Rowan Conway, Jeff Masters, and Jake Thorold wrote a paper for RSA titled From Design Thinking to Systems Change, July 2017, 33-page PDF.

« The core insight of this paper is that solving our most complex problems will require augmenting design thinking with a systems thinking approach as the basis for action. »

« Great design doesn’t always generate impact. As we show in this report, innovations attempting to scale and create systemic change often hit barriers to change. »

« This report introduces a new RSA model of ‘think like a system, act like an entrepreneur’ as a way of marrying design and systems thinking. »

« “Systems thinking is a context for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.” —Peter Senge [author of The Fifth Discipline] »

« Rather than achieving impact an innovation gets mired in “reasons why not”… Donella Meadows [author of Thinking in Systems] describes this response as “systemic policy resistance”:  ‘Policy resistance comes from the bounded rationalities of the actors in a system, each with his or her (or “its” in the case of an institution) own goals… Such resistance to change arises when goals of subsystems are different from and inconsistent with each other.’ »

« Different kinds of problems require different methods of systems analysis. Horst Rittel coined the phrase “tame and wicked problems”. In this framing, tame problems are those that have a rational and linear pathway to a solution, the problem is relatively easy to define explicitly and can be understood by a variety of people. In contrast, wicked problems are hard to define and whose nature remain ambiguous and elusive… Another characteristic of wicked problems is that one does not necessarily know they have been solved, except in hindsight.” »

« Thinking like a system means taking a holistic view: viewing the problem as made up of a set of interacting components that continuously produce feedback. It also means accepting this situation as dynamic, with the relationships between elements in the system as important in understanding how the system will behave as the component parts. »

« Knowledge Management theorist Dave Snowden uses a sense-making framework he calls Cynefin to make distinctions between problems that sit in ordered systems and unstructured systems. »

« Acting entrepreneurially isn’t just about spotting the best opportunities for change. It is also about maximising the possibility for an innovation to navigate through barriers to change and make an impact at scale. »

« Thinking systemically can assist in matching the correct kind of response to the problem. However there will always be challenges for innovations negotiating obstacles of different missions, power dynamics, cultures, rules, budgets and boundaries. The answer is not to wish these obstacles away. It is to find a way through. This requires patience, fortitude, courage and a proactive eye for opportunities. It makes an entrepreneurial mindset crucial: always focusing on what can be done now and on identifying the points of leverage that can be manipulated to create disproportionate change within a system. »

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