Ed Johnson is an Atlantan who acts as a watchdog for the Atlanta Public Schools. He is also a systems thinker, influenced by the seminal work of W. Edwards Deming.

He recently wrote about how the Atlanta pPublic Schools could help revitalize the city by thinking systematically instead of following its course of jumping from reform to reform.

His post begins:

Loopy APS is my mental model of interrelated causal factors exposed for all to see, question, and critique in a spirit of collaborative discourse. It began as a visual representation of my thinking about why Atlanta Public Schools cannot improve and why it can improve dumped out onto paper, static. The 2009 APS cheating scandal prompted doing so.

Then, during April 2017, by chance I discovered the cleverly named Loopy™ and promptly rendered my mental model in it. Hence the name Loopy APS.

Created by systems thinker Nicky Case, Loopy™ is “a tool for thinking in systems” and for simulating systems. It is highly effective and simple but not simplistic to use. If you can think, you can use Loopy™. It is freely available.

Loopy APS allowed seeing the dynamic behavior of a vicious causal loop that went unnoticed on paper. The vicious causal loop simulates interrelated factors influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen amid a great deal of systemic instability.

It wasn’t clear at first why the vicious causal loop was in Loopy APS, as I did not knowingly model it. It was only after being able to see my thinking play out dynamically in Loopy APS did I notice it. So, to find out why, I ran Loopy APS, time and again, observing its behavior until a particular story became clear.

Reading from the snapshot image, in Figure 1, below, the story, told tersely, goes like this:

Greatly influenced by Partner Purposes, Atlanta BoE (Board of Education) and APS Superintendency provide for frustrating Authentic Education by employing SEL & Police (behavioristic practices) to favor inculcating routinized Teacher Learning and Student Leaning that obviate Wisdom, so as to obscure Democracy to allow Selfishness to flourish as Violence & Crimeto entangle Civil Society, while Atlanta BoE (Board of Education) and APS Superintendency are ever more greatly influenced by Partner Purposes.

Note the end of the story goes right back to its beginning. This makes the story a closed loop. Being a closed loop means every “thing” in the loop represents a causal factor that influences the behavior of every other “thing” or casual factor in the loop, including itself.

In other words, influence that goes around, comes around, whether directly or indirectly. Or, as Martin Luther King Jr tried to help us know and understand: “What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Systems thinker Nick Chase did this short video honoring systems thinker Martin Luther King Jr. But, alas, I guess it takes one to know one, because being a systems thinker is not ordinarily ascribed to Dr. King. To many, he remains the guy who had a dream.

The overall, systemic behavior of a causal loop may be vicious or virtuous, or status quo-keeping. In the story above, pulled from Figure 1, it is vicious systemic behavior influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen.

Now, given that story, the question becomes: What needs to change, so as to transform the closed loop of causal factors influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually worsen into one influencing violence and crime in Atlanta to continually lessen?

This question, of course, comes from recognizing that every vicious cycle holds the potential to reverse and become virtuous and, conversely, every virtuous cycle holds the potential to reverse and become vicious.

To follow Ed Johnson’s analysis, open the link and view his graphs and finish reading.