Systems innovation and systems change are terms that have risen to prominence in the past few decades in the face of a new set of challenges that are recognized to be complex, interconnected, and highly dynamic.
Around the world, societies face complex challenges as we find ourselves in a time of transformation. As advanced economies move out of an industrial mode we see public institutions in crisis, our most critical systems in various stages of stalling, while the environmental challenge to build a sustainable future appears to grow ever greater and more pressing.
At the same time societies' problem-solving capacities are at a record high, people are more informed and educated, there is more capital floating around than ever before - at the same time, many people want to be engaged in creating a different world and technology is enabling society to perform large collaborative tasks more effectively and at ever lower cost.
With the rise of globalization, information technology and an unfolding environmental crisis the world has changed in quite radical ways in the past decades alone, as a consequence, we are challenged to evolve new organizational structures and capabilities that are currently significantly absent.
After decades of living in this new globalized world a failure to gain traction on even one of the global challenges today is a testimony to a failing set of approaches. Current responses to our most pressing societal challenges - from poverty and inequality to ethnic conflict and climate change - appear not to be working. These problems are incredibly dynamic and complex, constituting an ever-evolving array of technologies, actors, and circumstances, yet we address them through traditional centralized bureaucratic processes of long-term planning based upon fixed future projections.
Many of today’s strategic challenges, from security and terrorism to migration and water scarcity, can be better thought of as complex adaptive systems, continuously recreated through the ongoing choices, actions, and interactions among numerous players operating across dense global networks. Such systemic phenomena require a whole new strategic toolbox if we are to have any real impact in shaping the world we live in.
There is growing awareness that these systems are in fact fundamentally complex and thus require a different approach. They demand a more holistic, networked, emergent and evolutionary approach. Building on complexity theories' deep knowledge of dynamic systems, systems innovation presents an alternative to our traditional centralized approaches.
Systems innovation is a new systems-based approach to enabling change within complex organizations. It is a holistic approach that looks at the underlying dynamics and root causes of the issue, working with the innate evolutionary potential of complex adaptive systems to enable transformative change in their structure, behavior and functional capabilities.
This course is an overview of the current state of systems innovation and systems change, it draws upon the work of prominent systems thinkers such as Donella Meadows and Russell Ackoff along with the insights from contemporary researchers and social entrepreneurs to give an overview of the current state of systems innovation. The course should be of relevance to anyone interested in transformative change within large complex organizations.