Systems thinking: Oxfam’s introductory materials

This introduction to systems thinking starts with the old adage “teach a man to fish and you feed him forever” and demonstrates why this may fail. It shows how the simple act of fishing is embedded in a complex web of stakeholders and issues, including climate change, pollution, overfishing, lack of access to income, irrigation and more. Ideas for intervening are also presented, such as starting at a small scale, learning from failure and working with stakeholders. There is a strong focus on expanding “business-as-usual” techniques, such as log-frames, to including cycles of action and reflection, in order to promote a more adaptive approach.

The ideas are presented in both a video and a report. Although the target audience is Oxfam’s own staff and other development practitioners, the resources are more widely useful. The report contains case studies and questions, as well as useful tools and links to resources on systems thinking.

Video (5 minutes): “Systems Thinking” by Oxfam Great Britain was a video presentation created as an introduction to systems thinking for Oxfam staff, uploaded in 2015. Online:

Reference: Bowman, K., Chettleborough, J., Jeans, H., Rowlands, J. and Whitehead, J. (2015). Systems Thinking: An introduction for Oxfam programme staff, October 2015, Oxfam: Oxford, United Kingdom. Online at:



Posted: August 2016
Last modified: August 2016