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 the refugee crisis, global warming, and the pandemic call for a systems approach to engage in collaborative solution-finding, a shift in mindsets, strengthening relationships, and ways to take aligned action.
I collaborate with other consultants to help UN agencies, ministries, and multi-stakeholder groups to facilitate complex change in social and environmental challenges, such a reform of an education system, finding a new approach for climate change action, or building resilience in a refugee crisis.
We use methodologies such as systems thinking, Adaptive Leadership, and Theory U 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
My experience in Systems Transformation
Building refugee resilience
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.
Summary of other projects
Helped a ministry engage 1500 staff and stakeholders to reform a state education system – 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 – Middle East
Developed an impact measurement system to incentivise a bank’s new customer service culture – England
Co-led a network of change agents to build capacity for innovation in the UN system – Worldwide
Coursework in systems change and collaborative social impact, Presencing Institute (MIT) – United States