|Systems thinking:||is a set of synergistic analytic skills used to improve the capability of identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviours, and devising modifications to them in order to produce desired effects. These skills work together as a system.|
|Terms included in the definition are themselves defined as the following:|
|Systems:||Groups or combinations of interrelated, interdependent, or interacting elements forming collective entities.|
|Synergistic:||The interaction of elements in a way that, when combined, produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.|
|Analytical skills:||Skills that provide the ability to visualize, articulate, and solve both complex and uncomplicated problems and concepts and make decisions that are sensible and based on available information. Such skills include demonstration of the ability to apply logical thinking to gathering and analysing information, designing and testing solutions to problems, and formulating plans.|
|The field of chemistry is a dynamic system with many interconnected components that
are coherently organized to advance knowledge, deliver useful applications and solve
challenges while reducing risks and improving safety and sustainability. The field includes
innumerable sub-systems, which can be small and localised (e.g. a reaction in a laboratory
vessel) or large and diffuse (e.g. carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere). Moreover, the
chemistry system and its component parts interact with many other systems – for
example, chemical processes and products interact with the surrounding environment, leading
to both beneficial and harmful effects on biological, ecological, physical, societal and
As noted by IOCD's group Chemists for Sustainability, despite these interconnections, systems thinking is relatively unfamiliar to chemists and chemistry educators – unlike the situation in other fields such as biology and engineering. The learning objectives for chemistry programmes at both the high school and university level rarely include substantial and explicit emphasis on strategies that move beyond understanding isolated chemical reactions and processes to envelop systems thinking.
A number of tools can assist with systems thinking, including ‘forest thinking’ (looking beyond the trees to see the wider picture), problem-based approaches to learning, and learning in rich contexts. In addition, there are several visualization tools that can help to understand and explore components within a system, how these interact with one another and how the system as a whole may interact with other systems. Visualization approaches include concept maps, stock-flow diagrams and systemigrams. The STICE project has generated a new tool specifically tailored to visualization of systems thinking in chemistry — the Systems-Oriented Concept map Extension (SOCME). For details, see below and here.