Gameification of Systems Thinking Training

How would you rate your understanding of systems thinking?

I want to share a downloadable, fun and practical toolkit that will increase your success.

systemsthinkingin action

We live in a world of systems.

We live in a world of systems.  The traffic you drove through this morning, financial markets, the company you work for, your family, the natural systems that feed you, the climate.  They are all systems; big and small, complex or simple. And most of us go through life oblivious of their power over us.

A Sustainability Core Competency

Systems Thinking is a core competency for sustainability professionals.  As agents of change, we need to understand the shift that humankind is making, from reductionist, rational, linear thinking to systems thinking.  Sounds like crazy talk – doesn’t it?

systems change

Understanding systems allows us to find key leverage points for effective change.

We wouldn’t try to land on the moon without understanding astronomy, astrobiology or aerospace engineering.  We need the right mental map to be successful.  It is the same for sustainability.

But where does one go to learn about systems thinking?  You might try to read great technical books like Donella Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems”.  But I’ll warn you, it gave me a brain cramp.  I personally haven’t developed the neural pathways to make it stick.

A Practical Tool for Systems Thinking Training

That’s why last week’s  breakthrough is “shareworthy”.  Gabby Kalapos of the Clean Air Partnership invited me to a session with Dr. Steve Easterbrook, University of Toronto - and my Systems Thinking lights came on!

Steve was speaking a language that everyone in the room could understand.  He was playing “games” with us.

Gameification of Systems Thinking

A few years ago he discovered “The Systems Thinking Playbook” by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows;  a book of experiential games that demonstrate how systems work.

As we played Avalanche, Living Loops and other games; we learned about feedback loops, positive and negative reinforcing loops and balancing loops.  We started to make connections to sustainable habits, climate change, and energy systems.  We left with new insights and a starting point for learning and sharing systems thinking.  And – we had fun!

Getting Credible


This Playbook is a subset of the Systems Thinking Playbook. It is downloadable and contains 22 games.

Bob Willard once said, “If we want to be successful changemakers for a sustainable world; we need to get credible.”  Being able to understand, explain and use Systems Thinking is essential to our current work.

Coming soon will be the “The Systems Thinking Playbook for Climate Change” a short version of the total playbook with 22 games that help your audience understand systems and climate change.  For instance, the first game, Arms Crossed, demonstrates how behaviour change is hard and uncomfortable at first, but clearly something we can overcome.

Leverage Points for Systems Change

Understanding systems allows us to stop tinkering around the edges and make meaningful steps for change.  In a recent blog on key leverage points for systems change, Steve Easterbrook notes that one of those key leverage points is to –  
“Learn systems thinking and gain the ability to understand a system from multiple perspectives; 

Realize that system structure and behaviour arises from a dominant paradigm.

Explore how our own perspectives shape our interactions with the system… And then…take to the streets.”

I like that.  I hope you’ll join me in that journey! (and have a little fun along the way)

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About Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper is a committed sustainability practitioner and educator moving companies toward “green” profitability and sustainable competitive advantage by unlocking human creativity and technical innovation. Over the last two years she has had the privilege to work with companies like Dupont, Zerofootprint, WWF Canada, and Partners in Project Green on sustainability issues, best practices and renewable energy. Kathryn is a graduate of York University with a Master of Education specializing on Sustainability and the Environment. She holds an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph.
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One Response to Gameification of Systems Thinking Training

  1. Kathryn,
    Thank you for including our work in your gameifiication blog. I agree wholeheartedly that games can be a portal to deep understanding of key sustainability-related concepts.
    I must ask however that you remove the link to the “Systems Thinking for Climate Change” PDF. It is a draft for a German non-profit and was posted without our permission. We have done significant work on this revised version of the ST Playbook and will be happy to share a link when it is ready (within a few months).

    Thank you.

    My best,
    Linda Booth Sweeney

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