Systems Practitioner 7: Building Stakeholders’ Capacity


Capacity building (step 2 of the ELLab), is actually an integral part throughout all the steps of the ELLab process. The participants (all stakeholders) are building capacity (informal training) in systems thinking, interconnectedness and model construction, using Causal Loop Diagrams (this chapter) and Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) Modelling (Chapter 6) in order to achieve:

  • The integration of various mental models into a systems structure
  • ‘Ownership’ of the systems model(s) through direct involvement and informal training
  • An understanding of the inter-connectedness between and amongst different stakeholders (government departments and sectors in the organisatio respectively) to improve communication
  • The necessary links and needs for effective cross-sectoral collaboration.

People who are intrinsically involved are doing all the modules of the training, while some end-users (e.g. women in rural areas), are only involved informally in certain modules (e.g. for awareness) to help identify themes, discuss leverage points, rank the important variables, evaluate and refine the models and develop ways to reflect on outcomes to maximise co-learning benefits.

We have helped to build the capacity of various people (relevant stakeholders) in different places where ELLabs have been/are being established.

The stakeholders have been/are closely involved in all the different steps of the establishment of their respective ELLabs.

This close involvement has enabled a shared vision amongst stakeholders and helped them to understand complexity and be able to identify the root causes of problems, rather than merely treating the symptoms.

It has also helped them to develop solutions collaboratively over time, ‘experiment’ with them and be able to adapt when required through knowledge sharing and discussions with others.

In addition, the close involvement has enabled the relevant stakeholders to take ‘ownership’ of the ELLab and to know how to operate it.

Having a ‘champion’ is another important lesson learned through our work. We have been fortunate to work with a champion (a key person in a leading position, who understands and supports the approach) in every site where an ELLab has been established. This is essential for the successful implementation and operation of the ELLab.


The process of developing a systems model provides stakeholders with a shared understanding and a big picture of the system they are dealing with. While no model represents a ‘true’ or complete representation of reality, a systems model can usefully unravel important dynamics of a complex system.

Decision makers, managers and relevant stakeholders often find it difficult to ‘see’ the big picture and account for all relationships and interdependencies between different components of their system. Therefore, it is essential to have an overall picture of the system to show the interconnectedness and roles of various players and agencies and their impacts. For example, the systems model represents a ‘big picture’ of the Cat Ba Biosphere system and provides a powerful platform for learning, collaboration and collective decision making for various stakeholders including policy makers, managers, and community representatives.