Systems Thinking Institute

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April 14, 2017

Hi Friends,

I hope everyone got a chance to enjoy the awesome weather and sounds of spring earlier this week!

There are so many great things happening in our community to ensure our babies succeed. This week Leah Fiasca, Project Director of Greater Milwaukee Committee, is here to share her experience at the Systems Thinking Institute.

The Institute is designed to bring people together who have an interest in K-12 education and the role systems thinking can play in its improvement. Before I go any further I will let Leah share her thoughts and insights after being in attendance.

Take it away, Leah!

See you soon,


Danae Davis | Executive Director
Milwaukee Succeeds
101 West Pleasant Street, Suite 210, Milwaukee, WI 53212
Direct: 414.336.7057

What could possibly make a March in Wisconsin more fun? We have endless hours of NCAA basketball, and warm weather is just around the corner! What could possibly be better?

Well, I found something that certainly made my March a little brighter. I had the honor and privilege to attend the Systems Thinking Institute, held March 29th – 31st in Milwaukee, hosted in collaboration by Milwaukee Public Schools and the Waters Foundation. Other partners included UWM – Master of Sustainable Peacebuilding, Urban Ecology Center, and Learn Deep Milwaukee.

The institute brought together over 200 people hailing from 7 states. Each of us held one common thread: we all have an interest in K-12 education and the role systems thinking can play in its improvement.

What is Systems Thinking? According to our hosts, the Waters Foundation, “systems thinking is a perspective of seeing and understanding systems as wholes rather than as collections of parts. A whole is a web of interconnections that creates emerging patterns.” I learned at the institute, however, that systems thinking is not simply a set of tools and deliverables. Rather it’s a lifestyle with habits, frameworks, and mindsets integrated into daily life.

I believe Milwaukee Succeeds has already embraced this lifestyle and heartened that the concepts I saw presented and discussed aligned perfectly with Milwaukee Succeeds’ collective impact approach. In my experience, Milwaukee Succeeds’ leadership constantly challenges its partners to have explicit discussion on the way systems operate and not simply discuss the system itself (note: systems change and systems thinking are not the same) that needs to be changed.

A few specific workshop highlights:

  • Both Deanna Singh and Robert Ricigliano brought down the house as keynote speakers on Wednesday, March 29th. In particular, Deanna spoke about how she integrates systems thinking into her own life through a powerful personal example.
  • The highly accomplished staff at the Waters Foundation made the entire institute accessible, thoughtful, and relevant.
Moving Forward: How can we use a systems thinking lens with our own work and Milwaukee Succeeds? While I certainly am not an expert after attending a 3-day workshop, there are some great questions that allow all of us to embrace our inner systems-thinker. Three that I think are specifically relevant to Milwaukee Succeeds’ networks and committees are:
  • How can I maintain balance between big picture and important details?
  • Who should I approach to help me gain new perspectives on this issue?
  • If we make a change to this system, how long before we see the results we desire?

Do you want to find more questions to ask? Click here for some more great ideas.

*Strategic Note: I neither endorse nor suggest asking yourself these questions while filing your taxes. It simply does not have the inspiring, cathartic effect I expected.


Leah Fiasca
Project Manager
Greater Milwaukee Committee

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