Systems thinking for humanitarians: An introduction for the complete beginner

Campbell, L.
Publication language
Date published
11 Aug 2022
Research, reports and studies

This paper is an attempt to explain much more clearly what systems thinking is and why humanitarians should pay attention to it. The paper is significantly informed by ALNAP’s work on urban crises; however, it is relevant for all humanitarians who encounter complexity in their work.

This paper introduces the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of systems thinking, situating it within the broader systems universe and demonstrating its relevance for the humanitarian sector. The paper looks at system thinking in comparison to traditional reductionist and linear thinking, which fail to address the sorts of complex problems that humanitarians face, and introduces the principles, competencies, language and tools that can be used to put systems thinking principles into practice. The paper is accompanied by a companion handbook, which provides the ‘how’ of systems thinking. The hope is to inspire all readers to invest in building and applying their own systems thinking skills.