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The Systems Change approach

Systems Change aims to create the right conditions to overcome the uncertainties involved in complex systems.


  • Mismatched Leadership Capabilities
    Without the tools to adequately work through complexity to achieve an audacious systems change goal, individuals and organisations fall back on ways of acting better suited for solving simple problems.
  • Unintended Consequences
    Intervening in a complex system without a deep understanding of how it works results in unintended consequences, frustrated expectations, and even conflict.
  • Hidden Rules of the System
    Implicit rules of the system make social systems particularly difficult to understand.
  • Historical Mistrust & Conflict
    Habits of siloed thinking and past conflict keep diverse actors and their perspectives separate.
  • Inability to Collaborate
    Misunderstanding and mistrust inhibits collaboration required for ambitious action.


Responding to these challenges of siloed thinking and action, systems leaders adopt methods rooted in a set of principles:

  • Taking a Holistic Approach
    Effective action requires collaborative creation of aligned systems strategy, with focused work in individual areas of responsibility with.
  • Diversity of Thought
    Establishing a holistic view of the system requires drawing on the intelligence of people coming from a diversity of roles, disciplines, and contexts.
  • Strategic Bridging
    Integrating these diverse perspectives into a collective intelligence requires first that people are able to think together. We identify chasms between clusters and intentionally bridge them.
  • Ego- to Eco-Centrism
    Building bridges across differences requires participants who can open their minds, hearts, and wills to change, and admit their own vulnerability in the face of uncertainty.
  • Shared Vision
    Developing a tangible but audacious vision of a deeply desired future works to bind people together across individual concerns and keeps their work aligned, even as each actor works to deliver on its individual mandate.
  • Group Learning
    The system is constantly being shaped and reshaped. Accelerating successful change aligned with our vision depends on continual prototyping and integrating of learning.
  • Distributed Leadership
    In a healthy network, new insights are continually offered up. Local leaders with deep knowledge of their own contexts test, adopt, and implement these insights in ways that are responsive to their unique needs and environments.

These principles require different ways of working and different methodologies in order to create change:


Connecting around a shared vision

  • Shared Vision Development
    Committing to a common vision for change in addition to individual or organisational ones.
  • Collaborative Networks
    Building connections among many individuals to enhance adaptability, improve information processing through collective intelligence, and include marginalised voices in decision-making.

Continuous group learning

  • Systems Mapping with Root Cause & Leverage Point Analysis
    Gathering collective inputs to gain a comprehensive (for now) understanding of the system and its rules, including places to intervene where action may be more impactful.
  • Co-Investment in Measurement, Evaluation & Learning
    Investing together in learning, measuring progress, and reporting results.

Action along a spectrum of collaboration

  • Coordination
    Organisations may be able to avoid duplicating the efforts of others and better predict counterproductive reactions to their interventions through their increased awareness of, and where appropriate, coordination with, other actors working in the same spheres.
  • Scaling Out/Replication
    Replicating successful approaches by leveraging people with specific knowledge of local
  • Incubation, Funding, and Systemic Impact Investment
    Working closely with funders and impact investors to accelerate the development of sustainable enterprises to address important gaps in the systems change strategy.
  • Collective Action & Coalitions
    Finding gaps where strategy is better addressed through two or more organisations working together.