The policy planners have a dual challenge – at the same time they have to solve usual for them problems which existed for a long time and they also have to deal with everyday emergency problems, which are changing according to the conditions of the environment. To solve this challenge, they frequently use existing solutions as well as past traditions. Such approach filters new observations and solution ideas. Participatory qualitative systems analysis is one of the several techniques to solve this dual challenge in policy planning.
Participatory qualitative systems analysis is frequently applied in the case of wicked problems, which are fuzzy by nature, especially when it is hard to define the phenomenon and its components. The qualitative systems analysis includes six steps:
- Selection of the participants panel of the process, which should include participants with wide and various perspectives as well as various and diverse backgrounds.
- Identification of research question and of the problem framing based on the participants inputs including the analysis of the list of issues and their priorities
- Description of the representation of a systems map with identification of its boundaries
- Identification of all issues and elements which have impact on the performance of the system. These issues can be resources (time resources of teachers) or approach (family oriented services, attitudes and values such as respect and trust). This can be also very concrete issues or complex and abstract issues. Further on, in the systems map the components are connected with links. These links should have direction and it should be possible to estimate the impact.
- The next step is to define the links of interaction. There we have two technical challenges, either links are too few, or the system map is too dense when all components are linked. The way to arrange the links into more efficient lay out is to start elaboration from the most central components. Centrality is defined as a sum of in-degree (how many links are coming to the component) and outdegree (how many links are directed out from the component).
- The sixth step is to capture the behavior of the system based on feedback loops. A feedback loop consists of a sequence of links connecting nodes by forming a cycle, i.e., the loop begins and ends in the same node. A feedback loop can be either reinforcing (which means that an initial increase/decrease of the state of any node further increases/decreases after every cycle) or balancing (which means that, on the contrary, an initial increase/decrease of the state of any node decreases/increases after every cycle). The decomposition of a complex system into a balancing and reinforcing feedback loop helps to understand its dynamics.
The examples where we recently applied the participatory qualitative systems analysis are:
- Refugee crisis,
- Energy transition,
- National well-being challenges including the role of school as a well-being system for children.