Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 405–423 | Cite as

Intersections of Critical Systems Thinking and Community Based Participatory Research: A Learning Organization Example with the Autistic Community

  • Dora M. Raymaker
Original Paper


Critical systems thinking (CST) and community based participatory research (CBPR) are distinct approaches to inquiry which share a primary commitment to holism and human emancipation, as well as common grounding in critical theory and emancipatory and pragmatic philosophy. This paper explores their intersections and complements on a historical, philosophical, and theoretical level, and then proposes a hybrid approach achieved by applying CBPR’s principles and considerations for operationalizing emancipatory practice to traditional systems thinking frameworks and practices. This hybrid approach is illustrated in practice with examples drawn from of the implementation of the learning organization model in an action research setting with the Autistic community. Our experience of being able to actively attend to, and continuously equalize, power relations within an organizational framework that otherwise has great potential for reinforcing power inequity suggests CBPR’s principles and considerations for operationalizing emancipatory practice could be useful in CST settings, and CST’s vocabulary, methods, and clarity around systems thinking concepts could be valuable to CBPR practitioners.


Critical systems thinking Community based participatory research Learning organization Power Autism 



Foremost, I thank my AASPIRE team members, past and present, for doing the work, reading this paper, and being there for me. I would also like to acknowledge the valuable input of Christina Nicolaidis, Katherine McDonald, Laurie Powers, and Wayne Wakeland who helped me steer a floundering early draft onto a more effective course. AASPIRE’s work is supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant Number R34MH092503; Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute (OCTRI) Grant Number UL1 RR024140 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NIH Roadmap for Medical Research; Portland State University; and the Burton Blatt Institute.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Regional Research Institute for Human ServicesPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and EducationPortlandUSA

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