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SYSTEMS CHANGE & TRANSFORMATION

“Grounded in a shared intention of the future we want to create, awareness-based systems change involves shifting the mindset of people and organisations from silo to systems view.”

- Otto Scharmer

Why systems change is needed

The complex social and environmental challenges of our time such as climate change, refugee crises, and pandemics call for a systems approach to engage in collaborative solution-finding, a shift in mindsets, strengthening relationships, and discovering ways to take aligned action. 

Complex challenges

I collaborate with other consultants to help UN agencies, ministries, and multi-stakeholder groups to facilitate complex change for social and environmental challenges, such finding a new approaches for climate action, building resilience in a refugee crisis, or deepening reform of an education system.

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Whole-Systems Approach

We use methodologies such as systems thinking, Adaptive Leadership, Theory U, and Compassionate Systems Leadership because they facilitate a whole-systems approach where the system sees itself, senses what’s emerging, finds new solutions, and iterates in order to adapt and learn with a long-term perspective.  

Each project is different, and they usually last 3-5 years. I am typically involved in the design and initial phases. I’ve outlined my approach below and shared some sample projects. Please contact me if you’d like to know more or to collaborate on a systems change project.  

How I engage in systems transformation

It's crucial to understand the players and dynamics and to engage all aspects of the system as part of the transformation. Although every situation is different, these elements are often present:

  • Mapping the system: actors, values, motivations, positions

  • Crafting a new system through patterns of emergence, engagement and innovation

  • Allowing new aspects to operate alongside the old system as momentum grows

  • Continuing to learn, innovate and iterate 

  • Strengthening leadership with new skills, competences and shared vision

  • Listening to what’s needed next, a refined focus from year-to-year 

  • Being patient, engaging with resistance, waiting for a shift to happen

  • Allowing the new system to flourish as it establishes itself

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Read about my experience below.

My experience in Systems Transformation

Building refugee resilience

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In the Middle East, I worked with a team of ten people from United Nations agencies over a four-year period in the volatile, unpredictable, sensitive regional refugee crisis.

 

In the first year, we were finding our way in small steps by engaging stakeholders across sectors in five countries to cope with the crisis: to assess the situation, build capacity for rapid, coordinated response, and to understand the deeper needs and issues.  

 

We developed a set of principles to encourage inclusive partnerships to build resilience, foster innovation, and increase synergies between actors. We ensured that human dignity and self-sufficiency was at the centre of the work. And, we set out an agenda to transform the crisis into a positive opportunity.

In the subsequent three years our focus was to help UN and non-governmental agencies build capacity to innovate how they serve refugees and how they could help refugees recover and transform their lives.  Started as a collaboration between UN agencies, we worked with a wide range of business, agencies and governmental stakeholders to innovate how refugees were served to adapt to dramatic changes, and to transform what was possible for refugees.

We demonstrated a successful system change over a four-year period in five countries. We helped build refugee resilience in the Middle East to improve lives and to reverse the refugee crisis. I co-led the human-centred design and innovation for crisis efforts to bring together people from different countries to share challenges, learn from each other, and develop innovative solutions. They rolled up their sleeves, actively generated ideas that could help, and came up with new solutions. 

The result was a shift in the system toward norms of collaboration, joined-up projects, concerted action as well as significant learning and good practices to build resilience. This was achieved by working with key actors across the region. The UNDP innovation4crisis initiative catalyzed new relationships, built capacity of actors, and forged a new multi-sector system that contributed to  increased resilience and more effective refugee response.

Summary of other projects

  • Helped a ministry engage 1500 staff, management team, 75 experts, citizens, business organisations, and other stakeholders to reform a state education system. The systems transformation process facilitated a shift toward a culture of innovation, collaboration, and service. The new system, forged through a multi-stakeholder innovation lab, resulted in eight innovation pods reflecting emerging needs and priorities. Transition was supported through a strategic planning framework and revitalised leadership of six integrated action teams – United States
     

  • Supported a 4-year project to transform the refugee response across five countries, engage stakeholders across sectors, and build innovation capacity in 75 UN and NGO agencies and contributed toward a more effective refugee response and increased resilience – Middle East
     

  • Developed an impact measurement system to incentivise a bank’s new customer service culture. Co-designed and co-delivered sessions for 250 bank tellers, leading to a surprising cultural transformation - England
     

  • Co-led an engaged network of change agents to build capacity for innovation in the UN system. Delivered a 6-month leadership programme, whose graduates eventually led innovation units at major UN agencies – Worldwide
     

  • Professional development in systems change, compassionate systems leadership, and collaborative social impact; Center for Systems Awareness; Presencing Institute (MIT) – United States

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