Why diversity is important – it’s the system

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Does this image (above) depict the ‘brute force’ associated with British football?…                                                …and do the scenes (below) at a Brazilian match really represent Brazil’s ‘beautiful game’?

Responding to variety is one thing; but a variety of perspectives is quite another challenge, for both practical reasons and ethical reasons (Rogers & Williams, 2010).

Let’s think practically first – our understanding of many things will be flawed if we only consider one point of view: a football match ending in a riot cannot be explained if you only view it as a game of skill between two teams.

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Perspectives are closely associated with what you value. The value of a football match will be judged differently if it the sport is seen as a game of skill or a means of entertainment. A game played by incompetents could be judged hugely entertaining, whereas a skilfully played game (e.g. Spanish-style tiki-taka football) could be judged very dull. My wife’s perspective on the value of our son’s local village match in contrast to a premier league game on TV would be quite different from that of a football expert (although my wife played the game at university and has coached a few junior teams in her time). Perceptions of value have implications for service users and service quality – do we judge our service or work outputs by our own perspectives of quality, convenience, purpose or timeliness – or do we work to the expectations, needs and priorities of the people using those services?
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There are also serious ethical implications in considering a diversity of perspectives. A person or a certain group of people could get harmed if you don’t see things through an alternative perspective. That topic is worth a separate blog in its own right.
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Aside from that, our effectiveness as people is influenced by our understanding of alternative perspectives. A wider perspective allows us to consider interrelationships better: how does my work affect yours, who else might be impacted, what are their priorities? Any changes we make in a system of work are not simply a matter of cause and effect – not as straightforward as ‘I do this, then they will do that‘.  It is not just about A+B =C. There may be unforeseen consequences: more of C may impact on D, E, or F. Using up B might cause problems for X and Y and so on.
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Of course there are practical limits to what we can consider – we need to put boundaries around our thinking. Where we set those boundaries will depend on our perspective, or ideally the various perspectives that we are prepared to consider. Every world-view is restricted and limited in some way, so remain conscious that:

  • a good first step to seeing the wider ‘system’ is to see the world through the eyes of another,
  • any judgement of activity sets up a boundary of ‘worthwhile’ and ‘not important’,
  • we should carefully consider the implications of any boundary which we set
Reading:

Churchman, C.W. (1968) The Systems Approach. Delta, NY

Jacobs, C.J. (2009) Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. Penguin Group Portfolio, NY

Rogers, P. and Williams, R. (2010) Using Systems Concepts in Evaluation, in Beyond Logframe: Using Systems Concepts in Evaluation,  N. Fujita (Editor). Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development, Tokyo.

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