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Virtually every public policy has causes and consequences beyond those that are intended or immediately visible. This is true of criminal law policies that use algorithmic predictions of flight before trial; environmental policies involving greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollutants; and social and health policies that address homelessness, institutional racism, and the distribution of Covid vaccines, to name just a few examples. The causes of the problems that these policies seek to address are complex. As a result, these policies often fail and sometimes have unintended adverse consequences. “Systems thinking” is a framework that describes the web of associations in which such policies reside, with the goals of understanding the multiple causes of problems and designing policies that lead to stable, positive changes. Understanding systems thinking and systems change is a core skill for policymakers. We will illustrate the main concepts of systems thinking and systems change using real-world case studies.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Paul Brest is Former Dean and Professor Emeritus, at Stanford Law School, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a faculty co-director of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, and co-director of the Stanford Law and Policy Lab. He was president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation from 2000-2012. His current courses include Problem Solving for Public Policy and Social Change, Measuring and Improving Social Impact, and Advanced Topics in Philanthropy and Impact Investing.