Innovations in data analysis

As a programme, we are trying out a number of innovative approaches and methodologies for research and end-user engagement. In 2015/2016, AISA researchers under the Science and Technology Unit applied the systems thinking and system dynamics approaches to foster innovative thinking in research and data interpretation. This requires infusing systems thinking and complexity science into the social sciences.

This derives from the increasing complexity in social problems and systems. Systems thinking and systems dynamics are based on the concept of holism, i.e. being cognizant that observed phenomenon such as poverty and inequality may derive from underlying complex relationships between factors in the social system. At the heart of systems thinking is the recognition that factors behind the prevailing situations are interdependent, that causal effect relationships between factors are often two-way, and that the impact of action is neither instantaneous nor linear.

In essence, systems thinking makes explicit cause-effect assumptions between related variables, enabling independent assessment and improvement of mental models behind a particular situation or prevailing condition. To promote the application of systems thinking and system dynamics in social systems AISA/HSRC has partnered with the University of Stellenbosch in producing a book titled System Dynamics Models for Africa’s Development planning.