Nowadays, organizations pursue their aims in a context of distributed collaboration, creating a need not only for supporting work systems, but for a human-centred focus in which individual and group sense-making and learning are supported by appropriate toolsets. We argue that development of such toolsets requires an open systems approach. This paper discusses examples of such approaches, including non-competitive benchmarking (NCB), as a vehicle for knowledge transfer, leading to process improvement and potential for enhanced organizational performance. The paper goes on to discuss tools and techniques that may be used to support desire to reflect upon ‘best practice’ in socio-technical design, without losing contextual relevance in design. We use these examples to explore ways in which engaged actors may be supported to create and share their contextually-dependent tacit knowledge. The foundation of open systems approaches is discussed, showing how socio-technical approaches continue to have relevance today.