Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 405–423

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

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11213-016-9376-5

Cite this article as:
Raymaker, D.M. Syst Pract Action Res (2016) 29: 405. doi:10.1007/s11213-016-9376-5


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 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
National Institute of Mental Health
  • R34MH092503
Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute
  • UL1 RR024140

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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