Embracing Complexity: Drawing our mental models

On March 12, 2019 my colleague Jeff Walters and I held a session at IRC WASH’s All Systems Go! Symposium in the Hague to talk about elements of complex systems and how they are represented in the day to day work of professionals and practitioners in the WASH sector. To illustrate these concepts, we invited four experts with deep experience in the sector to share their diverse experiences with complex issues with the session participants. As each panelist shared their story, we asked those listening in the room to draw out these stories in any way they wanted. This could include using words, icons, arrows or diagrams of any kind. We collected these sketches and presented some at the end of the session to illustrate how the same story of the same system can be perceived in many different ways. In essence, we wanted to highlight how we each understand the same systems through our own unique ‘mental model’ that we construct for ourselves. Below are a collection of the sketches we collected during the session along with the panelist and an overview of the story they shared.

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Betty shared her experience of working with the Ethiopian government on monitoring WASH services in the SDG era. She talked about all the different inputs that are required for a good monitoring system to be functional, verifiable and useful for decision making and tracking progress.


Martin told the participants about his experience working with the District Government and local stakeholders in Kabarole, Uganda to implement a "Pay As You Fetch” scheme for water services, including the role of payment systems, maintenance, mechanics and community.


The Honorable Chairperson of Kabarole District, Uganda talked participants through the process he championed for the district to develop it’s first ever WASH master plan to achieve SDG6 by 2030. This was a new approach for the district and one that was locally-led by a diverse group of stakeholders from government and civil society organizations


Sovattha talked about her experience in Cambodia working with members of local, provincial and national governments to improve rural sanitation and hygiene (RuSH). Sovattha also shared her big picture ideas on what is needed to change behaviors and mindsets of those in the sector to be successful in achieving the SDGs and Cambodia’s national RuSH goals.