© 2010

Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-Change World


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. Thinking and Acting Differently

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Ray Ison
      Pages 3-14
  3. Systems Practice as Juggling

  4. Systemic Practices

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 216-216
    2. Ray Ison
      Pages 243-265
    3. Ray Ison
      Pages 267-281
    4. Ray Ison
      Pages 283-300
  5. Valuing Systems Practice in a Climate-change World

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 302-302
    2. Ray Ison
      Pages 303-328
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 329-340

About this book


It is now accepted that humans are changing the climate of the Earth and this is the most compelling amongst a long litany of reasons as to why, collectively, we have to change our ways of thinking and acting. Most people now recognise that we have to be capable of adapting quickly as new and uncertain circumstances emerge: this capability will need to exist at personal, group, community, regional, national and international levels, all at the same time.

Systems Practice is structured into four parts. Part I introduces the societal need to move towards a more systemic and adaptive governance against the backdrop of human-induced climate change. Part II unpacks what is involved in systems practice by means of a juggler metaphor; examining situations where systems thinking offers useful understanding and opportunities for change. Part III identifies the main factors that constrain the uptake of systems practice and makes the case for innovation in practice by means of systemic inquiry, systemic action research and systemic intervention. The book concludes with Part IV, which critically examines how systems practice is, or might be, utilised at different levels from the personal to the societal.

The development of our capabilities to think and act systemically is an urgent priority and Systems Practice aims to show how to do systems thinking and translate that thinking into praxis (theory informed practical action) which will be welcomed by those managing in situations of complexity and uncertainty across all domains of professional and personal concern.


Action Research Climate Change Corporate Social Responsibility Managing Systemic Change Managing complexity Personal Praxiology Strategic risk management Systemic Inquiry Systems Practice development

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Milton KeynesUnited Kingdom

About the authors

Professor Ray Ison has been Professor of Systems at The Open University since 1994. He has an established international reputation and is an experienced researcher, teacher, author and consultant. His research specialisms include: development and evaluation of systemic, participatory and process-based environmental decision making in natural resource management; organizational change and sustainable use of water. He has much experience of designing and developing learner centered, experiential and open learning systems and models. Prior to joining The Open University he worked in Australia at the Universities of Sydney and Western Sydney (Hawkesbury).

Professor Ray Ison is regular keynote speaker at national and international conferences and is frequently invited to run workshops. As well as publishing numerous journal papers, he has co-authored and co-edited four books: Cow up a Tree. Knowledge and Learning for Change in Agriculture: Case studies from industrial countries; Agricultural Extension and Rural Development: Breaking out of traditions; A Guide to Better Pastures in Temperate Climates; Agronomy of Grassland Systems.

Bibliographic information


Dr. Lauren A. Rickards, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne, Australia

In: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Volume 14, Issue 4, 2012, pp.481-483

As the ‘wicked’ and ‘messy’ nature of contemporary problems becomes increasingly apparent, the need to better understand and appropriately engage with the complex systems we are part of is of growing importance. Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World is rich in insight into the challenges and joys of developing this was of thinking and acting. It is itself a highly valuable but challenging book, in part because of the depth of the problems in modern society it reveals (including, for example, the very concept of ‘problems’, with its implicit simplistic corollary: ‘solutions’). It is also challenging because of the richness of strategies it provides for engaging with these ‘problems’ and becoming a ‘systems practitioner’... Its breadth and depth of thinking is stimulating and the intellectual and emotional challenges it poses reflect the situations we are in rather than weaknesses with the book itself, which is instead carefully and cleverly crafted.