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What difference does it make to think in terms of feedback loops?

14 Answers:

Simply remembering that any pattern manifested by a complex adaptive system will involve at least one feedback loop helps to maintain a systemic perspective.

Asking our self “What’s the pattern?” and then asking “What feedback loops are involved in maintaining the pattern?”.

By modelling a sequence determines whether it ‘completes a loop’ or not. Tracing the pathway around a couple of times both checks the consistency of the pattern and gives the client an opportunity to see the pattern of the feedback loop for themselves.

It helps to recognise that no part of the loop controls the system and that every part is playing its part — otherwise the pattern could not be maintained.

We appreciate that any change in the behaviour of the system will be maintained only if there’s a change in an appropriate feedback loop and/or the establishment of a new feedback loop.

It helps to not take sides and to remember that blame and guilt are the result of seeing arcs of a feedback loop rather than the whole pattern.

We let every response from the client influence our next action — but not too much!

We assume that characterological adjectives (e.g. I’m lazy) and nominalisations (e.g. an addiction) are names for a system of interlocking feedback loops.

We remember that every long-term change involves a change to the organisation of a feedback loop, and because they are self-maintaining, neither we nor the client can know the full extent of what will happen.

Modelling linear cause-effect ways of thinking is enhanced by maintaining a wider and more systemic perspective.

We remember that the client really wants to establish new self-stabilising feedback loops with more appropriate criteria.  However to get there they may need an escalating feedback loop to operate for a while — and that’s scary.

We consider when, where and how a potential feedback loop is interrupted (both physically and informationally) and this guides our questions.

It keeps us in touch with the dynamic and multilevel nature of self-organising systems.  They are continually changing over time to maintain their identity.

Development is about sustaining a change until it becomes the norm; and that eventually requires learning about the feedback process itself.

Diagram 4: Oscillation between spoon feeding and giving responsibility

Below is a diagram of a feedback loop depicting James’ reaction to working with pupils at a High School in the North East of England :



This diagram helped James to see that until the top half of the diagram became a reinforcing feedback loop he would likely continue to feel frustrated and disappointed; and the pupils would continue to learn through spoon feeding. He concluded that to add in the ‘missing link’ he would need to consistently focus on those pupils (or those aspects of an individual pupil) who showed the slightest interest in taking responsibility for any part of their learning — and to make this explicit.

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