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The Importance of System Thinking in Solving Sustainability Challenges on The Example of Homelessness in Australia

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Systems Thinking is Critical in Developing Solutions to Sustainability Challenges

Sustainability has gained attention from scholars and practitioners and has proven to be an important concept (Aras and Crowther, 2012). Sustainability can be defined as the adoption and incorporation of environmental and social principles into decision making processes (Bodkin and Keller, 2004). Susainability is used to prevent and mitigate unjustified harm that is facing the people in the society and the enviroment. Due to environmental and social challenges today, there is a growing need for sustainability in every sector of the world. Therefore, it is important to implement systematic methods as a way of minimizing environmental and social negative effects especially by different organisations (Aras and Crowther, 2012). System thinking is a concept that can be utilized in solving sustainability issues. System thinking is a concept that has the ability to eliminate sustainability challenges if implemented effectively. System thinking can be described as a concept of viewing an issue with regard to other elements or issues to which it interacts. This paper will describe and justify the importance of system thinking in solving sustainability challenges particularly homelessness in Australia.

The world today is going though many challenges when dealing with sustainability challenges. Sustainability is influenced by many stakeholders and entails several drivers and dimensions such as energy, biodiversity and oceans among others (Lerner, 2015). Although sustainability dimensions are distant in time and space, they are interconnected and intertwined into a complex sphere. For this reason, it is impossible for single-dimensional approach to solve sustainability challenges (Arnold and Wade, 2015). Interventions in sustainability involve a huge number of complex feedback loops, long delays as well as non-linear causes and effects which makes the outcomes unpredictable. Sustainability is a new challenge facing the world today and because new challenges require new solutions, the old tools cannot solve sustainability challenges (The World Bank, 2015). Since the world is dynamic and interconnected, decision makers tend to make decisions utilizing the mental models that are reductionist and static. Static and narrow solutions are not the answer as they may lead to unintended consequences.

In order to successfully solve the sustainability challenges, there is a need to balance short term and long term solutions (Bodkins and Keller, 2004). In order to develop a resilient solution for sustainability, integrated and systemic techniques are needed. Often than not, there is need for a new way of thinking that challenge the old models. Sustainability encompasses several divergent interests and perspectives such as policy-governance, natural-environmental as well as social-political domains (Kim, 2012). Decision making in this setting is very difficult and complex and is followed by many uncertainties. Moreover, long delays create a huge separation between decisions and anticipated results and lead to unintended consequences. This is evident in financial world, climate change and environment world. Conventional mechanistic and narrow thinking is not enough as an intervention for complex and multi-dimensional sustainability issues. No single paradigm along can solve the challenges facing sustainability (Aras and Crowther, 2012).

System thinking assist people see the world as a complex system. It deals with complexity and mental models and helps decision makers understand the consequences of their actions, polices and strategies (Cabrera, Colosi and Lobdell, 2008). System thinking is more than just mechanistic system as it acknowledges the role of people as drives of complexity and change. System thinking assist in solving sustainability challenges since it looks at things from a macroscopic perspective rather than at a shorter picture. There is a huge difference between system thinking and traditional thinking (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). Traditional thinking focuses on already studied content while system thinking focuses on the interrelationship between components of a system. Sustainability is a new challenge and thus traditional thinking is unable to deal with its complexity and newness. As a new way of thinking, system thinking has the ability to address these complex issues brought about by sustainability (Aras and Crowther, 2012).

In addition, sustainability challenges are very complex owing to technological advancement and globalisation. Therefore, it is imposible for decision makers to solve sustainability challenges using the old methods and models (Gregory and Miller, 2014). With sustainability challenges being very complicated and complex, the strategies to be used in solving these challenges need to be dynamic enough to utilize multiple approaches. Besides, the influence of several elements on sustainability issues makes it hard to adapt a soloist problem-solving initiative. It is important for sustainability challenges to be solved by different parties working in collaboration (Gregory and Miller, 2014). It is difficult for one body to address sustainability changes successfully. Forming a collaborative relationships with non-governmental organisations, government, local community and other business organisations is important it ensures a more stout proficiency pool of resources. For instance, in order to solve homelessness in Australia, social change is required. However, this may be hard to achieve since our behaviours and those of the entire community are tied to the behaviour of the country system. System thinking is important since it gives people a chance to recognize and appreciate the significance of a social system thus changing physical infrastructure only will not create system-wide resilience (Soderquist and Overkkar, 2010).

In solving homelessness in Australia, system thinking develops a new language for communication of interrelationships and complexities (Australian Government, 2007). The challenge of solving homelessness relies on acquiring knowledge of best practices and people’s motivation. The use of system thinking in solving homelessness in Australia entails several steps. The first step is to understand the problem (Arnold and Wade, 2015). Understanding the problem can be achieved by looking at the entire system instead of individual parts. It can be achieved through meeting with different stakeholders to share the vision of the situation. New relationships with government, local community and other business organisations must be established in order to offer a more stout proficiency pool of resources in solving homelessness (Jackson, 2003). The next step involves the identification of structure in order to understand the problem in question. Having a clear defined vision about the challenge will make it easy for a solution to be developed.

