For this blogpost, we hand over to Jennifer Bray to hear about getting started on a “systems” analysis of a Meeting Centre for the Get Real project:
As one part of our Get Real with Meeting Centres research project we’re using a soft systems approach to help us look at the different elements that influence the sustainability of Meeting Centres. It’s been a great learning experience for us, getting our heads around the process. For each of the three Meeting Centres we’re focusing on as case studies, we’ll be looking to create a model of how things work and using a seven-stage process to develop recommendations of how to improve sustainability. There is plenty available on the internet about soft systems if people are interested, but in very broad terms the seven stages are:
- Situation – working out what problem we’re looking at
- Rich picture – expressing the situation to work out what is going on and what affects what
- Formulating root definitions – defining the relevant ‘systems’ within Meeting Centres that have an impact on sustainability
- Conceptual models – for each root definition, working out how we think things should be
- Compare models with the real world – comparing how things are in the real world to how they should be
- Changes – considering what could be put in place to get closer to how things should be, and what recommendations can be made
- Action – taking action to improve the situation defined in stage 1
Members of the research team have been carrying out interviews with a wide range of stakeholders at each case study Meeting Centre, and the information gained from these interviews will play an integral role throughout the process. It will make sure that our findings are based on what is actually happening in Meeting Centres and the views of everyone involved. We’ll also be taking our interim findings back to the Meeting Centres to check that we have interpreted everything accurately and ensure that they provide a true reflection of what people have told us.
In a meeting earlier this week, the research team got together to start the process for one of the case study Meeting Centres, making full use of sticky notes, flip charts and white boards after being part of so many online meetings for the past two years.
We made good progress and had some great discussions at the same time, and have a better idea of what’s involved in the process now. It’s not quick though, so we ended the meeting by each taking away an area to develop a root definition for. Although it’s new to us, we’ve got a framework to help as the definitions should aim to cover the following key elements:
- Beneficiaries – who are the beneficiaries and how does the issue affect them?
- Actors – who is involved in the situation and in implementing any potential solutions?
- Transformation process – what transformation will take place?
- Worldview – what is the big picture and the wider impacts of the issue?
- Ownership – who owns the situation being explored and what role do they play?
- Environmental constraints – what might constrain the solution or have an impact on its success?
So we’re going to work on our own root definitions before getting together again to continue with the soft systems process. We’re still learning as we go, but enjoying finding out about a new approach and way of exploring and making sense of complex data. Once we’ve developed, checked and refined our findings for all of the case study Meeting Centres, we’ll be able to incorporate it into our overall project and combine it with the realist element of the project. So how do things work? We’re not quite sure yet, but we’re getting there!