foundation
The HIPPO foundation had 3 main objectives, corresponding to the three original HIPPOtheses: (1) pumping costs in community-based irrigation schemes along the Niger River can  be reduced from US$ 300 to less than US$ 150 per hectare per season; (2) irrigation pump marketing in West Africa is inefficient by international standards and can be improved; and (3) the establishment of rental services of cost-efficient irrigation pumps is an effective way of promoting self-help irrigation development by resource-poor farmers in the Sahel. It is not difficult to see how these HIPPOtheses are interrelated.

Inadequate learning capacity
We believe that the first HIPPOthesis has been demonstrated. With prices higher than anywhere else in the world (except on the South Pole perhaps), the second HIPPOthesis has never been in doubt. The third objective, namely the establishment of pump rental services, is still a long way from being realized. This was caused by constraints to and distortions in decision-making and learning in key organizations.

Rural complexity ignored
The main reason why more productive learning in development organizations is lacking, is the institutionalized compulsion to analyse problematic situations to pieces. Once that it is done, it is up to field staff to pick up the shards and turn the entire dissected mess into a  workable project, in which short-term results trump long-term sustainability. An added difficulty is that most field staff is brainwashed into believing that the expert analysis is holy script, even if it doesn’t make any sense. Another consequence is that there is no mental framework to take in complex messages, such as HIPPO’s.

Meaningful learning can help
At CSL4D we believe that the use of concept mapping and systems thinking can enhance learning, which in turn will lead to better aid effectiveness. Apart from the HIPPOdissey, our main inspiration comes from three books: Systems thinking, systems practice (Checkland, 1999), The fifth discipline (Senge, 2006), and most of all Learning, creating, and using knowledge (Novak, 2010). The latter uses and expands the meaningful learning theory of Ausubel. CSL4D aims to help translate these theories to development practice. Among other, it will try to do so for the HIPPO Initiative.

Concept mapping inspirational
Now, to close the circle, we have become convinced of the wider applicability of the ideas evolved so far, to encompass business and education. Exploring this new territory is what this blog is about. Ultimately, the results may be quite inspiring, in fields wide apart.

Learning as we go
So far the road has been tortuous with a lot of learning on the way and much more learning likely to come, but we are very hopeful about the outcome. Here are some of our posts: Structured writing; Will we overshoot and collapse?; Systems approaches compared; Where is the systems part in SSM?; Soft systems methodology; Subsystem 5 of the Viable System Model : policy; Subsystem 4 of the Viable System Model : intelligence;  Subsystem 3 of the Viable System Model : cohesion;  The Viable System Model;  How bullets can save the day (sometimes, for me at least);  A very, very short introduction to SODA;  Serious concept fun;  Critical System Heuristics : a very, very short introduction;  Systems narratives;  A systemic concept map of the European debt crisis;  Concept maps: is there a difference with mind maps?;  Integrating systems thinking and concept mapping;  Systems notation can expand the propositional toolbox of concept mapping; How (and why) to represent systems archetypes in concept maps; Representing balancing systems; Concept map of the five disciplines; Concept maps; and The Fifth Discipline in Uganda.

“Qualsiasi dato diventa importante se è connesso a un altro.” Umberto Eco
(translation: Any given becomes important when it’s connected to another.) This quote is part of a 63-word text fragment that expresses the fundamental idea behind both concept mapping and the systems approach as well as Churchman’s principles of deception-perception (which is what Foucault’s Pendulum is about, although Eco doesn’t know that, perhaps. In fact, systems thinking and alchemy are linked, not only by Carl Gustav Jung).


About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see https://csl4d.wordpress.com/ or http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html
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