What is a system

Systems are bounded. Many things can draw the boundaries. Boundaries define who we think influences a system. Systems are nested - scale matters. Micro, meso, macro

One way to consider a system is through Complexity.

Types of system

There are simple, complicated and complex systems. They can be understood through this framework:

Understanding of the problem Utility of the rules Outcome Expertise Success

This is adapted from Getting to maybe: how the world has changed (Westley, Zimmerman and Patton, 2006)

Features of complex systems

  • Non linear (Effects not proportional to scale of change)
  • Feedback loops (Parts in relationship become reinforcing)
  • Resilient (Snaps back from changes or external forces)
  • Purpose (Organisation of the system works together)
  • Delays (effects may not be immediate)
  • Self-organising (organising from apparent randomness into patterns)
  • Emergent (Patterns as consequence of many parts interacting)
  • Adaptive (capable of learning from feedback and reacting to changes in context)
  • Scale (patterns are replicated at different scales)

Characteristics of complex systems

  • Unpredictable - Non-linearity means changes in one part cause changes in distant others
  • Unknowable - No single person can know the whole system
  • Unsolvable - attempts at change are absorbed into status quo

Systemic change

Intentionally nudging, changing, influencing and incentivising systems to work better for people, places and communities.

The emergence of a new pattern of organisation or structure.

Addresses root causes - deep structures underlying patterns of the system that can hold a problem in place.

'The waters of system change' is a paper that discusses six conditions of systems change. These range from explicit - policies, practices, resource flows, semi-explicit - relationships & connections, power dynamics, to implicit - mental models.

It is not a change in a part in isolation, but a change in a relationship between parts to create a different dynamic.

There are nested scales of systemic change:

  • Transformative change - fundamental shift of status quo by altering elemental form and function of a system (long-term, uncoordinated, multi-actor processes)
  • Emergent change (ongoing, evolving, cumulative)

Emergent leads to transformative.

Working adaptively to affect system change

  • Identify the desired future state (better outcomes for people)
  • Identify signals (hints the system is shifting)
  • Affirm our leverage point is in service of this future state. Check assumptions!
  • Continuous experimentation through a portfolio of experiments (real world testing)
  • Monitoring change signals
  • Reflect, learn and adapt (real time adjustment)

Last update: 07-03-2022 09:03