Next, system thinking ensures that the challenge is fully identified by going deeper into the issue (Hamid, 2009). This will enable the identification of the purpose of the system, the mental models and the roles in the situation. After this has been done, the information collected is used to plan an intervention that attempts to reach the intended outcome. Traditional thinking to solve homelessness is to provide more resources to reduce the number of people on the streets (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). In the long run, doing this does not mean that the problem is fully solved since more and more people will also go to the streets due to other unresolved factors. Subsequently homelessness level increases even after more and more resources have been injected into the system. System thinking suggests reconnoitring a solution that reduces the causes and the effects of homelessness in the long term without impacting the environmental balance (Stroh and Goodman, 2007).

In solving homelessness in Australia, system thinking supports the effort of finding why people get off the streets. In addition, it is important also to know what prevents people from looking for permanent housing (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). Based on these analyses, it will be easy to find different types of interventions that could solve the homelessness challenge. System thinking increases the accurate of the extent of the challenge and the society’s motivation to permanently resolve it. In order for homelessness in Australia to be solved completely, there should be an enhanced collaboration between different providers in order to implement a permanent solution (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). In addition, steps should be taken to enhance collaboration amount community investment. This will assist in reducing competition for existing funds and support for necessary housing services. Reducing homelessness in Australia also can be done through increasing the access to permanent and affordable housing (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). One major cause of homelessness in Australia is substance abuse and mental challenges. Therefore solving these issues through offering services for reducing substance abuse can assist eliminate homelessness (Stroh and Goodman, 2007).

In addition, another solution for homelessness in Australia is to enhance economic development of a country through increasing the access to living wage jobs (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). This can only be implemented through partnership of different governmental and non-governmental bodies. Ultimately, system thinking ensures that the interventions used to solve homelessness rely on preventing people from being homeless in the first place (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). System thinking tool has the ability to challenge the inherent process of solution searching of wicked problems such as homelessness. Instead of just reacting to challenges and issues that are outside our realm of our thinking and actions, system thinking teaches people how to adapt to the endogenous worldview whereby people think of how their own actions contributes to the very challenges facing us today (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). Therefore, partnering between different shareholders that challenge each other can lead the way to transformative agenda of homelessness.

Inherent complexity nature of sustainability issues limits the ability to observe and interpret and thus limit the ability of policy makers to develop and implement effective strategies and policies (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). This can potentially lead to failure. Well-intentioned policies that address the symptoms of a challenge lead to short-term benefits that can be overwhelmed by the long-term reaction of the system. It is therefore right to conclude that system thinking is an essential tool required by the decision-makers (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). It gives space for the discovery of the root causes of sustainability issues denotes them in a visually instinctive manner, and look for possible leverage ideas for policy implementation. System thinking enables a multi-stakeholder initiative approach and the integration of knowledge that supports broadly shared decisions. Through this tool, initiatives and better policies can potentially be developed, evaluated and implemented and assessed over time (Cabreba, Colosi and Bobdell, 2008).

There are some arguments that oppose the significance of system thinking. Some researchers argue that system thinking in solving sustainability challenge is time consuming (Martin and Hall, 2002). System thinking relies on the interrelationship between all components of a system. This may prove to be time consuming and may bring other challenges on the way. It will be hard for professionals to give time to implement system thinking tool. However, system thinking is associated with positive problem outcomes. It is applied to challenges that are said to lack definite solutions (Stroh and Goodman, 2007). Therefore, is it right to say that system thinking is able to address sustainability challenges? The answer is yes. In order to solve sustainability challenges, system thinking should be used. System thinking is effective in supporting the development of sustainability. Therefore, it should be added in the higher education curriculum in order to enable students see sustainability problems from complex views of the world (Martin and Hall, 2002). The world is faced with sustainability problems and therefore teaching system thinking will assist students acquire the tool to solve environmental and social challenges.

In conclusion, sustainability challenges have dominated the world today and are considered new challenges. Sustainability revolves around the interconnection of economy, society we well as environment. Due to their nature of being new challenges, traditional thinking is not enough to solve the issues. A new way of thinking is required. System thinking is very significant in addressing sustainability challenge. The traditional techniques of solving homelessness in Australia are not offering any efficient result. There are many business challenges that cannot be solved by strategies used in the past. Solving this require a dynamic approach employing multiple approaches. Sustainability challenges cannot be successfully solved by one organisation. There is need for partnership between different bodies in order to implement effective strategies. Therefore, system thinking is able to solve sustainability challenges.

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The Importance of System Thinking in Solving Sustainability Challenges on the Example of Homelessness in Australia. (2019, February 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from
“The Importance of System Thinking in Solving Sustainability Challenges on the Example of Homelessness in Australia.” GradesFixer, 27 Feb. 2019,
The Importance of System Thinking in Solving Sustainability Challenges on the Example of Homelessness in Australia. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Oct. 2021].
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