Ray Ison


Appointed Professor of Systems at the Open University in 1994, my research and scholarship spans the biophysical and social and is primarily interdisciplinary and collaborative. At the Open University I have had periods as head of the former Systems Department (1995-8; 2005-6; 25 academic staff), Director of the Environmental Decision Making Program, and am now involved in: (i) managing and presenting the post-graduate program in Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) and undertaking associated Systems scholarship; (ii) contributing to the activities of the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice Group and (iii) undertaking international research. 

In 2014 I became President Elect of the ISSS (International Society for the Systems Sciences) and will assume the Presidency in late July.  I am also a Director of the  World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics (WOSC), a Trustee of the American Society of Cybernetics and a member of the UKSS.  

In 2008 I moved from a full-time to a fractional appointment at the Open University. In the other fraction I am  Professor, Systems for Sustainability at the Monash Sustainability Institute (MSI), Monash University, Melbourne, where I lead the Systemic Governance Research Program. , 

As of mid-2014 I am the (co) author or (co) editor of 5 books, 31 book chapters, 100+ refereed papers, numerous other publications, 5 journal special editions and have been an invited Keynote speaker at many international and national conferences.  

In my present OU research portfolio I am a Chief Investigator within the international CADWAGO project (Climate change adaptation and water governance - reconciling food security, renewable energy and the provision of multiple ecosystem services).

With my OU colleagues Chris Blackmore, Kevin Collins and Natalie Foster we are responsible  for a work package (WP) on systemic governance and also contribute to a WP on governance learning. This project is funded by the Europe and Global Challenges Program, an initiative of  three Foundations: Compagnia di San Paolo, Turin/Italy, the Riksbanken Jubileumsfond, Stockholm/Sweden and the VolkswagenStiftung, Hannover/Germany. There were 76 proposals from international consortia; 15 were short listed and invited to proceed with main proposal and hearing and four were selected for funding from the 15.  

I have led and/or contributed to a number of major research programs and projects including:  

  • 2000-2004: SLIM (Social Learning for the Integrated Management and sustainable use of water at catchment scale) from 2000-04, a major interdisciplinary 5th Framework program (30 researchers, 6 countries) researching social learning for sustainable river catchment management;
  • 2003-8 Environment Agency (EA) funded research projects to develop and embed social learning approaches within  river basin planning and managing processes as well as the doing of integrated catchment science
  • 2000-2006: an EPSRC funded Systems Practice for Managing Complexity Network (see also SPMC)
  • 2009-10: Strengthening research capacity of China and South Africa in sustainable water resources management with UK and Australian experiences. The Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation program (NERC/ESRC/DfID)

I have been involved in undergraduate and postgraduate, including PhD, teaching at three Universities - what is now The University of Western Sydney (Hawkesbury), The University of Sydney and The Open University (UK).

At the OU I have contributed to undergraduate systems courses (e.g. T306 Managing Complexity. A Systems Approach) as well as PG courses (e.g. T860 and T863 Environmental Decision Making. A systems approach; T861 Environmental Ethics). From 2008-10 Chris Blackmore and I developed the module TU812, ‘Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction, a core module in the OU's Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) Program. We continue to support the presentation of this module. 

In 2012 the STIPII (Systems Thinking in Practice Innovation Initiative) was launched by Chris Blackmore, Martin Reynolds and myself as an action-research and scholarship framing for the ongoing presentation and development of the STiP program.  The first funded project, "Building a community of practice  and employer engagement to enhance Systems Thinking in Practice" was supported by the OU's eSTeEM program. 

A number of books were co-published by the OU and Springer to support the STiP program. This includes my book: Ison, R.L. (2010) Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-Change World. Springer, London and The Open University.

Wherever possible I provide support to a very vibrant STiP alumni community on LinkedIn.  

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