A case study in VSM as a system tool for managing change

Elizabeth Donnelly
19 October 2015

Elizabeth Donnelly was first introduced to systems thinking in 2006 as part of her undergraduate degree with the Open University. Following successful study she was able to introduce elements of systems thinking to her work as the Head of Skills for the aerospace trade association, including an examination of personnel reduction at the Ministry of Defence. In 2013 Elizabeth began an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice with the OU, which she is due to complete in 2016.

This presentation is based on a systemic inquiry into a declining charitable Society that she conducted as part of her first module: Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change.

The Society was struggling with conflict at Trustee level despite the recent introduction of professional staff. Management of the Society was identified as a system of interest.

Interviews with four Society Members were conducted using Critical Systems Heuristics to determine boundary judgments and to uncover their visions of an ideal Society. A shared metaphor describing the Society as a bus was also used to further discuss the interviewees’ perspectives. A Viable System Model was then built from the ground up, revealing systemic problems and a critical need to improve governance to prevent failure.