The metaphor which is central to all of the activities at the Centre for Systemic Development at the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury, is that of the critical learning system (CLS), a construct developed as the framework for the systemic education of students in the School of Agriculture and Rural Development at Hawkesbury. CLSs are construed as coherent groups of individuals who are co‐operating together, in learning how to learn collectively to deal with complex matters which are relevant to their own sustainable development as organizations (or more typically, organizational units). The action researching processes common to the centre’s research and consultancy activities, its postgraduate curricula, and its own management practices, are all grounded in experiential learning principles and practices as informed by systems theories and philosophies. The research/consultancy staff and the postgraduate students work together in collaboration with “real‐world” clients who are committed to the sustainable development of their own organizations and/or communities, while bringing a CLS perspective to their programmes and projects. From this CLS perspective, the crucial competences for all those concerned with the sustainable development of organizations, are to understand, create and use CLSs as their vehicles for informed change about, and in, a complex world. Addresses the logic, concepts and methods of the CLS approach, as a contribution to debates about the utility of the learning organization approach to development.
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