Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev on May 6, 2016
Distinguishing between Societal Change Systems (SCSs) and Production Systems (PSs) is the new frontier in large systems change work. The distinction provides enormous operational advantages to address scale.
An SCS comprises all those change efforts – programs, projects, networks, collaborations, organizations – with respect to a particular change issue. For example, all those change initiatives that are working to integrate sustainability into the food production system or electricity production system; all those aiming to integrate health equity concerns into the health care “production” system. The PS, on the other hand, comprises all those efforts to produce a particular service or product like food, electricity and health.
The two types of systems are distinguished, like all system distinctions, by their goal. One is focused on production; a transformational SCS is focused on changing the way the production occurs and the very definition and goals of the PS. The two systems are also distinguished by competencies. Production systems require managerial, engineering and “complicated” capacities; change systems require change skills, tools and “complex” capacities to address seven key tasks. And usually control of the SCS and PS is distinguished by their stakeholder composition. The SCS comprises a wide range of stakeholders, often without clear dominance or possessing a sense of being “a system”; the production systems are dominated by much narrower range of stakeholders who have a much more highly developed sense of being a system, with governments setting some operating environment parameters.
The relationship between the two when they are healthy, can be likened to the DNA double helix. Each is a distinct strand, but there many bridges and interactions. Production system organizations will have their own projects around change, which should be considered part of the change system and bridges between the two systems. Change collaborations amongst stakeholders that include production system representatives are another example of a change initiative with active bridging.
The operational insights from this SCS versus PS framing arise in part by moving attention to the change system level from the change initiative, collaboration, and network levels. Any major issue has a large number of change initiatives, and the SCS perspective helps clarify questions about, and identify actions to enhance, the power of the change initiatives as a whole. The framing puts questions about coherence front and center. Very often a major problem is lack of “system consciousness”: people in change initiatives don’t have a way to think about the large number of other change initiatives working on their issue. The sense of being an SCS is “latent” and weak; there are development stages that can be identified and nurtured to strengthen SCS’s power. The SCS-PS perspective also raises issues about how to support accountability not just to what a particular initiative’s goals are, but to the needs of the SCS for it to be effective.