EP#98: Thinking like a System – with Howard Parry-Husbands

On this episode of GovComms, contentgroup CEO David Pembroke speaks to Howard Parry-Husbands about how systems thinking can be used to solve complex problems.

Howard is the CEO of Pollinate, one of Australia’s consulting and market research leaders in the world of branding, innovation and communications. In his spare time, he is studying a Masters in Systems Thinking and Forestry at the Australian National University.

Howard and David discuss the definition of systems thinking, which Howard believes is: the recognition that everything is related to everything else. This means that a solution to one problem can inadvertently create another problem.

In order to use systems thinking to solve these complex issues, Howard explains how we first must understand the key parts of the complex system which we are working with. He explains this using the Murrray Darling Basin as an example.

Howard believes that humans are bad at understanding complexity, and better at understanding cause and effect. Therefore, we need to use metaphors, visuals and storytelling to communicate your complex message to the public.

As an example, Howard compares how the COVID-19 pandemic was dealt with in Australia, New Zealand and the US. Howard believes that this comparison highlights the effects of what happens when systems thinking is put in place, compared to when it’s not.

Howard also gives his opinion on the single-message strategy, and how it is incompatible with an understanding of systems thinking. According to Howard, governments regularly make the mistake of giving one message to multiple audiences (the single-message strategy).

Discussed in this episode:

  • What is systems thinking, and how can it be used by communications professionals?
  • The benefits of understanding systems thinking from a policy perspective.
  • What is the single-message strategy, and why do governments need to stop using it?