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The celebration of Churchman's work is the way in which his ideas provide a basis for praxis or the practical application of theory to problem solving. When talking about systems thinking some of Churchman's concepts are used, because they encapsulate rich ideas in poetic language. In conversation key concepts such as 'systemic', 'holistic', 'boundaries' (conceptual and spatial), being mindful when, how, why and who makes decisions, because they 'cut off' opportunities were used in discussion. Churchman's understanding of holistic systems makes his work spiritual and the language reflects this spirituality. The paper argues that these concepts help to support 'thick democracy' and working with diverse areas of knowledge (see Edgar, 2001).
When introducing Churchman to the staff of the Indigenous housing association, I described him as a man who understood the interconnectedness of life and that he drew on the ancient (Greek) thinkers. In our conversation it was agreed that Indigenous people the world over had understood the interconnection of all life (organic and inorganic). We talked about the way the United Nations Ottawa Health Charter (1986) recognized the importance of seeing the connections across health and development and that this underlined what Indigenous people had always known.
The United Nations policy is familiar to Indigenous people and to those involved in the social justice movements in Alice. Indigenous people feel a connection to their environment and the spirit or connection that binds them to their land they feel as spiritual well-being.
The research applies the following concepts from Churchman (1971, 1979a, 1979b, 1982) to a specific example of participatory action research to address complex development challenges:
(1) being mindful of values, 'the enemies within' (religion, aesthetics, politics and moral values);
(2) decision making and being mindful not to 'cut off' design options;
(3) 'unfolding' meanings and 'sweeping in' variables that are relevant for decision making;
(4) resonance and radiance (co-created through generating shared meanings developed in conversation). This is vital for constructivist design that is based in people's shared ideas for solving. Capacity building premised on iterative, experiential learning, needs to develop sensitivity to values as a precursor to changing the way people think and practice. Churchman made strides in this direction. In order to celebrate his contribution to systemic praxis, the example focuses on ways to address the complex problems faced by an Indigenous housing association systemically by looking inwards and outwards.
The community of practice (COP) is a useful means to facilitate participatory governance and the exploration of lived experiences through detailed stories and in-depth conversations. The COP supports the capacity of an Indigenous Housing Association to improve governance for the future development of Indigenous living choices. It is suited to addressing complex, systemically linked social, historical, cultural, political, economic issues that pertain to governance and empowering the participants. It is also suited to enhancing participation. Empowerment through the COP means helping people to achieve greater confidence and power in management and policy making that addresses ways to address the needs of all irrespective of age, gender or language. The process of networking with other organizations through holding governance workshops enables the Indigenous staff to 'take what is useful', because 'it makes sense', or recognize that the 'suggestions from others' have already been thought about and this supports the experiential learning and confidence of staff. COPs can provide a vehicle for participatory governance that has the potential to address complex issues and values. Thick democracy requires active citizenship in multiple contexts, not just the vote. Active engagement through the COP helps to build on the best practice initiatives and to develop expertise amongst the participants.
K.A. (the leader of the TUT group, which means both tutorial group in English and working together in Arrernte) considered that as the grandmother she had the experience as a health worker to train the younger staff (male and female) and that it was her role to make me welcome and to show how she felt I could contribute (in a small way) to their learning. Churchman was taken quite literally to be a man of the church or spirit. The role of the church in Indigenous history in Alice is important. The previous community development manager of the Housing Association was an ex Catholic priest, a religious and practical man. Missionaries and the Church are intertwined with colonization and self-determination and the ambivalence was spelled out by stressing that these ideas are not the preserve of westerners. K.A. and her team were not particularly surprised by systems thinking and reminded me that the ideas of connection were already known and understood centuries ago, but that they had been lost or forgotten as a result of the despair of people who had survived colonization, the loss of land, spirit and identity. Remaking these connections and achieving inner healing was considered a priority, in order to regain a sense of sell connectedness with family, non-Indigenous people and connection with their place. Most of the residents …