Living systems perespective — a summary

Anna Birney
Living systems and change
2 min readJun 5, 2016

This post is a a framing of a living sytems perspective drawn from my PhD.


A worldview, a particular philosophy of life, paradigm, mind-set or set of core assumptions about how the world works, how we make meaning of our lives. A perspective informs how we act.

Living systems perspective

To take a living systems perspective we need to: Seek the whole system view that recognises ourselves and our society are nested within our environment; take a relationship-based approach to cultivating change; and learn and innovate.’ (Birney, 2014a:19).

A collective living systems perspective, is a societal worldview where we see ourselves embedded in the continuum of life.


The prevailing perspective shapes society and our current perspective (modernist western worldview) has helped shaped our unsustainability

Systems and systemic thinking might help us address these challenges

A living system perspective might be an appropriate perspective to take for sustainability as it (gets closer or) aligns with how our environment and society works

The qualities of a living systems perspective are:

- Nested wholes — embedded multi-layered structures (including humans, society as seen as part of nature)

- Dynamic relationships — we are in constant flow, in dynamic interaction

- Self-organisation — a spontaneous process that is life’s inherent tendency towards novelty

- Life as a continuum — These all come together as a continually process of emergence

This therefore indicates how systems change, including social systems and might be the bases of how we might create systemic change:

- Through constantly learning (and innovating), adapting and developing

- Through cultivating relationships

- Through operating a multi-levels (recognising we are embedded in nature)

We also need to explore our prevailing paradigm or perspective when exploring systemic change.

Developmental theory (understanding how humans develop) positions our consciousness, paradigms and perspectives as something that continually emerges (more to follow)

I argue that if the challenges of sustainability are born out of our current dominant perspective, it might suggest we need to access or act from a more systemic perspective to achieve a sustainable future; which includes looking at how we might shift the paradigm we are currently in. How might we shift to a living systems perspective?



Anna Birney
Living systems and change

Cultivating #systemschange | Leading School of System Change | Passion #inquiry #livingsystems #livingchange