Inquiry skills are crucial to developing a systems thinking mindset. The ability to interrogate a complex issue or item, and remain mindful of what we see enables real systems learning.
Critical Inquiry involves several types of actions and skills to be effective. The first crucial Inquiry skill is to be able to ask purposeful and constructive questions. This skill involves both an element of content and delivery. It is important to pursue questioning in a constructive manner as it could be perceived in a bad light.
Secondly, it is critical to gather and analyze information that is germane to the system. Developing the ability to sort key information and view it objectively is invaluable in systems analysis. The primary importance of inquiry in a systems thinking context, is the ability to interrogate and understand our own individual (or group) mental models and how they affect how we guide our thoughts and actions. An imperfect understanding of our own mental models will enable us to continue to take actions within a narrow channel, even when those actions are inadequate, inappropriate or do not yield the results we wish to obtain. In a previous post, we explored the difficulties associated with a Rational Model, or reductionist approach.
Another ability is also crucial, it is important to master a skill to balance our tendency to advocate our own perceptions and ideas, instead of inquiring to understand other perspectives and new or different information. Balancing inquiry and advocacy is a critical step in learning and understanding systemic issues, and will be the subject of our next post. If we truly endeavor to obtain a systems perspective, it will very quickly become too complex and diverse than our own personal experience can adequately comprehend. Therefore, exercising our inquiry skills to comprehend new ideas and perspectives will be crucial in diagnosing what needs to be done, and in enlisting support to make it happen.