ABS Professor Ockie Bosch and Dr. Nam Nguyen are a formidable team, revolutionising the way governments, organisations and people tackle complex issues, globally.

There’s a definite air of excitement at the ABS as the Evolutionary Learning Laboratory (ELLab) – their generic process for tackling complex problems – is developing a new type of thinking. Based on collaboration and developing a shared understanding it’s already having a profound impact on project problem solving, creating workable implementation plans for projects right across the globe, from Australia to Vietnam, Japan and Ghana.

The ELLab concept involves all stakeholders in a project mapping their mental model, which means sharing with others what they see as the key issues, barriers and possible solutions. “The only way that people learn how to communicate across sectors is through sharing their mental models,” Professor Bosch said. By doing this, people hear views that they’ve never heard before, breaking down silos. So rather than addressing the symptoms of a problem, and creating short term, quick fixes that don’t work, this revolutionary process looks at the problem systematically, clearly identifies leverage points where maximum impact can be achieved, and helps to define an implementation plan, as well as reflections and learnings down the track.

Professor Ockie Bosch and Dr Nam Nguyen with women in agriculture in Ghana

Professor Ockie Bosch and Dr Nam Nguyen with women in agriculture in Ghana

The best part is it’s universal in design. So when applied to different situations, the same model produces implementable results in each year of intervention.

And it’s already clear to Professor Bosch that communities across the world are greatly benefitting from this approach because they are willing and able to think systemically: to unravel the interacting factors making up their complex issue and find solutions that delicately balance all factors involved.

Professor Bosch and Dr Nguyen have used ELLab to tackle diverse issues including a tree density program in northern Queensland, a child safety project in Japan, a governance plan for Haiphong City, Vietnam and labour saving innovations for female farmers in Ghana and South East Asia. In fact, for the latter project, Professor Bosch and Dr Nguyen were one of just 11 successful bidders from 45,000 applications receiving a coveted grant from the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation to develop labour saving innovations for women small-holder farmers in developing countries. Of course their innovation was not a new farming device or machine, simply a new way of thinking. Looking at the problem systemically showed the key priority was improving the quality of their lives, rather than developing labour-saving innovations. Their core issues included difficulties accessing markets, ensuring quality produce, insufficient farming implements and lack of knowledge in various aspects of their farming practices.

The ABS is incredibly proud of their work, not only because it’s groundbreaking, but also because it perfectly achieves part of ABS’ mission – to engage and positively impact the broader community. As Professor Bosch says, “We publish a lot about our work, but to me it’s most satisfying taking our science out to the people where it can make a difference to their lives.”

And the great news is, our dynamic duo is not stopping there. Professor Bosch and Dr Nguyen are working with a larger team to develop Think2Impact, a web-based platform where people can learn online how to run a systems workshop. So we’re looking forward to seeing just how far this world-changing success story will go.

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