Part 3: From Change Initiatives to Change Systems with the Systemic Change Matrix

Part 1 introduced the concept of change system and five subsystems through a project on the global change system for electricity;  Part 2 described the seven functions necessary for these systems to be effective.  In this blog, these are integrated into a tool called the Systemic Change Matrix (SCM) that supports specific identification of high leverage interventions to strengthen the effectiveness of change initiatives and systems. Putting these pieces together in the SCM was  the focus of a 1.5 day meeting with people who were with global electricity change initiatives and the Project Team. Individuals are or recently were working with IRENA, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, the Electricity Governance Initiative and Acea (the City of Rome electric utility).  That experience supported the proposition that the SCM is both sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible with a modest amount of effort, and spurred operational insights and proposals for action.

Following description of the change system for electricity in terms of five subsystems and seven activities (functions) required for them to be effective, meeting participants were asked how the programs of change initiatives they were familiar with would fit in the matrix. The participants filled in the cells that resulted in an SCM with cells where several change initiatives were active, and some where there was little or no activity. Of course this was incomplete and is also being done through the project research. However, this was done at the meeting to engage participants with their own knowledge and test the SCM’s usefulness. It raised questions for participants about overall coherence and convergence. In particular, it raised questions about gaps in necessary activity and the quality of initiatives’ strategic focus. It also raised questions about overlaps, redundancies and coordination within cells, while recognizing that most cells required action by several change initiatives. For example, measurement in policy requires various measures to inform policy makers. But is there a comprehensive set of measures and are they sufficiently standardized? How do those working in the cells interact?

Table 3: The Systemic Change matrix (SCM)

Participants easily grasped the concept of a change system and identified questions about how their own change initiatives’ actions could be strengthened by thinking in terms of their roles in a change system.  They also identified the need to develop a willingness amongst change initiatives to interact differently to realize this benefit. Discussion pointed out that the subsystems boundaries are changing with respect to the distinctions between consumers and service providers with the rise of “prosumers“. The change system focus brought up the overarching issue of the traditional production system being resistant to change for a variety of reasons, and that resilience and adaptive capacity are key qualities that the change subsystems must encourage the production system to develop. It also raised questions about how the systems change approach can deal with the issues of power in its many forms. Discussion also pointed to the importance of including changing mindsets in the learning function (added to the earlier Learning Function description). An additional question is about the role of stakeholders in each cell – are the complement and number of stakeholders necessary for the cell to be effectively developed sufficiently engaged?

These questions about generation of coherence and convergence lead to discussion about the next actions of the Lab. Some categories for action emerged that could be also combined in various ways:

  • By geography: Regional, national and subnational jurisdictions can be the basis for applying the analysis to improve change efforts. Given the national level is critical for electricity system change, it appears a particularly appropriate level to focus on.
  • By subsystems: Looking across the functions of a subsystem could help deepen success of a particular subsystem.
  • By change initiative: Participants saw value in applying the SCM to their own activities to sharpen their own strategy and priorities.
  • By change project or technology: Issues surrounding a particular activity such as a cross-boundary transmission line or adoption of a decentralized energy grid could benefit from the SCM approach.
  • By cell(s) within the SCM: There could be value in taking on a particular function within or across one or more subsystems. For example, who is doing measuring in the public policy and finance subsystems? Collectively are the measuring activities comprehensive? Are their issues of integration and comparability?

Action in one or more of these categories will be advanced as an action research experiment designed to further refine the change systems approach and realize change. This will be done with 5-6 people from change initiatives become Stewards to guide the development of this project and further action by the Energy Ecosystem Lab more broadly.

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