Friday, April 29, 2016

Educating Voters: The Systems Thinking WayEducating Voters: The Systems Thinking Way

Educating Voters: The Systems Thinking WayEducating Voters: The Systems Thinking Way

Discussions around the upcoming elections, both in the Philippines and in the United States, show the kind of electorate that builds our democracies where every opinion is heard – ignorant or not. 
It can be argued that the quality of a democracy is heavily dependent on how educated and responsible the people are in making choices individually and collectively. Civil rights and freedoms such as the freedom of expression are guaranteed in a democracy, but the trap is when people start to believe that an ignorant opinion is equal to that of an informed, responsible choice. 

In the Philippines, there is a prevalence of election memes flooding social media right now with information or misinformation due to the relative ease by which these things can be posted and shared online. Nowadays, people have become more opinionated about anything under the sun, but not necessarily well-informed individuals. People have become taste-makers and policy movers with every like and share on Facebook or with every tweet that they do on Twitter.  

The things that people post online are not just indicative of people’s personal mental models, but are also manifestations of the current social structures that define public discourse.   

Imagine all the things that our children are exposed to in this information age. Some people who are already considered adults are still easily swayed by propaganda and faulty logic, what more our children who may not have been trained to be critical of the info that they see and share online. The better scenario would be to have children start being critical early on in school.

This situation highlights the pressing need to educate not just voters, but also young ones, to be more critical in discerning what is really true and valid from what is merely a lie or propaganda as they go through all the posts and shares in social media. One is empowered more if we approach the election season, and any other social or personal issue for that matter, more critical and practicing the Habits of a Systems Thinker. 

Luckily, there is Benedictine International School in Quezon City, Philippines that trains its students to be more critical of the information that they receive which in turn, greatly affect their decision-making. Students are trained early on to look at and discuss things critically, using the Habits of a Systems Thinker. 
The following are some of the Habits of a Systems Thinker, essentially leadership qualities, that a voter must look for in an effective candidate beyond the memes and shared posts on social media:

1. Sees the big picture

Does your candidate maintain a balance between the big picture and important details? Does your candidate have a vision to begin with, or merely a reaction to the now and gets lost in the details? Once elected into public office, especially in a national post, a leader cannot afford to be myopic and detach the self or the community from the rest of the dynamics of a bigger system, which is the rest of humanity.

2. Recognizes that a system’s structure generates its behavior

Does your candidate focus on internal causes rather than dwell on external blame when in addressing challenges and social issues? Does he/she have a clear understanding of how parts affect each other and create the behavior that emerges? Does your candidate strengthen or weaken democratic institutions? It is important to note that changes, in order for them to be more sustainable, must be achieved on the level of mental models. Goo working structures must be put in place to sustain government efforts, instead of merely reacting to issues and putting blame on individuals.  
3. Identifies circular nature complex cause-effect relationships

Is your candidate aware of and open to feedback, either reinforcing or balancing? Does he consider different parts and how they affect one another?
As such, the leader must recognize that cause-effect relationships within dynamic systems are circular rather than linear. He/she can identify where circular causality or feedback emerge in making complex decisions.
4. Changes perspective to increase understanding

Is your candidate tolerant of differing views? Is your candidate open to feedback? Does he/she approach the right people to help him/her gain new and wider perspectives on an issue? Does he/she puts value on collaborative work of different sectors rather than exerting the tired-way of top-down, linear approach to governing? Inclusive growth can only be realized if we start to empower people to participate in nation building. Hence, a leader looks at issues from differing angles and points of view, acknowledging that he has no monopoly over good ideas.  

5. Considers issue fully and resists urge to come to a quick conclusion

Does your candidate act decisively, yet not impulsively? Is he/she able to manage the tension that exists when issues are not resolved immediately? Is your candidate inspiring enough to lead others to be patient while living in unresolved problems? A leader is not too quick to judge and will take time to understand the system’s structure and its behavior before recommending and implementing a course of action. He/She will never oversimplify things for soundbites and popularity. He does not promote patronage politics and understands that some quick fixes do not work.

6. Considers short-term, long-term, and unintended consequences

Does your candidate consider all the possible consequences? Does your candidate think of long-term solutions? Is he/she willing to own up and be responsible for unintended consequences when they emerge? A leader is willing to accept short term pain for long-term gain. A leader understands that there are trade-offs that must be considered, but these things should never be at the expense of the people, the majority, and most especially the most vulnerable in society.

7. Recognizes the impact of time delays

Is your candidate realistic and truthful in assessing how quick the solutions may come? Are there bases for the claims and promises of your candidate?  Does your leader respond with urgency, but not hastily? A leader understands the importance of time delays especially when an action is taken within a complex, dynamic system. He/she will also account for the impact these delays may have within the system.  

These are just some of the things that we must demand from those who wish to have the honor and privilege to govern us. When we vote for certain individuals and elect them to office, we are essentially giving them the power to direct the course of the life of our communities towards either the good or the bad. Being critical of our candidates is one the best types of participation we can do in our democracy.
As parents and adults, we have the responsibility to choose the leaders who will help us and steer our communities in defining the future for our children. It would have been better if schools expose our children early on to a more critical way of looking at things, the Systems Thinking way. Practicing the habits of a Systems Thinker like those listed above, is a good way to become productive contributors in a working democracy that truly considers the people in its choices. 

We have the power to choose between allowing our children to become pawns in a political game or to become opinion-makers that help direct public discourse towards a more sensible and responsible one. Be more involved in your child’s future by sending them to schools which can help them become critical consumers and producers of information. To know more about Systems Thinking in schools, you may reach Benedictine international School at 951.7154 / 951.7454 / 951.8960. The school is located in Capitol Hills Drive, Old Balara, Quezon City.


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