The Person on the Street’s Understanding of Systems Thinking

Document Type


Publication Date


Originally Published In

Systems Research & Behavioral Science

Volume Number


Issue Number


Page Numbers



The understanding of and application of systems knowledge has been studied in various business, government, and education environments. However, as yet, it is unclear what people at large know about systems thinking, where they gained their knowledge, and how important they consider systems thinking to their decision-making processes. This first phase of a 2-year exploratory study considered these unknowns to identify any need for teaching systems thinking and how to best teach it if appropriate. Results indicated that although the 172 respondents agreed making decisions using systems thinking is important to 79.7% of decisions made and approximately half believed they understood the meaning of social systems and application of systems thinking to decision making, most demonstrated no or limited understanding of both. Finally, most participants' latently gleaned impressions of systems and systems thinking were gained through informal experiences that had occurred since completing their secondary school education. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.